Once upon a time, my romantic expectations were sky high. Why wasn’t my partner getting me flowers, writing me songs, or buying me gifts?, I wondered. I was unhappy, but I was also determined to fix it.
After spending the last year researching and writing my new book, Outsmart Your Smartphone: Conscious Tech Habits for Finding Happiness, Balance, and Connection IRL, I realized that I expected these things, because romantic comedies had taught me that these are the actions that show love. Romantic comedy had been affecting my relationship without me even knowing it.
Expectations absorbed from media form so slowly and at such a young age that they can be completely invisible to us. Since we’ve had these expectations so long, we may have forgotten (or never known) what it felt like not to have them.
So how can we manage these expectations without giving up completely on the idea of romance? Believe it or not, research has unearthed some insights that can help us feel happier and less wronged in love.
How romantic comedies create unrealistic expectations
Romantic comedy is a genre that frequently depicts exaggerated plot lines and unrealistic outcomes, like when he chases you down at the airport to express his undying love, when he fills your room with more roses than you can count, or when she falls for him instantly — it’s love at first sight!
In romantic comedies, relationships are full of romance, intimacy, and passion — often merging the best aspects of both new relationships and longer-term bonds. We see lots of compliments, gift giving, and affection, predominantly initiated by men. But this isn’t an accurate portrayal of what real, healthy relationships are actually like. Real relationships involve compromise, acceptance, and honesty.
Although viewing these idealized versions of romantic relationships may seem innocuous, we often use information from media to teach us what is normal and how to behave. Older viewers can better discern reality from fiction, but younger viewers, who don’t have other experiences to inform their beliefs, may more easily incorporate these idealizations into their idea of what a relationship is supposed to be like. And with exposure to the same types of story lines again and again — thanks to the constant bombardment of media that now starts in childhood — we might start to think our own reality is pretty mediocre.
And that’s exactly what seems to happen: Frequent viewers of romantic media content are less likely to believe that they can change themselves or their relationship, more likely to believe that their partner should intuitively understand their needs, and more likely to believe that sex should be perfect.
They also report lower relationship satisfaction.
For me, it wasn’t until I really reflected on my expectations and where they came from that I started to turn it all around.
Do you think you, too, might have developed some unrealistic expectations?
Here are 3 tips for recalibrating them:
1. Separate what’s realistic from what’s unrealistic
First, make a long list of all your expectations for relationships — seriously, everything you can think of. Next, take a red pen to all the ones that are unrealistic.
How do you know which ones those are? Well, one way is to try to imagine doing or being everything on your list. Is it possible?
For example, can you always tell what other people want?
Do you always say the perfect thing?
Do you never make mistakes?
Having high expectations is fine — but having impossible expectations is problematic.
See if you can find where the line is.