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How Media Shapes Our Perception of Love

Jenna Lawrence | Opinion Editor

Three words: Hallmark romance movies. I'm sure most people know exactly what kinds of films I’m talking about. The kind where a woman meets a man and gets swept up in a whirlwind romance – where they go on adventures and are consumed by passionate love. It isn’t completely unrealistic but is almost always unattainable in real life. I have spoken to several young women who have expressed they never feel as though they are going to experience the kind of love they see in romance movies or that they read about in books. They are subject to the modern dating world, where it seems committed and long-term relationships aren’t the goal for many people and where hook-up culture and situationships are normalized.

First of all, I think it’s important to talk about the audience that usually consumes romance movies and novels. Romance media is almost always geared toward girls and young women. If you’re a boy or a man watching romance movies or television, it is considered weird or cringe because of toxic masculinity and stereotypes. So, it has become normal and expected that girls will enjoy and be the ones watching and reading romance since the genre is viewed as inherently feminine.

Popular romance movies, such as The Notebook, Romeo and Juliet, and 10 Things I Hate About You, are examples of movies that show unhealthy relationships as ideal and provide girls with unrealistic expectations of what a relationship should be like. In The Notebook, the two main characters, Allie and Noah, fight constantly to the point where it is almost physical. However, they almost always reconcile, which is shown by them being intimate or loving with one another. In 10 Things I Hate About You, the premise of the toxicity in the way the characters, Kat and Patrick, begin their relationship are similar, which is a popular trope called ‘enemies to lovers.’ The foundation of their relationship is rooted in a lie, which causes Kat to become hurt. Despite being hurt by Patrick, Kat is also the one who confesses her love and feelings first – enabling a toxic system. These movies show rocky relationships and display them as what love should look like. Young girls and teenagers are especially receptive to this portrayal of romantic relationships to the point where they will believe it is okay to be in a toxic one.

Not only does this issue affect girls and young women, it also affects members of the LGBTQ+ community. Since much of the romance media that has been released is straight and heteronormative, it doesn’t really allow for people who don’t identify with that narrative to view relationships they’re interested in represented in the media, whether that be books, movies, television, etc. When they are shown representation, many of the endings are tragic and bittersweet, such as Carol and Ammonite, whereas even the most toxic of straight media will be granted a happy ending. This isn’t to say there aren’t straight romance media with sad endings, because there are – for example, Titantic and Me Before You. However, the number of happy LGBTQ+ movies are far fewer than those that are straight, which is an issue.

To sum it all up, there needs to be a more healthy and realistic representation of multiple kinds of romantic relationships. In the past couple of years, the production of romance media that has been produced has improved and progressed in some ways. A big example of improvement is Heartstopper, a Netflix series about a gay couple navigating their relationship through high school, which combats multiple real-life struggles and promotes healthy communication between not only the main couple but other characters as well. There must be more shows and movies released similar to Heartstopper because it is a better alternative for young viewers to take in than ones that promote unstable and toxic relationships that skew their perception of what love should be like.



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