The viral Instagram hashtag #Couplegoals has over 6 million posts. The majority of these posts depict couples sharing extravagant gifts, or enjoying perfectly captured ‘date nights’. There are many Instagram accounts that flood our feeds, usually named around some variation of the phrase ‘couple goals’. The stereotypical couple will be young, attractive, and slim. Photo captions will echo with sentiments of eternal love, with a scattering of different coloured heart emojis.
The influence of the media on our perceptions of a perfect relationship isn’t a new phenomenon- think back to the Disney movies that you were introduced to as a child. The handsome prince saves the damsel in distress. All the happily ever afters, and love at first sights. From a young age, we are exposed to a distorted idea of what to expect in a relationship. Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, the media that we consume has influenced the romantic and sexual choices we make.
All the happily ever afters, and love at first sights…
According to a study conducted at California State University, the average age at which most people engage in a ‘serious’ relationship is 18. By this age, individuals have consumed their fair share of media and have been exposed to this idealised idea of the ‘perfect relationship’, and have probably constructed their own ideas about what they believe a perfect relationship should look like.
Romantic comedies are a huge factor in creating these expectations. While there may not be singing birds or a castle that feature in Disney movies, there is an underlying message that a man will save the day. Think of all the rom-coms where a man comes running to the airport, professing his undying love. From classics like The Notebook or Notting Hill, to Christmas specials like Love Actually, the storylines follow a classic narrative resolving around a kiss and finding Mr Right.
There is an underlying message that a man will save the day…
Psychologists have argued that one major relationship struggle deriving from rom-coms is the challenge of communication. Films often portray an instant connection where two people don’t need to discuss how they feel, but rather they just know that they want to be together. They are soul mates. There is little discussion on what they expect from a relationship, but instead, they are somehow instantly compatible. Sex is portrayed as instantly fantastic in films and TV, with couples being sexually compatible from the offset. This is not the reality in most cases, yet we still expect this to be the case because of portrayals of romance in the media.
These expectations are particularly harmful in promoting stereotypical gender roles. The man is caring yet strong, manly yet empathetic. Forward, but not abrasive. Attractive, yet not vain. He should be in charge and take initiative, but must treat his partner as an equal. Anecdotal evidence demonstrates to me that some women are surprised when men don’t act like a real-life Hugh Grant character. Whilst diversity in media representations is on the rise, and the number of films with a homosexual couples have been increasing, the classic romantic comedy is still associated with a straight white male in the lead role. If a ‘right’ person truly does exist, they should be displayed in all sexualities, genders and races in order to represent everyone’s perception of ‘right’.
The real concept of ‘Mr Right’ is someone who will improve your life…
There are very harmful aspects of people sharing their ‘perfect relationship’ on social media. The struggles and heartaches are omitted from the story, and the onlooker is left with a false portrayal. Instagram is only a highlight reel, much like film and television, which gloss over struggles and arguments. To a person without much experience with relationships, what must they think a relationship looks like?
In order for expectations to change, there must be less glossing over the difficult things in life. The real concept of ‘Mr Right’ is someone who will improve your life. Relationships change depending on the person, and so they should. For many people, the ‘right’ person will change depending on the time in their life. ‘Right’ is subjective, so to have one perception is unrealistic. Next time you watch a rom-com, ask yourself, are they really Mr Right?