by Erin Skillen
Source: Island Parent Magazine
Originally Published: February 2018
About 10 years ago I made a documentary for W Network called Mr. Right is Stuck in Traffic. It asked the question: “Can romantic comedy movies and chick lit books sabotage your love life?”
Back then there was an inundation of meet cute/happy ending rom coms flooding our movie theatres and bedtime reads: Bridget Jones’ Diary, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Notting Hill. The details shifted a bit from one to the next, but the overriding message was that an amazing guy was out there, you would find him, he would be deeply in love with you regardless of your flaws and you’d live happily ever after. The message of the doc was that you can’t expect your life to be like a romantic comedy, but you shouldn’t settle for someone who doesn’t treat you with respect and kindess.
While the fundamentals of a love story remain the same, pop culture has shifted significantly since I made that film. Knocked Up came out, leading the charge of a new generation of imperfect love stories. Dialogue got raunchier, plot points were more realistic/less fairy-tale and Mr. Right became Mr. Mostly Okay. The traditional romantic comedies became fewer and farther between, while sex comedies have become far more prominent.
These changes in our pop culture reflect the changes taking place in our lives, our relationships and our hierarchy of needs, which have evolved due to some significant social an technological advances.
Below, #1 and #2 were in effect prior to the romantic comedy boom, but it’s #3 that is likely responsible for the post-rom com shift:
1. Birth Control. The plethora of birth control options available means that we have greater control over when or if we have children than ever before. We have a far lower chance of it happening accidentally, and when it does happen the family sizes are typically much smaller than those higher up in our family tree.
2. Women in the Workplace. Financial independence is now easier for women to achieve. While we’re still fighting for pay parity with men, many of us are out of the home and earning an income. Marriage is no longer required for financial stability and has become more of an option than the must-have it was for so many of our mothers and grandmothers.
3. Swipe Culture. The creation of “dating” apps like Tinder, and the rapid rate at which they’ve been accepted into the mainstream, means casual sex is literally at our fingertips. No need to woo anyone anymore, just hit up enough profiles and you’ll find someone who’s down for it. Up until this, committed relationships weren’t necessary for accessing sex, but they were usually a more straightforward path to sex than finding someone new. Now using an app provides a level of convenience and choice unlike anything we’ve experienced before.
When you look at these three areas together, it seems like many of the criteria that led people to partner up for the long term no longer apply. So, in the absence of needing to be with someone “forever,” do we still want to be? Or is romantic love going extinct?
Hallmark made 21 Christmas movies in 2017 alone, the majority of which are romantic. That being said, their viewership for these sappy flicks is almost exclusively female. At the same time, the porn industry continues making billions, primarily from male customers. Is this a cultural reflection of how men and women, and our desires, are growing apart?
There are some non-pragmatic parts of being in love that haven’t been reconfigured by technology or social progress. The addictive feeling of love, known as a state of “limerance,” has yet to be replaced. But will it be? Will a drug come along that feeds our bodies with the same chemical concoction as limerance? Will virtual reality games be able to stir the same emotions within us? Or will we just buy robots programmed to be our ideal partners, without the complexities of human flaws?
Do I think innovation will continue to change the volume of people still seeking to be in love with an actual human? Yes. Do I want romantic love to go extinct? Absolutely not.
There is some hope out there. Culturally, Aziz Ansari’s show Master of None went waaaaay down the lovey dovey path in Season 2 and was rewarded with acclaim from critics and audiences, both male and female. Love songs continue to be popular—though one could argue sex-obsessed songs are also as popular, if not more so. Socially, Match.com’s 2017 “Singles in America” survey found that Millennials are actually craving romantic relationships more than any other age group. This may actually be a side effect of swipe culture, as they’re fed up with hookup culture and just want to find someone they’re really into.
I think it’s safe to say that our parents never could have imagined how much things would change by the time their kids were dating. With the accelerated pace of change we’re experiencing today we definitely don’t know what the reality will be by the time our young kids are all grown up. But I do hope they get to have at least one positive romantic relationship in their lives (with another human). I want them to experience the rush of infatuation, the desire to do one kind thing after another for someone else and to share time with a person who’s special to them and who understands and admires who they are at their very core.
Romantic love is messy and complicated and inspiring and raw and beautiful and messier still. To dodge it in favour of convenience, simplicity and a sole focus on one’s own needs seems like skipping out on a significant human milestone. The highs and lows in life help cultivate our values and our purpose. To avoid experiencing the connection and passion of romantic love, and grow from it, seems like living a human-lite version of life—like real life, but lacking the depth and breadth of the full deal. Romantic love can hurt big time, but as they say, it’s better to have loved and lost than never loved at all.
Erin Skillen is the co-founder and COO of FamilySparks.com, an education company that helps parents navigate the toughest job in the world. She’s also a mom and a bucket list slayer.
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