When we were little girls we listened to fairy tales like Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty. As we grew up, we watched movies like Pretty Woman. All contribute to fairy-tale brainwash, the belief that the right man or woman will just show up in our life at the right place and right time, without us having to do anything to make it happen.
I first started thinking about the impact of Hollywood on relationships and single women, when one of my clients, who had been single for 10 years, was talking about the movie Pretty Woman. She knew every line of the movie by heart, to the extent that she could quote from it. As well as waiting for that guy to show up, she also had very high, narrow expectations about the kind of guy she would date. A 2009 study has looked into this issue. Contradictory Messages: A Content Analysis of Hollywood-Produced Romantic Comedy Feature Films, and found that romantic comedies gives us unrealistic expectations about relationships.
The fairy-tale brainwash also makes us believe that the man you end up with is going to be a certain kind of person - they are going to be like the prince or hero in the movies; tall, dark, handsome, and rich. We then feel that if they are not like the men from the films that they can't be the right person.
Occasionally it does happen; a film star meets an everyday person (George Clooney and his new fiancé, human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin). Or a prince meets a normal girl who is one of us (Prince William and Kate Middleton) just like in the fairy-tales, just like in the movies and in the novels. But building your life around these rare events is like basing your career choices on winning the lottery.
Traditionally Hollywood reinforced these romantic ideals with movies such as Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. Recent Hollywood movies Frozen and Maleficent are taking a different tone. In Maleficent (an alternative take on Sleeping Beauty) the heroine is brutally betrayed by the man she loves who becomes such a bitter enemy that she curses his baby daughter Aurora. In Frozen, Hans the perfect Disney prince turns out to be the bad guy, and Kristoff, the iceman (who delivers ice in a wagon) and is not your typical prince, turns out to be the romantic love interest, and neither are central to the plot. So perhaps Hollywood has learned its lesson - for the younger generation it is now providing a more realistic portrayal of love. Sadly this is a bit late for previous generations of women.
One of my early clients thought the Hollywood romantic comedies were so detrimental to her love life that she didn't want to watch them anymore. Sometimes though we can enjoy something without realising the impact it is having on us and our beliefs about relationships. When we enjoy romantic comedies and watch our favourites over and over again, it can be like a subtle form of brainwashing so we end up believing that this is how our love lives should be. Growing up what books did you read? What movies did you watch? What shaped you - is it working for you? Do you love romantic comedies? If so you need to be conscious of the impact this may be having on your love life.