How The Media Shaped Your Idea Of Love

“Losing an illusion makes you wiser than finding a truth” — Ludwig Borne”

Say Anything (1989)

Ever since you were a child you’ve been told a story:

That one fateful day you will find your true love and live happily ever after.

This idea goes as deep as an idea can go. For most, it’s a simple truth of life. Never to be questioned. Never to be held under scrutiny. Sacred.

But life is infinitely complex. And an idea this simple can never be completely true.

All ideas, no matter how beautiful, eventually create misery when they’re inaccurate.

When you layer your frame of the world on top of a false assumption, eventually fantasy and reality crash into each other. And the results can be catastrophic.

This is why your idea of romance needs to be based on reality, not fantasy.

In your formative years, your ideas of romance came from two possible places: 1. Your parents (Although this this is far from guaranteed) 2. The Media

Yes the media. The all pervasive machine. Every single one of us has absorbed Disney movies, romantic comedies and love songs. The media has told us all about love. The question is: Did the media tell us the truth about love?

Here are the 6 myths of romance in media:

Myth 1: Soulmates “The One”

Myth 2: Happily Ever After

Myth 3: Love Is random

Myth 4: The Grand Gesture

Myth 5: Love At First Sight

Myth 6: Destiny — Everything will work out in the end

But before we move on to the 6 myths, there’s something we need to get out the way:

Does the media really affect your beliefs?

We’re grown adults aren’t we? We decide for ourselves what to believe, right?

We’re so sure of ourselves and yet 90% of our mind is subconscious or unconscious.

We don’t know why we think the way we think.

It’s very telling that most of our ideas of love are based in fiction. In stories.

When we consume fiction, we are suspending disbelief. We are less likely to engage in counter-arguing (Questioning the messages we’re given). While watching fiction we’re vulnerable to false information.

In one experiment, German college students read a story called “The Kidnapping”. They were split into two groups. For one group, a false assertion was inserted into the story. In this version of the story the assertion was made that exercise weakens the heart and lungs.

Results of the experiment showed that the majority of the students believed this false assertion after reading the story. So if you read in a fictional story that exercise weakens the heart and lungs, many people will go on to believe it as truth. Because we often assume that information embedded in fiction is true.

Overtime you forget where you learned the information and your confidence in it’s truth increases.

Fiction is an incredibly powerful way of changing beliefs. That’s why the American military has influence over the script of The Transformers movies. Positive messages about the military can be woven into a fictional story about aliens attacking the planet to improve public perception of the US military.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2007)

When you watch romantic comedies and fairy tales that constantly talk about “The One” or “Happily ever after”, we begin to assume that these ideas must be true. On one level we understand that Cinderella is a fictional fairy tale, yet on another level it’s very real to us.

We know that fiction is based in reality on some level, so we assume that the ideas must have some credibility to them. Overtime, we forget where we learned about the idea of “The One” and it becomes a simple truth of life.

Adults then grow up accepting these myths as truths. The problem is they’re not.

And this sets up expectations for love that reality can never satisfy.


MYTH 1: SOULMATES

“We’re stuck in the daydream of a naive 13 year old girl” — Jordan Peterson

The One. The Woman of my dreams. Mr Right. My One and Only. A match made in heaven. My Prince Charming. My True Love. My Everything.

We’re made for each other. We’re meant to be together. You complete me.

This is the fantasy language of soulmates. That there is one person and one person only who is destined to be with you. And that when you finally meet them they will fill the hole in your heart and make you completely happy.

You’re supposed to know what your soulmate is thinking. You’re supposed to be happy with them all the time. And you’re supposed to be able to finish each others sentences

You’re supposed to kiss in the rain. You’re supposed to meet them under dramatic circumstances. Sex with them is supposed to be romantic and under dim lights that place shadows perfectly on your body (Just like in the movies). They’re supposed to confess their love with a grand gesture (Myth 5. More on this later).

What happens then, when these expectations are not met?

What happens when you meet a perfectly good partner who you like very much, but it just doesn’t feel like it’s supposed to.

The sex is ok. Your first kiss was in the break room at work. There was no grand gesture. And you can’t psychically read their thoughts (In fact, you often have no idea what they’re thinking).

To somebody who has consumed heavy amounts of romantic comedies and romance novels: nobody will ever meet their standards.

Because their standards are based in fantasy.

No man can possibly hope to meet the standards of the “Mr Right” fantasy you’ve built up in your head. And no woman can hope to meet the standards of the “Perfect Princess” idea you have.

73% of Americans believe in Soulmates. Yet roughly 50% of marriages end in divorce in the US.

Something is wrong here. There is a huge difference between people’s beliefs and reality.

