Movie Myths About Relationships
I moved from Toronto to Vancouver to pursue a career in screenwriting after optioning my first screenplay.
What you start to realize very quickly about writing screen and teleplays is that they’re structured in a very specific way to manipulate the audience through dramatic story beats.
What that essentially means is that writers will completely ignore what would probably happen in real life, in order to tell the best story.
And that’s because real life is kind of mundane and boring when compared to movies. It’s why we go to the movies in the first place; escapism.
We’re banking on the fact that we’ll be able to suspend your disbelief well enough to take you on a ride. But sometimes this suspension of disbelief can go too far, especially when it comes to romance.
For some reason, when we see couples getting together on screen, we so readily believe that could be us up there. We don’t just buy it on camera, we buy it for real life.
Which is insane. I mean, you would never believe that you could make a suit of armor that flies or jump a speeding car through the front of a flaming 747 jumbo jet. So why would you think romance plays out exactly like how it does in the movies? These are works of fiction, not documentaries.
Maybe it’s because those movies look and feel so much more like real life, with their apparent absence of fantastical elements. But the truth is, movies have created and perpetuated some giant myths about attraction over the years.
Perhaps the biggest and most common myth in a movie’s romantic subplot is that losers eventually get the girl.
Watch, like, any Adam Sandler movie. It goes something like; hapless loser gets dumped by bitchy current girlfriend, falls for a girl way out his league, but she takes a shine to him, even though she’s dating a successful stud, eventually we find out successful stud is super evil, she breaks up with him and gets with hapless loser.
We’ve seen it done a million times, particularly in comedies.
But it’s just not true. Girls, particularly attractive, confident and ambitious ones (you know, the kind you want to date) do not want to date somebody who dresses like they’re still in high school, has no life ambition and is actively bad at talking to women; i.e. not charming.
The reason we see this in movies is because it’s sort of screenwriting 101 to have your character go through an arc. Meaning, we start them off with nothing because they’re not trying, and then they do try and learn something new and become better, and are then rewarded.
That’s the part you should focus on. If you’re just not doing well with women at the moment, it’s a reflection of you. You have to go through an arc.
Get ambitious and strive to make yourself better than you are, and watch things turn around.
Movies almost always completely fail to acknowledge the existence of the friend zone.
They create this misconception, that the super-cool, super-hot female friend in your group, who you’ve been friends with forever, has always been in love with you.
Sorry, but in reality, most of the time, she just isn’t.
The reason screenwriters do this so often is something called set-up and payoff. Essentially we plant the real romantic interest in the movie really early on, so when the two eventually do get together by the end, the audience (whether you called it from the beginning or not) will feel more rewarded.
In real life though, the reason this girl is so easily your “buddy” is because she wrote you off as a sexual candidate a long time ago.
Unless you’ve been flirting and building up sexual tension with her, you can bet she’s not going all puppy-dog eyed when you chase other girls or when she’s “forced to move on” with somebody else.
This is very similar to the ‘close female friend is really in love with you’ thing, where we tend to think, “well, I’ll only ever be able to date one of the girls I already know.”
Which is bullshit. The reason movies make us think this is because they introduce us to a relatively small group of people, and we start assuming there are only so many possibilities for romantic coupling.
You believe your options are limited to the cast of characters.
Listen to people when they talk about TV shows, “I think so-and-so is going to get together with what’s-her-name”. They never even think that maybe a new character might be introduced next season.
This is very limited thinking, and in reality, you’re missing one of the things that movies actually get right.
The random meeting.
We tend to overlook this sometimes because typically, in a romantic-comedy, we’re introduced to both main characters right at the beginning the film, so the other’s existence is never a mystery. We know what’s coming from the second we sit down to watch the film; the two characters are on a collision course.
While there is no writer’s hand guiding two people together in real life, the fact of the matter is that you never know when you’re going to meet that really great girl.
And that’s really exciting when you think about it. You get to wake up every day, and be awesome and excited, because you never know who you’ll bump into when you turn a corner.
Grand romantic gestures never work.
One of the greatest sins of cinema, of all time, is blurring the line between incredibly romantic and insanely creepy.
Whether it’s breaking up a wedding, or blasting a boom-box out front of her bedroom window, I can almost guarantee it’s not going to go over well.
Movies feature these kinds of moments for two reasons.
First, screenwriters will typically create an “all is lost moment” about 80% of the way into the film or so. This is where we’re absolutely certain the protagonist won’t accomplish their goal, because everything has gone to shit.
This leads to them having some kind of huge revelation and basically taking one last, all-out attempt at succeeding.
Which leads to the second reason why we think grand romantic gestures work, because all screenplays must have one; a climax. The climax is that all-or-nothing confrontation that’s going to solve the main conflict of the story.
Usually, our hero succeeds, the problem is over and the movie can end.
So that’s why you see the guy eventually professing his undying love for the girl in a romantic movie. From a structural stand point, it’s basically the same as a lightsabre battle.
Never, ever do this in real life.
Seriously, you’d have a better chance at winning the lightsabre battle.
Now, I know when it feels like a girl that you’re really into is slipping away, you might feel like it’s time to go all out and tell her how you really feel. That’s basically what movies have taught us is the right thing to do.
But it isn’t. Women become attracted to you through mystery, tension, build-up and escalation. So stay cool and avoid embarrassing yourself.
Your life is not a movie, and sometimes, not everything is going to have the most satisfying ending.
I’m not saying that you should ever compromise on yourself or settle, but just know that real personal interaction is often much less poetic than what we see on screen.
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About David Maitland David Maitland is a writer living in Vancouver, Canada.