No one enjoys a good love story more than I do, but I’ve recently grown a little frustrated by the lack of good couples that we actually get to know in mainstream media. The traditional story-telling arc dictates that resolution must only come at the end of the story, therefore, it is usually only at the end when we see couples getting together.
So many stories are focused on fighting through obstacles to be together, such as miscommunication, resulting in breaking up and getting back together, or choosing whether or not to be together. Rarely do we actually see couples move past the honeymoon stage, and actually just be together. The story usually cuts off right before that point, and I understand — it’s much more exciting to watch the start of a relationship. I, like the rest of the world, do get very invested following stories that involve a couple getting together. However, this unfortunately means that we are left with so few examples of what good relationships look like.
When I was 13, I read the entire Twilight series. This was the first “romance” I’d ever read and I actually thought that that was how a relationship was supposed to look. I thought that Edward seemed like the perfect guy — polite, intelligent, loving — and when things didn’t work out for me, I thought that crying and going off food were appropriate ways to show the depth my affection. Only after I entered a good relationship did I realize how extremely problematic all of that was. Bella and Edward’s relationship is abusive and stifling, yet they were glorified as a couple when I was reading the series. Their “love” is obsessive and all-consuming, and strips Bella of what little character she had. She abandons her friends and family to be with Edward and constantly plays the damsel-in-distress role. Meanwhile, Edward is domineering and over-possessive, which is played off as caring. His wanting to kill her every day is attributed to his uncontrollable nature. Jacob is not a better candidate, and sexually assaults Bella on several occasions, which again is played off as romantic. Thousands of children have read, and are still reading, these books and taking in the perverted reality that they present. 50 Shades of Grey similarly presents an abusive and non-consensual relationship that was based off Twilight, and is again reaching thousands of people and gaining so much success and attention. Our culture is promoting books about sexual abuse and that is not an overstatement. Both these stories present such awful, unequal relationships and while this may seem obvious to some, a shocking number of people don’t realize how this is a problem.
Because of stories like those, losing all personality is easy to confuse with compromise. We’re so rarely shown how to properly compromise in a relationship and for that, I’ve seen hardcore feminists — me included — completely back down to a partner, and neglect to speak up for some of our most fundamental values. What arguments are worth pursuing? How do we stand up for our point of view without starting a fight? For women especially, we’re not always raised to speak up and demand what we want, so this can cause many communication issues in relationships that will build up over time. These are issues that aren’t addressed very often with couples in the media. It took me way too long to realize that if you’re too afraid of your partner’s reaction to speak up, you’re with the wrong person.
Twilight and 50 Shades are extreme examples, but many other couples in stories I love very much don’t exactly do a great job of showing a working relationship either. In The Notebook, Noah and Allie are described as such:
“They didn’t agree on much. In face, they rarely agreed on anything. They fought all the time and they challenged each other everyday. But in spite of their differences, they had one important thing in common: they were crazy about each other.”
I cry every time I watch The Notebook, but I have problems with this scene. A relationship that carries on like that is going to get tiresome and feel unstable in the long run. That’s not to say that it can’t work. I think the fact that Noah recognizes how much effort it’ll take shows that there is a realistic chance of it working:
However, Noah and Allie are just one example of the “bickering couple” that the media so often glorifies (think Ron and Hermione, Han and Leia, and pretty much the entire genre of screwball comedy). The issue I have with this is that no story ever shows the bickering couple actually getting through their bickering and how it affects their relationship a few years down the road. The book or movie saves their getting together until the very end and we are left to assume that so much disagreement will just naturally lead to a strong, healthy, lifelong relationship.
I wish we could see more examples of couples working through problems once they’ve already committed to being together. Lily and Marshall from How I Met Your Mother or Jesse and Celine from Before Midnight both do a wonderful job of this. I’d also like to see more couples just being together and working together while independently living their separate lives. Harry and Ginny from the Harry Potter series and Hiccup and Astrid from How to Train Your Dragon 2 are fantastic examples of this as they are able to be together without having their relationship be the main focus of their lives or of the story. I also love these two couples for their respect of each other’s space, their independence, and how they both trust each other’s abilities and respect their individual choices. A lot of good stories miss out on that so as to draw out the “getting together” stage. Aang and Katara in Avatar: The Last Airbender could have been a kick-ass couple throughout the series, like Sokka and Suki were, but instead, they didn’t get together until the very end of the last episode.
There’s not one formula to a good relationship, but they do all have a few common traits; trust, good communication, and an equal balance of power are generally pretty good to start with. How is it that we see so few examples of this? So much of making a relationship work isn’t portrayed in mainstream media. We are so heavily influenced by the books we read, the shows and movies we watch, the music we listen to, and while it may not be as interesting to create a couple who doesn’t have to cross rivers of lava to stay together, I think it could go a long way in presenting a healthy picture of a relationship that we can hope to emulate.
P.S. For a full account of the problems in Twilight or 50 Shades, see Laci Green: