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Finding Real Love vs. Hollywood Love

The annual hype around the Academy Awards has got me thinking about the role movies play in shaping how we view relationships, finding real love vs. Hollywood love. I did a couple of quick searches on top romantic lines from movies; lots of Top 10 and Top 50 lists out there.

There were a few quotes that caught my attention – lines that made most lists. Some quotes seem to capture a love that’s sustainable; others seemed to do the opposite – much more Hollywood than real. Here are a few of each – see if you agree with me.

The Good 

 “You make me want to be a better man.” (Jack Nicholson, As Good As It Gets)

Hard to argue with this famous quote. James Mark Baldwin and other psychologists have written at length on how “our very essence” can be profoundly shaped by others and how others see us.

Think about friends or romantic partners we’ve been with who brought out the best in us. Those whose company leaves us thinking “I like who I am when I’m with you.” That’s the powerful, positive romantic and social effect Baldwin and others point to.

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” (Ewan McGregor, Moulin Rouge)

Much easier said than done – but it definitely is something we can learn. Psychology Today points out that we can learn to love and be loved better through activities like:

Focusing on our behavior – how we treat our partner versus just easy words of ‘love’ and ‘commitment.’ 

Learning to be less defensive and “unilaterally disarming” in heated moments. 

Silencing our inner, critical voice – that part of us that can stream destructive negative thoughts about our partner and our self. 

“So it’s not gonna be easy. It’s gonna be really hard. We’re gonna have to work at this every day, but I want to do that because I want you. I want all of you.” (Ryan Gosling, The Notebook)

Most anyone who has been in a relationship for any length of time knows this first-hand: it can be really hard. Not all of us understood that – or wanted to believe it – going into it. I remember a counselor showing me the U-shaped curve of happiness: how overall satisfaction with life starts to drop as early as our late 20s and does not begin to recover until well past 50, obviously affecting our relationships throughout. 

I wish I had known that earlier. That the pressures of a career and marriage and a mortgage and kids was going to be really hard. That everyone struggles. That a key part of navigating that with a partner is wanting all of them, not just the convenient or easy or fun parts. And more than anything, I wish I’d gotten help to maneuver through all that much earlier.  

The Bad 

Okay, so there are a few movie lines that I think illustrate real love, the sustainable kind. Here are a few quotes that don’t seem to do that quite as well. (Note that context is clearly important, but these websites were dedicated to stand-alone movie quotes, with no real context given.) 

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” (Ali MacGraw, Love Story)

I guess with a few edits, I could live with this quote. Maybe something like: “Love means never saying you’re sorry if you aren’t sincere.” That’s when an apology doesn’t feel meaningful to the other person. The other key piece is intention: what is going to change, now that you’ve apologized? When done with sincerity and intentionality, as Psychology Today writes, an apology is a “powerful, perhaps even life-altering, tool for both the giver and the receiver.”

“Love is passion, obsession, someone you can’t live without. If you don’t start with that, what are you going to end up with?” (Anthony Hopkins, Meet Joe Black)

You know, that’s just not true. There’s a lot of research on who has the happiest marriages. Some very happy, successful, lasting marriages say they start with that kind of passion, but many don’t. What a very high number of happy marriages report – regardless of early can’t-live-without-you passion – is this:

  • Spend time with other committed married couples.
  • Share chores at home.
  • Have similar spending habits.
  • Celebrate each other’s successes.
  • Be best friends.

“You complete me.” (Tom Cruise, Jerry Maguire)

This is probably the one that will make some people mad. I get that. It’s one of the most famous romantic movie lines from the last 25 years (along with “You had me at hello,” also from Jerry Maguire). The problem is, there are dozens of recent studies that indicate individual happiness and self-confidence are key factors in determining a successful relationship. There are also numerous studies that indicate we attract people who are as ready for relationships and as healthy as we are. 

The Truth

So, what does that mean? Basically, all that pressure some of us put on ourselves to find the “right” partner will not amount to much if we aren’t right with ourselves. That means working toward being “complete” on our own. And then being open to another “complete” person as a partner for finding real love. 

Picking partners who are wrong for you? Struggling in your current relationship? Our counselors and coaches can help—contact The Montfort Group in Plano today.

Brian Kagel

Brian Kagel

I am a certified emotional intelligence and executive coach, with master’s degrees in counseling and organizational and human resource development from Southern Methodist University and Villanova University. I’ve also completed my doctoral course work at the University of North Texas, with my dissertation remaining. In my previous life, I enjoyed a career in journalism and market research, working for smaller and larger Fortune 500 organizations.

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