By Daryl McSweeney
Culture is pervasive and teaches us biases and prejudices whether we want to admit it or not. Messages, even messages we understand are untrue, repeated over and over again in front us, start feeling true in a way that belies logic or rationality. It’s the thing that allowed early man to learn that certain berries were bad to eat, running from certain animals and eating others was a guy idea, and society, cooperation, Latin, etc.
Along with that, our brains are not perfect computers capable of holding information without a gaffe or two. Sometimes certain bits of knowledge stick to our brains more than others. Some ideas stick so well that we can easily pass them onto others and that is called a meme, and in a way it’s almost like transmitting a virus. Some ideas grow within our minds without conscious effort.
Our brains have trouble retaining information sometimes, but they have the best of luck following patterns! To prove this, just think of where "K" lies in the alphabet. Some of you started to hum the alphabet song, didn’t you? Admit it! When we need to remember where the letter lies in the meaningless order some old dead guy put them in, we use the pattern of that song to help us remember.
Apart from songs though, some of the best patterns are stories. So we swing back to my culture stuff at the top. Our culture is reflected in our art and no art form was more easily consumed in my childhood than television.
And I want to be clear: I really believed this stuff in my heart of hearts because television told me so. It took a lot of growing and conditioning from real-life experiences (and the odd emotional trauma or two) to break me of these beliefs.
So without further ado, here is what TV taught me about relationships and how reality showed me that was wrong.
The right person was there all along!
Yeah, no. I mean, I kind of get that sentiment here, but this does two sexist things for the price of one (a deal no one asked for). One, it assumes that women don’t know what they want (because let’s face it, this idea usually applies to a lady not realizing her male best friend was the one for her all along) and need to go through “jerk” guys to finally settle on the right, “nice” guy. Come on, let’s give women enough credit to know what they want in the people they date. Can they have that at least?
Because two, and this one really messed with me as I started getting to dating age, it leads to guys thinking they should “hang around” their lady friends long enough for them to “notice” them. You know what this leads to? It leads to guys acting like creeps and putting unfair expectations on their female friends while telling them that everything is fine.
Has anyone ever really gone, “Oh my! You think of me romantically? I never considered you that way ever and now… now that I know you do, yes I do reciprocate!” Part of me writing this goes, “Yeah, people say that,” except no, they don’t. I’m remembering people saying that, but those words didn’t happen in real life. It happened on my TV. It just feels like I remember it actually happening. Cause, the stuff I said up top.
Which is not to say that romantic love can’t come from friendship, but TV was telling me that was the course of common courtship (good book title idea) and it’s just not. That situation is the exception, not the rule, and thinking otherwise only leads to expectations and trouble. Oh, which reminds me.
The Perfect Couple will be able to read each other’s mind.
Yes, sometimes when you’re with a person long enough, you’ll be able to predict them. Humans are predictable in a basic sense. When you spend a long time with someone/something, you start “priming” which is basically an evolutionary way of saying, “every time you see something or someone, you behave in a specific way based on your experiences.” So for instance, if you were to see the person you’re dating, you might get hungry because you often eat together and your body has learned that. “Oh that human has arrived,” your instincts have learned. “It must be time to eat and talk about our day.”
So yes, sometimes your moods will match or you’ll want to eat at the same time. That does not mean you can read each other’s minds. You will misunderstand and miscommunicate with each other and most likely hurt each other’s feelings in those miscommunications. When you feel “out of sync,” that’s just being a complex human being, not a sign that your relationship is dwindling and you should break up.
By the way, according to television, there is one caveat to this: hilarious misunderstandings. If we miscommunicate and it leads to me buying my lady flowers when she asked me to buy “flour,” we’ll have a good laugh and she’ll wag her finger at me. Any other misunderstanding will show that I never understood her at all and we should see other people.
Seriously, I legit thought when I was younger that if my girlfriend and I were not perfectly in sync on all things, soon we would break up. I would overreact to things and make them worse or head off good relationships for no reason in fear of getting dumped. Over what? Over nothing. Even worse, according to TV, not only will my girlfriend realize we’re not meant to be, the method of her realizing will also make her realize she was meant to be with that best friend of hers! (See what I did there? Connecting it back to the first lie? Hell yeah.)
It’s hard to predict someone’s thoughts and experiences, even if you know them really well. That’s fine. Just accept it and move on. Relationships are a lot of talking and disagreeing and yet somehow, amazingly, still enjoying each other’s company. I often don’t understand my girlfriend but then I just move on because who cares if I don’t understand why she likes some band I’ve never heard of, we’re people with rich internal lives. She’s not going to say, “Wow, he doesn’t know about Pantera? Bobby at work loves Pantera…” except in my anxious nightmares.
I’ve belabored this point a little because this one really stuck me when I was in college. Though not as much as the next one.
THE LYING LIE
Your Break Up Will Be Dramatic
You understand why TV does this. Everything is a story that has to be told with arcs and character growth and climaxes and whatnot. We pay (or steal) our cable to get that good writing dammit. It needs to be epic!
Except life is mostly dull and listless and routine. Couples break up all the time… for no reason. I mean, the reason is one person doesn’t like the other enough to date them anymore but like… that feels harsh. So some people create a reason. Others just go up to a person and say, “I just want to focus on my career” or “It’s not you, it’s me,” or some softer equivalent.
Not on TV though, on TV when a couple breaks up it has to be because of “SLEEPING WITH SOMEONE ELSE” or “LIED ABOUT SOME SECRET PLOT” or “I WILL NEVER DIE AND DON’T WANT YOU TO DEAL WITH MY IMMINENT IMMORTALITY SO I’M ENDING THIS NOW TO SPARE YOU THE HEARTBREAK OF THE FUTURE WITH THIS LESSER FORM OF HEARTBREAK TODAY” or something.
This trope is subtler but it teaches you that when relationships are good, meaning you get along and like each other as people, the relationship can only logically end when something bad happens. This taught me the toxic inverse lesson that, as long as I didn’t “screw up” in any major way, no girl would ever break up with me ever. Which, yeah, no.
TV writers need to make characters have “chemistry” so they write them having amazing, in-sync, unattainable relationships. Then for drama they need to break those couples up. “Well, how to do that? We built this bridge too well sir.” “I don't know... um... blow some shit up on it I guess.”
This led to me asking girls why they were breaking up with me, and when they didn’t have a “satisfying reason” I acted like a whiny dip, to put it mildly. And I can’t be the only one affected by this, right? Where else do you learn this stuff? From your parents? Yeesh.
Because for me, the course of relationships, from how and when they started, to how they are maintained, even to how they ended, IT ALL CAME FROM TELEVISION. And the lessons they taught me were pretty damaging.
Thankfully at some point I started coming up with my own ideas and found a person I really liked and we worked together on making our relationship something that lasted. We’re nothing like a TV couple. We’re boring and imperfect and happy.
I think we all need to analyze our ideas of relationships and dating and really think about where our assumptions or ideas come from. Also media could do a better job representing healthy relationships but you don’t worry about that. I’m gonna become a famous TV writer and fix Hollywood so I already got that covered.