Romantic comedies shape our expectations, not realities

From “Titanic” to “The Notebook,” films have consistently entertained audiences with plotlines focused on developing romantic relationships between characters. These relationships have now become the basis for expectations of what love looks like, causing men and women to hold vastly different hopes for their significant others.

Generally, romantic movies are targeted toward women and portray the same basic format: Boy meets girl, mutual feelings develops, conflicts arise and are overcome. Then the story concludes with a happy ending as the two characters get together, happily ever after.

In movies such as “The Notebook” or “Dear John,” the main male characters are always faithful and show little to no interest in any characters other than the heroine. These men fall completely in love with the lead female character, often dropping their previous bad behaviors and outside relationships.

However, these characters are designed to create strong relationships and evoke a convincing sense of romanticism throughout the film. Their actions are not accurate representations of men or women in the real world.

Entire songs have been dedicated to explaining the actions men must perform in order to “prove” their love. This can be seen in “That’s How You Know” from Disney’s “Enchanted,” in which the main character portrayed by Amy Adams sings a long list of small tasks men ought to do to demonstrate their love and devotion. These include leaving “a little note to tell you, you are on his mind” and sending “you yellow flowers when the sky is gray.”

Because of songs like this, women sometimes develop a laundry list of qualities men must have, comparing real men to fictional characters who were devised to be perfect. When these unrealistic expectations aren’t met, the relationship may quickly sour.

The hopes of fairytale relationships should remain in film scripts, not in modern-day expectations.

Movies targeted toward guys have similar unrealistic themes, as they tend to include women who are satisfied with the “hit and quit it” lifestyle. Films such as “The Hangover,” “Spring Breakers” and “Project X” objectify women as nothing more than sexual objects seeking a good time with no strings attached.

This can also be seen in “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” as male lead Ryan Gosling is able to bring home new women on a nightly basis, teaching co-star Steve Carell the seemingly simple art of seducing women. Gosling characterizes the immature nature of young men, as he cares little about love and is driven by his own desire.

In the recent film “Don Jon,” male lead Joseph Gordon-Levitt and love interest Scarlett Johansson are challenged with these predetermined standards as he fails to meet her expectations because of his obsession with porn.

Gordon Levitt’s character “objectifies women and expects a one-sided, superficial relationship with them because that is what society has taught him to desire,” wrote Jeremy Nicholson of Psychology Today.

According to stereotypes we see in films, women seek a relationship based on the love characters share in movies while men are just hoping for a harmless good time.

These hopes are so vastly different, which leads to a consistently fluctuating societal definition of love.

Romantic comedies are entertaining — if they were not, they would not be as commercially successful. But it’s hard to deny that they shape our views of love, sex and romance just as much as screenwriters, actors, directors and producers shape those very films.

Reach the columnist at rsmouse@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @BeccaSmouse