With so many marriages ending in divorce, we have to ask the question:

ARE WE MONOGAMOUS?

Among all other species of mammals, only around 3% are monogamous.

In countries where you can be stoned to death for infidelity, people still cheat on their spouse. And cheating happens across all cultures.

Now brace yourself. Things about to get a little disgusting. Kids, cover your ears.

Ladies and Gentlemen. I present: The human penis.

The penis evolved to compete with the sperm of other men. This suggests that in our hunter-gatherer societies women had sex with multiple men and clearly did not live a monogamous lifestyle.

Now if that wasn’t gross enough, let’s talk about the male ejaculation.

Most ejaculations have 5–7 “shots” of sperm. The first shots contain chemical compounds that are designed to kill off any sperm from other men. And the last shots are designed to protect the sperm from any foreign chemicals that might destroy them. Again, this suggests that women have historically had sex with multiple partners.

Neither the bonobo or the chimp (our closest ancestors) are monogamous.

Just take a look at Pornhub’s most searched for terms for 2018.

Does this seem like the results of a monogamous species to you?

Many will say that we must be monogamous, because we get jealous when we see our partner with somebody else. But then you have to ask: Why would we get jealous if we were naturally monogamous?

If we were naturally monogamous, there would be no reason to get jealous in the first place. We get jealous because we know that there’s a possibility of our partner cheating.

Because infidelity is in our DNA.

Still, it’s not quite that simple. We also lean towards monogamy in a number of ways. Love is real. People do fall in love. But it’s certainly not as simple as: There’s one person for everyone.

In the end, most of us feel urges towards both monogamy and polygamy. In the end, monogamy is a choice that you make. A choice with advantages and disadvantages.

The problem is: the media narrative tells us that there is no choice to make. According to the media narrative we’re all supposed to naturally find “The One” fall in love and live happily ever after.

So what happens when you’re attracted to someone outside of your relationship? What happens when you have romantic feelings towards multiple people? What happens when your “soulmate” cheats on you? Or your partner ends the relationship? Or your partner passes away?

The media narrative and reality crash into each other and your entire belief system falls apart.

Or maybe not. Maybe you continue to believe in soulmates.

If your “soulmate” cheats on you, then maybe you should stay with them. Because you’re destined to be together and everything will work out in the end (Myth 6. More on this later).

If your “soulmate” ends the relationship, then you just need to convince them to love you again. After all, they’re your soulmate. So they’ll change their mind in the end. It’s destiny.

WHY DOES THE MEDIA ENCOURAGE THE IDEA OF SOULMATES?

This is what happens to a society when monogamy is not encouraged

We have twice as many female ancestors as male ancestors. It’s because of hypergamy (Women’s general preference to date men higher on the socio-economic ladder), that our species evolved beyond chimpanzees. Only men with the best genes were chosen by women to reproduce with.

The men with inferior genes died without having children. And that’s one of the main mechanisms that helped us evolve into the advanced species we are today.

But we also have a bloody history of murder and violence. A culture based on monogamy prevents that.

So when the media pushes the narrative of soulmates, this helps keep the society stable. As the bottom 30% of men are not left out of the dating game in a world of soulmates.

A society not based on monogamy is doomed to fail. (With the exception of hunter-gatherer societies. And very few of them still exist)


MYTH 2: HAPPILY EVER AFTER

When the fairy tale ends, reality begins.

Romantic comedies and fairy tales all follow the same pattern. The princess is saved. The enemy defeated. The girl is won. The drama has been resolved. The man has confessed his love. And the couple is together. END. Roll Credits.

It’s as if the couple will stay exactly the same for the next 50 years of their lives. They will never get tired of each other. They will not start noticing each other’s annoying habits overtime.

No. They will stay together forever until the day they die. And their intense feelings of love will be just as strong when they’re 55 as when they’re 25.

And because we’re supposedly a purely monogamous species, neither of them will ever be attracted to anyone else.

Tiger Woods certainly thought so. Until..

He thought that after he got married his biological urges would somehow disappear. Newsflash: they don’t.

He followed his biological urges towards infidelity at the expense of his relationship, his children, his reputation and a divorce settlement of $100 Million.

Neurologists say that the feeling of blissful romance (the type you see in the movies) tends to last around 3–5 years. Brain chemicals called monoanimes create this intense feeling towards your partner. A feeling that doesn’t last forever. The purpose of these brain chemicals is for the relationship to be stable long enough for them to have children.

After this 3–5 year period is over the “rush” is over. The passion is vanished and your spouse no longer makes your pulse raise. This is perfectly natural of course and successful couples will find a deeper love after this stage.

But the media narrative never mentions that the passion will disappear. It’s supposed to be “happily ever after”

Any long-term couple will tell you that marriage is the beginning not the end. That a long-term relationship takes work.

And that it certainly isn’t “Happily ever after”.

Before Midnight (2013) — One of the few romantic movies with an accurate portrayal of love.

MYTH 3: LOVE IS RANDOM

Love can happen to anyone. At any time.

It doesn’t matter who. It doesn’t matter where. Love is unpredictable and you can fall in love with absolutely anybody.

Right?

Wrong.

Love is not random.

Generally speaking, people fall in love with those who are roughly as attractive as they are. Bare in mind, that attractiveness does not only mean physical appearance. It can include talent, status, level of success and many other attributes.

When was the last time you saw a gorgeous woman dating an overweight, meek and talentless man?

When was the last time you saw Johnny Depp dating an ugly woman?

Romantic love is conditional.

(Love between family members, however, can be unconditional)

Falling in love has pre-requisites that have to be met. Would you fall in love with a mass murderer? No? Then we can say that a pre-requisite for falling in love with somebody is that they’re not a mass murderer. (An extreme example, but it makes the point nonetheless)

And then you have hypergamy

This chart is highly exaggerated, but the basic idea is true

It’s a truth of life that upsets many people. Men get bitter about it and women deny it. But it’s true.

In general, women date men who are equal or above them in status. Never men who are below them.

If ever there was a pre-requisite for love, this is it.

Hypergamy is not a theory. It’s a deep evolutionary instinct in females across most species. It’s the biological mechanism that helped us advance beyond chimpanzees. It’s not strictly based on men’s economic status. But it’s based on a mixture of wealth and social status.

Of course you’ll never hear this fact mentioned in the media. According to Diseny, love can happen to anyone at any time. It never mentions the fact that, if you’re a man, you probably need to have higher or equal status than the woman in order for her to fall in love with you.

Now the truth is, hypergamy is far more complex than this. Men can sometimes be hypergamous too.

The point is love has a pattern. It’s not random.

Most people date someone at the same level of attractiveness as them. Most people date within their race. Most women date men who are taller than them. And female hypergamy is a major factor in whether they fall in love with a man. Sure there are outliers, but the pattern exists. And therefore love is not random.


MYTH 4: THE GRAND GESTURE

Hey. I’m here to declare my love to you in secret using cue cards. Don’t tell your husband.

How do you get a woman to love you? You perform an extravagant grand gesture of love. Show her just how much you love her and she’ll love you back, right?

This is awful advice for men. Just awful. It’s needy and it’s downright creepy. Especially in the initial courtship stages of a relationship.

The biggest problem with grand gestures in romantic movies is the woman’s reaction to them.

The grand gesture works because the writer says that it works.

The behaviour of the actress in the movie is bound by the script written for her. In the real world, the woman’s reaction to one of these romantic gestures would not follow the script.

I promise you, if you show up uninvited at your best friends house with a declaration of love written on cue cards to show to his wife, the woman will not act like Kiera Knightly did in Love Actually. She will tell her husband and you won’t be allowed near their house ever again.

And if you force a girl to agree to a date by threatening to commit suicide by hanging off a ferris wheel like Ryan Gosling in The Notebook, I promise you that girl will not show up on the date.

Hello? Police? I’d like to organise a restraining order please.

Romantic gestures are only suitable in the middle of an existing relationship and should never be used in an attempt to initiate one.

What a romantic gesture like this communicates is: “You’re way out of my league. But please, please, please go on a date with me” In what world is a woman impressed by this?

Take any of these grand gestures, remove the romantic background music and transplant the scene into the real world with real people. How does that grand gesture come across now?

On top of being needy, they’re creepy. They tick a number of boxes on the “Am I dealing with a stalker?” checklist. Persisting a woman after she’s rejected you 3 times isn’t romantic, it’s creepy.

Replace Robert Patterson with a middle-aged bald man. How do you feel about this scene now?

The grand gesture is an overused plot device used to impress a mainstream Hollywood audience who have been conditioned to accept it as normal.

They’re used because they’re visually dramatic and do a great job of making an exciting movie. In fact, the most famous romantic comedies are the ones with the most memorable grand gestures. Their purpose is to sell cinema tickets and DVD’s. Not to represent reality accurately.

Shut the fuck up Llyod I’m trying to sleep

MYTH 5: LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

Romeo and Juliet (1996)

You see her from across the room. You gasp as you take in her beauty. Her eyes. Her hair. Her face. And you know right there and then. That this is the girl who you’ll spend the rest of your life with.

This is not how relationships start. If you’re staring at a girl from across the room, it’s because you think she’s physically attractive. And that’s it.

