Years ago, I had a friend who seemed to be really happy in her relationship. She and her boyfriend did a lot of things together and many of us envied how close they seemed to be. He never bailed on plans, cleaned her car (along with his) every week by hand, and went to great pains to make sure she knew how to do certain things such as changing a flat tire or checking her oil.
Things started to unravel, unfortunately, when a mutual friend asked, “Does he ever do anything romantic for you? You know, like bring you flowers? My guy is always doing little things to show me affection.” I rolled my eyes since I was confident that my friend would not be rattled by this line of thinking, but sadly, she was.
Suddenly, she started demanding that her boyfriend start acting romantic. When he told her that he wasn’t into “empty romantic gestures” things quickly fizzled. Having seen this sort of thing among my counseling clients, I finally jumped in and asked her if those things really mattered to her. I pointed out that she had been happy before someone meddled in her relationship and, fortunately, the couple were able to get things back on track.
The story is not unique. Many of us have probably sabotaged a good thing by expecting the kind of grand gestures we see in the movies. While it’s nice to feel doted upon from time to time, let’s check out some romantic notions we’d all be happier without.
Love, marriage, baby carriage
While there’s nothing wrong with taking a traditional route, the idea that “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage” is not always realistic (or even desirable, to some).
Sometimes you’re not even sure you’re in love but the baby shows up. Other times, you might be blissful new parents but aren’t ready (or interested) in a wedding. Love does not have to follow a linear path. Blaze your own trail!
Pro tip: Life is short. Accept and embrace your happiness as it comes. Who cares what comes first?
Romance is roses and candlelight dinners
In the movies, things tend to follow a predictable pattern. When someone really loves you, it will involve rose petals on the bed, a bouquet of flowers, and a delicious dinner by candlelight. Maybe they’ll even whisper amazing things in your ear while you slow dance in the dark as the moon shines through the window.
Or… they might get your car’s oil changed so you don’t have to worry about it. Or… they spot your favorite ice cream on sale and pick up a couple pints. Or… they regularly scour local events for something new you could try together. Romance comes in all forms.
Pro tip: Think about all of the unique ways in which your partner shows you that they love you. Do you really need anything more?
Flash mobs and dream proposals
We’ve all seen the viral videos of someone going to great lengths to propose or celebrate at their wedding. For those who really mean it, it’s pretty amazing. I can’t even lie. Who wouldn’t want to be the object of that level of affection?
Still, it’s not reasonable to expect your partner to do something like that. In fact, that’s the reason why we all marvel at those videos — it’s uncommon and unexpected.
Pro tip: If you want to see a declaration of love through an elaborate flash mob, why not plan one for your significant other?
Sex will make couples feel instantly connected
There’s so much build-up to when a couple has sex for the first time (unless, of course, you do it right away!). There’s this unrealistic belief that, as soon as they physically connect, everything will fall into place.
Even the most prepared couples face the possibility that things won’t go smoothly the first time they sleep together. For most, the first encounter will be, at the very least, a bit clumsy and awkward as they get to know each other.
Pro tip: Don’t expect sex to solve all of your problems and be incredible the first time. For many people, it’s a work in progress! Be open, communicate, and keep trying!
You will never feel lonely again
We can blame the movie Jerry Maguire for making the term “you complete me” part of popular culture. The suggestion is that the right person will, somehow, make us feel whole.
That’s a great idea, in theory, but it sets a lot of people up for failure. The truth is that, even with a great partner, you will feel lonely sometimes. We all have moments when we feel misunderstood or lost. No one person is going to change that.
Pro tip: If you want to feel complete, work on yourself. Find your own happiness and confidence — then bring that to your relationship.
Love is enough
There are so many great songs that promote the belief that strong emotional connections are enough to sustain us through life. The Eagles sang “Love Will Keep Us Alive,” Captain & Tennille claim that “Love Will Keep Us Together,” and even Beyoncé feels “Drunk in Love.”
While romantic, the idea that love is enough totally negates the fact that even people who love each other could be bad at money management, compromise, commitment, and loyalty. We absolutely need more than love!
Pro tip: Even when you feel like you’re in love, don’t dismiss the importance of talking about serious topics to make sure that you’re on the same page.
You should throw caution to the wind
No matter how wooed you are by someone’s romantic gestures, you should never ignore your gut instinct. If something feels like it’s off, it is worth investigating.
When I worked in crisis intervention, I was so saddened by the number of clients who were able to reflect back to the earlier days of their relationship and identify warning signs. They’d say things like “something seemed wrong but he/she was just so nice.”
Pro tip: If something feels like a red flag, don’t ignore it just because someone buys your favorite candy. Sit and mull things over… while you enjoy the treat!
A baby will solve everything
Bringing a child into the world is a serious decision and is definitely not something to take lightly. Despite how sweet the movies make parenthood seem, it’s a lot of work.
Some people buy into this idea that their relationship isn’t complete unless they have a baby. The truth is that raising a child is tough on even the most solid partnerships and can be downright destructive to those that are already struggling.
Pro tip: If you’re feeling the need to start nesting, start with a pet and see how well you both juggle those responsibilities.
We have only one soulmate
The ultimate romantic notion is that there is just one person for us in this great, big world and we should not settle until we find this magical, mythical creature. Otherwise, we risk living an unfulfilled life where we both miss out on spectacular levels of joy. Sigh.
I’d never be arrogant enough to say that soulmates don’t exist. Some part of me hopes that they do. What I do believe, based on my experience with helping people, is that we can be happy with many different people, especially when we drop unreasonable expectations.
Pro tip: Don’t put a crazy amount of pressure on yourself. Focus on finding someone with the traits you most desire in a partner without it needing to feel like love at first sight.
Make your own romance
Every single one of us is different which means that every relationship is unique. There’s no way that romance can be one-size-fits-all. It has to be based on who we are and what makes us feel good.
Instead of thinking of all of the ways your partner fails to showcase these Hollywood-manufactured romantic notions, be grateful for all the things that they do to show you they care. Make your own romance and then choose to live happily ever after.