I love books, of course. And I like a good sitcom or romcom or…dram? As much as the next person. But lately something’s been nagging at me, so you, my lovely audience, get to hear about it.
The bread and butter of most fiction is miscommunication.
There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that. It’s more or less a fact of the human condition–we can’t read minds (unless we’re mutants. See again “human” condition). Not being able to do so means that we don’t know what’s going on in another person’s head unless they tell us, and sometimes, for good or bad, we don’t trust what they say. There’s no law that you have to tell the truth (even when there is, on the witness stand, people don’t always do it!), and worse, no real way to make someone, unless you’re that guy from “Lie To Me.”
What is beginning to bother me is the romance plot based on miscommunication that a) glorifies keeping secrets and pining and not being up-front and b) its impact on real-life relationships.
WAIT DON’T RUN AWAY. I promise I will try to make this interesting. So. Uh. Gee, what would make a good example. Oh, right, maybe every young adult novel ever? Let’s go ahead and pick one.
So there’s this chick named Bella and she moves to this new town and all the boys are like “Wow, she’s somehow irresistible because she’s new and clumsy!” And she meets this guy named Edward who is all sparkly and broody and he’s really mean to her, but she can’t stop thinking about him. Then he keeps showing up places and he saves her life and stuff, but he still seems like he hates her. So she starts obsessing about him because that’s what you do when someone antagonizes you, right? And it turns out he’s oddly attracted to her because of how her blood smells and he’s been mean either because he’s five years old and on the playground or he doesn’t want to snap and drink a human. One or the other.
So there’s miscom (oh yeah we’re doin’ that) number one. Lesson learned: When people treat you poorly, you should probably fall in love with them because somewhere secretly they might have feelings for you.
Then all this crap happens and Edward’s all like, I can’t be around you because it’s too tempting/dangerous/I’m no good for you/something else dumb. And Bella’s life goes blank for three months.
Lesson two: The romance plot is the most important part of a person’s life and the only thing worth living for.
So she starts developing a new interest in extreme sports (because she wants to get close to death because she feels like he’s with her then, you know, not a messed-up reason at all) and hangs out with this new guy who’s really nice to her and helps her out all the time and obviously likes her but is giving her time and space.
In real life, this would be basically the best thing for Bella. Moving on! Obviously old bf had some control issues and that was not a healthy situation! This guy treats you well!
But of course, all this is just to set up a stupid love triangle where it turns out that Edward has been coming back to protect her because she’s a girl and can’t take care of herself and when he said “it’s over” he was kidding because his love for her was too strong and now she has to choose between the undead hottie and the live-but-werewolf sweetheart who’s been there for her in UH’s absence.
Yes, I’m aware that “Twilight” is a terrible book and not being held up to anyone as a model of healthy relationships. Except you know what, this (minus the undead/werewolf stuff) could be the plot of a whole bunch of YA books (and adult books and movies and TV shows), and when you read and watch the same thing unfold again and again, you begin to internalize it.
It’s the “don’t really get over the person who was obviously not right for you SINCE YOU BROKE UP FOR A REASON because at some point in your life they will reappear and things will be as they were meant to be” trope.
What it suggests, in shows like How I Met Your Mother and Friends and Veronica Mars and a whole bunch of other media, is that it’s possible that the person who just dumped you is secretly still super in love with you and acting out of some miscommunication or misunderstood impulse, but that he or she will go away, learn what he or she really feels or what s/he is missing, and come back to you for what will now be a completely functional, fixed relationship.
Show of hands: How often is this the case, in your real-life experience?
I’m not saying that it never happens, or that sometimes a relationship can be resolved with work. What I’m saying is that I think we need more counterexamples to balance it out. I think we need more stories that go like this:
Bella moves to a new town where all the boys love her. One guy, Edward, seems to hate her. So she starts casually dating a random high school guy who likes her. Edward saves her life and stuff because he’s kind of a stalker and secretly obsessed with her, and she says, “Hey, listen, I appreciate the life-saving but we’re no good together and I think you have an unrealistic idea of who I am, so maybe we should spend time apart.” Then Edward leaves and Bella, who stopped seeing the random high-schooler because things didn’t really click, meets super-sweet Jacob and discovers that she likes motorcycling so they motorcycle together and then go to prom.
Okay, sure, I know a lot of what got people to continue to read books as bad as the Twilight series was the question of Edward or Jacob–the idea that we can see two people completely in love, get the feeling of catharsis from seeing them get together, then watch them lose each other and get the AMPLIFIED catharsis later on of seeing them sort out their differences and find each other again, this time appreciating even more what they’d lost.
It’s just that, as a reader and a TV watcher, you can’t help but internalize lessons about how relationships work from the media you consume. And as someone moving past a breakup, it kind of sucks to have the “but maybe it’s a misunderstanding and that person does secretly love you” narrative in your head. It makes the getting-over-it process take longer. Sometimes it means you think you’ve completed that process, then you run into the person at Starbucks, and it starts all over because what if when they said “hi” they meant “I made a huge mistake and I want you back” but they were too scared to say it.
It takes a will of iron to squash those little butterfly thoughts and hopes, and I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t even keep my intention not to hit “snooze” on my alarm clock this morning, much less to deny attractive little possibilities to myself.
Alls I’m sayin’ is, it would be nice if the books and shows that have helped me feel better about loads of other problems in my life would help me out here and show successful, healthy moving on a leetle bit more often.
Quit your speculation about my personal life, I’m not saying that this is going on now and with me. It’s the…royal “me.” I’m just paying more attention to the stories we’re being told, and I think it’s necessary to be aware of the ways in which the messages coming at us might not actually be the best to imitate.
This is why I like ghost stories. Ain’t no message but “LOOK OUT FOR THAT GHOST!” in a ghost story.