While it only takes moment to decide if someone is or is not sexually attractive, it takes significantly more time to determine if someone is a long-term partner possibility or not.

It’s love at first sight. Which means you’re just looking at them with your eyes. You’re not using your ears. Deciding to marry someone without ever speaking to them is insane. Nobody does it. But Hollywood likes to pretend that this actually happens.

It’s a plot device, just like the grand gesture. It’s used because it’s dramatic, visually enticing and requires no subtlety whatsoever (Mainstream audiences don’t understand subtly).

When Warner Brothers are investing millions of dollars into a movie, they can’t risk having the romance unfold overtime in a natural way. The mainstream audience might find it boring and DVD sales will plummet. It’s much safer for them to stick to tried and tested plot devices.

But there are many real people in the world who will insist that they loved their partner on the very first meeting. Perhaps this is even something your grandparents will say and they were never exposed to Hollywood.

So are these people lying? No. Something else is going on here.

The memory of love at first sight could be a false memory

The memory is a strange and unreliable thing

Maybe it’s hindsight.

Most people’s idea of their memory is like a camcorder that records everything that happens to them. Something they can replay at any time. But memory is far less reliable than a camcorder.

Memory is more like a vivid dream that can be altered overtime by what happens after the event.

For example, you can probably distinctly remember where you were and what you were doing during the terrorist attacks of 9/11. While you probably feel like your memories of the event are pretty accurate, there is a very strong chance that your recollections have been influenced by subsequent news coverage and stories about the attacks. This newer information might compete with your existing memories of the event or fill in missing bits of information.

In exactly the same way, couples who are in love will reminisce about how they fell in love the moment they met. But in fact they may only feel this way in hindsight. They remember the event that way because they’re in love now. The way they feel in the present is affecting the way they feel about the past.

They may have had positive feelings towards each other on their first meeting, but in the moment they might not have felt the same way they do when remembering it.

This is why love at first sight is usually remembered by those who are in a successful long-term relationships.

If they had never been exposed to the idea of “love at first sight” through media, would they still claim that this happened to them?

It seems that with most couples, they grow fond of each other over time. So don’t worry if you didn’t think much of your partner when you first saw them. It doesn’t mean they’re the wrong person.

In many ways, a love that grows over time is far more romantic than the awkward “love at first” sight trope found in romantic movies.


MYTH 6: EVERYTHING WILL WORK OUT IN THE END — DESTINY

Slumdog Millionaire (2006)

No matter what. A happy ending is inevitable.

If you haven’t found your soulmate, then you need to be patient. The right girl/guy will come along. One day you will find the love of your life. It’s guaranteed. It’s destiny.

If destiny has a love waiting for everyone, then how do explain the 6 million who died at Auschwitz? Or the 6–7 million who were starved to death during the Holodomor? Or the 25 million people who died during the bubonic plague? Or the workers in the World Trade Centre on 9/11?

Was this destiny too?

If everything works out in the end, then how do you explain the lives of these people? Many of them having died before they ever found the love of their life? Where are their stories in Hollywood?

Life is grossly unfair and nothing is guaranteed. Good people die for no good reason. Many people never find a long-term partner. And everything doesn’t always work out in the end.

But almost all romantic comedies have a satisfying and happy ending. If you watch 100 romantic movies in your life, an assumption begins to build in your mind unnoticed: That your life will go the same way as the characters in these movies.

The subtle assumption that you made watching romantic movies creeps it’s way into your behaviour in the real world. You learn that being passive towards your romantic life is a normal way to behave. Then you forget where you learned the behaviour and you live the rest of your life acting this way. Without ever realising where you’re going wrong.

The problem with the plot trope of destiny is that it encourages passiveness. If destiny guarantees you the love of your life. then why work on yourself? Why bother yourself with dating? Why not just sit around in your boxers playing video games until destiny brings you what you’re entitled to?

The truth is: your love life is a pro-active venture. And destiny rewards those who pursuit their goals.

The more people you meet, the more likely you are to find a long-term partner. Shy people have the disadvantage because they’re meeting less people. And who has the biggest disadvantage? Those who believe (without realising they believe it) that the world will provide them with their soulmate.

If instead, romantic movies showed the protagonist sorting out their life, improving themselves and actively pursuing a romantic partner; then the audience would build more useful assumptions in their mind. That romance is something you have to actively seek out.

So look into your beliefs about love. Where did you get them from?

Did you get them from real world experiences, or from media?

If you’ve read this far, perhaps you would like to read more:

Sex At Dawn by Christopher Ryan

Sperm Wars by Richard Dawkins

How Fantasy Becomes Reality: Seeing Through Media Influence by Karen E. Dill