It was a Friday night in college. I ran down the hallway to the common area of my dorm, four freshly popped bags of popcorn clutched in my arms. College girls have to eat something. My presence was greeted with shouts of enthusiasm as we nestled in to watch who-knows-what romantic comedy for the fourth time that semester.
“You know how they say, ‘You are what you eat?’” one of my friends joked, ice cream pint in one hand, soda pop in the other. We all laughed, but I didn’t think much more of the comment until the next morning. The next two hours I had specially reserved for being swept-off my dirty college couch seat by a blue-eyed rugged actor while I vicariously played the part of the unsuspecting colleague.
The experience was everything I wanted it to be.
And then real-life started playing again the next morning.
What’s the Purpose?
I had made a habit of hosting these movie nights in an effort to foster community. And I quickly noticed that nothing brought on a crowd of women like a classic romantic comedy. And yet the truth was, as I became more and more infatuated by the on-screen romances, I was becoming more and more frustrated by the off-screen romance I was living.
Off-screen, I was dating the man who is now my fiancé. There was absolutely nothing wrong in our relationship: no red-flags, no lack of attention, no poor habits creeping in. If anything, I knew we were making leaps and bounds as a couple in communication, companionship, discipline, and all sorts of other good things.
And yet, there was a restlessness in my heart. Thankfully, I had the wisdom to recognize it was not a restlessness worthy of attention, but rather an unholy restlessness.
It was a desire for something that I knew I did not need.
By the grace of God, I had a realization within prayer about the cause of my uneasiness. I was wanting the kind of romance I was seeing onscreen to be my kind of romance offscreen.
What Real Love Looks Like
The truth is that we can so often let the media/movies/messages we consume affect the way we perceive true love and distort our expectation of romance and relationships.
In his masterpiece book, Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love, author Edward Sri summarizes this point perfectly. Sri speaks about how the culture in which we live contains, “love songs, romance films, and TV shows which constantly play with our emotions and prompt us to long for quick, emotionally thrilling relationships like the ones people seem to find in the movies.”
I painfully realized that the discontent I was feeling in my relationship was nothing less than me expecting my boyfriend to make me feel the whirlwind of romance that actors were playing onscreen. I was limiting our relationship by expecting a full cinematic feature, while disregarding the genuine, real-life love story we were writing every day. I was limiting him by expecting a Hollywood award-winning air-brushed actor, while disregarding the perfectly imperfect man who was choosing to love me over and over every single day.
That is when I decided to go on a rom-com detox.
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Not Bad In and Of Itself
There are two extremes I want to make sure we avoid on this topic, and in doing so, we should make a couple of points.
Romance is Good
Romance and warm-and-fuzzies are good and necessary things in real-life romances! By no means am I saying you should not want any level of that. All I am saying is that real-world relationships will not and should not look like the ones on the movies. When we build up our expectations to that level, we will only become frustrated and discontented in even the most holy and healthy relationships.
As Edward Sri puts it:
Real love, however, is very different from Hollywood love. Real love requires much effort. It is a virtue that involves sacrifice, responsibility, and a total commitment to the other person. Hollywood love is an emotion. It’s something that just happens to you. The focus is not on a commitment to another, but on what is happening inside you—the powerful, good feelings you experience when you’re with this other person.
I found myself desiring the emotion of Hollywood love instead of recognizing the virtue of real love that was being performed right in-front of my nose.
The paradox present here is that while Hollywood love might be exciting and engaging for a short period of time, only real love will be fulfilling for a lifetime.
Prudence is Key
The second extreme is to think that any and all watching of rom-coms is sinful and degrading of our expectation of love. This is objectively false. Do I think there are certain rom-coms which cross a line and shouldn’t be watched? Yes, absolutely. Do I think that obsessive watching of rom-coms (like I did in college) can taint our vision of genuine love? Yes, absolutely. Do I also think that we can watch rom-coms in a prudent manner, keeping God’s vision of love and relationships intact in our minds, while enjoying a funny movie with friends? Yes, absolutely.
You know yourself, and at the end of the day, you have the self-knowledge and understanding to recognize when what you are watching is affecting you negatively. My advice is that if you find yourself expecting in your own life what you see on screen, or becoming frustrated with what you have in real-life because it is not what you seen on-screen, maybe it is time to give it a break. It does not have to be a life-long break, but maybe just take a season to regroup and recenter your expectations of love. It worked wonders for me: the discontent and restlessness lifted, and I was actually able to recognize and receive the ways in which my boyfriend was genuinely loving and pursuing me.
We are What We Consume
Like my friend said: “you are what you eat.” That doesn’t apply to taste only. We are affected by what we consume.
Let’s be people who make sure we are watching real-love, so that we can become it in the real-world as well.
Mary Grace “Gracie” Tillman is a full-time student and full-time extrovert. If you don’t find her with her friends, odds are she’s lost on a backroad with her music all the way up. She loves sports, writing, one-on-ones over coffee, and all things related to Divine Mercy. She strives to life live every day to the fullest and be a joyful disciple of Jesus.
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