The most-Googled question in the UK, according to recent research was: What is love?
It’s no wonder that we’re puzzled, shocked or hurt by love because we’ve been sold a myth by Hollywood rom-com movies which might be fun, witty and full of good-looking stars but taking them seriously can imperil your love life.
So what are these myths about love and how can underline your love life?
Love will build a bridge
If you love each other, you can overcome any obstacle. See Pretty Woman: She’s a prostitute and he’s a successful businessman but that doesn’t matter because love will find a way. See also: Notting Hill, in which the world’s most famous superstar falls for a bumbling bookshop owner. The fact that their worlds are poles (and continents) apart doesn’t stop them from finding true love.
Fall out in real life: You’re looking for someone to recognise your true worth, lift you up and magic away all your problems. Unfortunately, you forget that Mr Perfect also has his share of flaws too and his own bundle of stuff he’s expecting you to sort out too.
Turn it round: It is much better to roll up your sleeves and improve your own life – leave your dead-end job, sort out your troubled relationship with your mother etc – so when love does arrive it’s a nice addition to your life rather than the solution.
There’s one special person
You’ve just got to find them. See Sleepless in Seattle after Meg Ryan hears Tom Hanks on the radio miles away and just knows that he’s THE ONE. See also: Something Borrowed. Ginnifer Goodwin’s conflicted heroine is destined to end up with the handsome Dex – never mind that fact that he’s now her best pal’s fiancé.
Fall out in real life: You end up in one of three traps. You risk holding on to a relationship that’s going nowhere or worse still verging on the abusive. Alternatively, when your marriage does not live up to expectations you think someone else is the ONE and risk breaking your husband and your children’s hearts. If you’re single, you don’t accept a second date unless the chemistry is so strong that you’ve told each other your whole life story, discovered ten million things in common and stayed out till dawn.
Turn it round: Love takes skills and investment as well as connection. You need to listen to each other rather than think you know what your partner is thinking. You need to feed your love – especially when you have children – and spend quality time together as a couple (rather than expecting to stay magically in love when your only meaningful communication is about kid’s pick-up times). If you’re single, a slow burn can be just as good a foundation, and often more long lasting, as instant attraction.
If you really loved me you’d….
In the movies, guys will go to extraordinary lengths and risk total humiliation to get the girl (so why won’t your husband even put out the rubbish to please you?). See Along Came Polly where the guy eats food off the floor. See also: Love Actually, in which Colin Firth learns Portuguese, catches a last-minute flight at Christmas, and proposes to a woman he’s barely even had a proper conversation with. While half her village watch.
Fall out in real life: You find it hard to say NO to please your man and end up feeling taken for granted; or you might say YES to his face but find subtle ways to undermine the plan behind his back. Alternatively, he’s the people pleaser who can’t say NO because he’s frightened you’ll no longer love him (but his resentment seeps out as sarcasm, blowing his top and walking away).
Turn it round: It’s OK to ask for what you need (rather than expect him to guess) and for him to say NO or MAYBE and then two of you can negotiate (and find a compromise or a trade off where you both get something you want).
Happily ever after
Everything works out well in the end. See every rom-com ever! Including The Holiday – Cameron Diaz swaps homes with Kate Winslet and promptly falls for her brother, while Kate hits it off with Cameron’s neighbour. How very cosy and convenient.
Fall out in real life: The crazy, walking on air part of falling in love – what psychologists call limerence – does not last forever. When it fades away, somewhere between eighteen months to three years into the relationship, lots of people think there’s something wrong with them rather than question the myths about love.
Turn it round: Once you accept the honeymoon does not last forever, you can start to notice the subtler and ultimately more fulfilling parts of love: The importance of someone to witness your life. The comfort of being sure of each other. The joy of raising children. The strength that comes from overcoming obstacles together.
Love can totally transform a man/is a magic bullet
It doesn’t matter if his life is a mess or he’s got a disturbing streak because love will fix him up. See Knocked Up: Sorted Katherine Heigl’s one-night stand with slacker Seth Rogen leads to an unexpected pregnancy, and as if by magic he’s got his act together by the time the baby arrives. See also: Silver Linings Playbook. One minute Bradley Cooper’s in a psychiatric hospital for a violent assault, the next he’s swivelling his hips for a dance contest with a little help from Jennifer Lawrence.
Fall out in real life: The problem with this myth is that it’s half right. Under the magic of limerence he will try and please – especially if he knows that he shouldn’t be drinking so much, needs to settle down etc. However, he has to want to change – deep down inside – not just when he’s under the influence of all those feel good hormones.
Turn it round: Ultimately, the only person we can change is ourselves and contrary to popular opinion we’re not supposed to ‘fix’ our partner. Think of life as a journey, of course you’re going to help him ford a stream or over a style, but you can’t carry him. Furthermore, your partner is most likely to change when he feels truly accepted for who he is – rather than when he’s reached your view of who he should be.
Broken? That’s it
If you’re having problems, it’s because you weren’t really meant to be together. See The Break-Up: When Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughan can’t resolve their everyday relationship issues – he thinks she nags (12-lemon centrepiece, anyone?); she thinks he’s selfish – they decide to sell their shared home instead.
Fall out in real life: Because this myth and all the previous ones reinforce each other, you end up believing that you’ve got such a big problem that it needs a big solution – and that will either promote panic, de-skill you or encourage endless procrastination (until you really do have a crisis).
Turn it round: The best way to make lasting improvements is to start with something small, measurable and easy to monitor – like agreeing to spend ten minutes at the beginning of the evening chatting, unwinding and checking in with each other. In this way, you set up a pleasant evening together and a positive cycle where one success promotes another.
If they’re The One, you can forgive them pretty much anything
Carrie may have taken Big back in Sex & The City: The Movie after he humiliated her at the altar and broke her heart multiple times in the past, but would you be quite so understanding? See also How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, where Kate Hudson deliberately sets out to sabotage her budding relationship with Matthew McConaughey for a magazine article, but ends up getting the gorgeous guy anyway.
Fall out in real life: This is the myth that gets women staying with dangerous or bad boys. It encourages single women to keep dating married men (who hold back facts about their wife, three children etc until their girlfriend is hooked). Furthermore, it can also allow you to forgive your own loathsome behaviour – like ranting, obsessive jealousy or reading his private emails – because you LOVE him.
Turn it round: Love is not an excuse for unacceptable behaviour. If the relationship is hurting so much – despite what he says – it’s not love. Sometimes thinking a lot about an ex is not because you are DESTINED to be together but part of the natural mourning process of learning and letting go. Love is wonderful but keeping a level head will make the chances of a long-lasting love (beyond the end of the film) more likely..
For a more balanced view of the myths about love look at my book What is Love? Fifty questions about how to find, keep and rediscover it? (Marshall Method Publishing) £9.99