Why is it that romantic fiction is never the same as real life romance? At first, I thought it was the quirky unique story lines that are always more interesting than real life. Consider 50 First Dates, which hit theaters in 2004:
Lucy (Drew Barrymore), having suffered brain trauma after a car accident, has short-term memory loss, and every night when she goes to bed she forgets the day that she has just experienced. Every morning she wakes up thinking that it's the morning of her accident. Henry (Adam Sandler) meets Lucy a year after her accident, and they have great chemistry from the start, but when Henry runs into her again the next day, Lucy doesn't remember him. Henry and Lucy fall in love, but every morning Lucy forgets who Henry is, so every day he has to make her fall in love with him again.
Lucy and Henry's romance seems so exciting and unlikely. Real life never seems as interesting as fiction. I used to worry that in the context of real life marriage the excitement and quirkiness of romantic comedies would make life feel blah, and I became prematurely disappointed.
Now that I am married I've found that fiction's effect on me has become... just as complex, but different. Owen and I went to see The Vow together earlier this year, which is another film involving memory loss and the male character having to work against the odds to gain the female character's love. My initial reaction to the movie was a great happiness and appreciation for my love with Owen. I felt like what I have with Owen is as special and interesting as what characters have in fiction.
Fictitious romance has still caused me frustration though, and I'm starting to get a grasp of what that is, or at least what it is on the female end of things. Later in the day, after having seen The Vow with Owen, he and I argued about something or another and my frustration with him was tenfold because of the movie. In the movie, Leo (Channing Tatum) fights for Paige's (Rachel McAdams) love. Though Paige rejects him, though her family rejects him, though he seem to have no hope, Leo continues to fight for Paige.
During arguments I try to give Owen ample opportunity to fight for my love: I walk away from him, hoping that he will catch me; I ignore him hoping that he will speak; I tell him off hoping that he will at least get angry. Whenever we argue he becomes quiet and withdrawn and I always have to solve everything (or at least, that's how I feel). All that I want is for him to step forward and fix things so that I don't have to spend all of my emotional energy making him feel better.
This pattern is not unique to us. According to John Gottman's The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work, males generally have a much more difficult time addressing relationship turmoil than females do. He says that relationship stress is so overwhelming for many men that they just freeze up, and are physically and emotionally unable to approach the problems. I won't assume this is true of all men, but it sure is true of mine.
If Gottman is correct in his analysis, then the lead male character who takes control of emotional situations is the biggest lie in fiction. Most of my favorite romantic comedies involve men who take charge and say the right thing at the right time. Think of some of these films, who ultimately repairs the relationship, usually with a heartfelt speech? You've Got Mail, When Harry Met Sally, Ten Things I Hate About You, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, Two Weeks Notice, Love Actually, (Actually any movie with Hugh Grant), The Notebook, The Wedding Singer, The Wedding Planner, Last Chance Harvey, Bridget Jones's Diary, Breakfast at Tiffany's... Gah I could go on for days, and at this point I'm only talking romantic comedies!
Dear ladies, it's time to get over it.
He can't help it, he is trying, and he does love me... it just doesn't always look how I think it should. Usually I want Owen to fix things with a beautiful speech of his love, like men do in the movies, but when I'm upset at him, he has a difficult time with words. Perhaps the man who actually does say the right thing during a time of emotional turmoil isn't emotionally invested enough. Owen reports that when I'm mad at him he can't find the right words because the emotional toll is too strong, so he tries in other ways. He may clean the kitchen for me or rub my back. Though he is generally unable to talk a problem out he does try. Since accepting this difference in how Owen and I handle emotional upset, I've found that I can enjoy movies like The Vow without feeling like Owen doesn't love me enough.