What Hollywood’s Depiction of Romance Gets Wrong

What is true love? This author works in the entertainment industry, and she tells us what the differences are between Hollywood romance and true romance.

My siblings and I work in the entertainment industry for a reason — my family loves watching movies. Growing up, renting a movie or going to the theaters was how we chose to spend our time together. We never went on any family vacations, but if we had, I imagine there would have been a lot of theater-hopping. Why watch a sunset when you can watch McConaughey? That was the Kalina way. 

While Hollywood may have shaped me more than most, it’s safe to say Tinseltown has shaped all of our ideas about love and romance in one way or another. You can’t escape life today without Hollywood informing you in some way. “When a movie’s gotcha, it don’t ever letcha go,” as my dad would often say.

Romance evokes a wide range of feelings and images in our minds. When we hear that word, some of us think of a kiss in the rain. Some of us think of spontaneously dancing in the kitchen. Some of us think of that passionate, ooey-gooey feeling that marks the early part of a relationship.

These things are romantic, but romance is also so much more. Pope St. John Paul II said that the “the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little.” The same can be said for Hollywood’s depiction of romance. It’s not that they set our expectations for love too high, but that they set them too low.

So what is romance? What is actual, true romance?

John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story is one of the more influential guides for screenwriters. In this book, Truby describes the archetypal character — the “Lover” — as someone who “provides the care, understanding, and sensuality that can make someone a complete and happy person.” Writers in the entertainment industry are literally trained to distort what it looks like to be a lover. We need to understand that we are constantly fed stories molded around ideas that are simply not true. Another person cannot make us complete. Another person cannot make us happy. To understand what romance actually is, we have to understand what it isn’t.

Romance is a mindset

  • Modern romance says, “I got this. I’m gonna show you how worthy of a suitor I am.” It focuses inward.
    • True romance says, “Hold my beer. I’m gonna show you how worthy you are.” It focuses outward.
  • Modern romance says, “Chase the moment. Go for it.” It breeds friendships of utility and friendships of pleasure.
    • True romance says, “Chase the depths of the heart. Care for them.” It breeds friendships of virtue.
  • Modern romance says, “I love you. You complete me.” (This is, of course, a famous quote from Jerry Maguire, one of my family’s all-time favorites.) It sits someone else atop the throne of your heart.
    • True romance says, “I love you. I choose to walk alongside you in my journey to completeness.” It makes someone your partner in building up the throne of your heart.

When we think of romantic actors, we’ll likely think of someone more like Ryan Gosling, as opposed to someone like Michael Cera. There’s a confidence that romance requires, a certain level of bravado. When you try to charm your Valentine’s date this year, remember that romance starts in your mind. Anything can be romantic if you confidently stand by it. (For the record, I’m sure Michael Cera is a very confident person. He just tends to play characters who are quite the opposite.)

Romance is real

  • Modern romance is lavish, complete with broad gestures and gifts. It clings to the honeymoon experience, trying to cultivate unsustainable emotions. It wrestles with false expectations and believes love can be earned.
    • True romance is small, subtle, complete with gifts that speak the other person’s love language. It honors the reality of the other person. It rests in acceptance and gives out of abundance.
  • Modern romance says, “Love is passion, obsession, someone you can’t live without.” (This is, of course, from Meet Joe Black, starring the heartthrob, Brad Pitt.) It’s an addiction, rooted in a form of idolatry. 
    • True romance says, “Love is willing the good of the other.” It’s a laying down of one’s life for the other. It’s a gift, rooted in something bigger than just the two people.

As tempting as it may be to go overboard this Valentine’s Day, sometimes the thing that will make your S.O. feel the most loved is the tiniest thing. Really take the time to think about your partner and what he or she loves. Romance is the way in which we creatively adapt ourselves to another person’s desires.

Romance is a never-ending ride

  • Modern romance will kiss in the rain. Modern romance will indeed go for it … if it’s convenient or fun. However, the romance dies when the infatuation dies. When the end goal is feelings-based, what else is left when they dry up?
    • True romance is a decision of the will, and can endure the rain. It will stand in it, trek in it, sleep in it if it has to. When it’s not convenient or fun, true romance will persist. It gathers data accumulated after years and years, giving more and more opportunities for creative expression. When the end goal is eternal, it only grows.
  • Modern romance is impulsive. It’s intoxicating, drowning out the world into tunnel vision. Like a shot of tequila, it’s here and then it’s gone, a brief yet total immersion. 
    • True romance savors. It rests in the tension between two magnetic forces. Like a fine glass of wine, it makes everything more enjoyable and within control. It gives a couple the eyes to see the world around them more clearly.
  • Modern romance blinds. It says, “I can’t see anything I don’t like about you.” (This is, of course, from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, my personal favorite film.) It thrives with newness because of excitement and adventure.
    • True romance binds. It says, “I see your flaws, and I accept you.” It thrives with age because of choice and sacrifice.

This upcoming Valentine’s Day, I hope you lovebirds see past big Hollywood’s small idea of love. It took a lot of trial and error for me to be able to do so. It’s not that movies’ depictions of romance aren’t attainable — it’s that they’re too easily attainable. You can do better, and sometimes doing better comes with a simple change in your mindset: Make it about them and for them.

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