TV dramas and romantic movies are super fun to indulge in. You can get lost in the drama of high school, the fated love of a vampire and a human, or cry over a sappy story of love seemingly written in the stars. But it’s important to keep a critical eye of some of the messages these shows and movies are sending about relationships. Of course, we know what makes good television is not always going to be realistic, but that’s why it’s even more crucial that we are able to recognize what could be signs of intensity, rather than the passion we so adore watching. Unlike love, intensity is extreme or over-the-top behavior that can feel like too much. Below are 4 on-screen romances that inaccurately portray intensity as love:
Each couple in The Vampire Diaries has had their fair share of drama. Underneath all of the lies and fighting is this deep love and passion for the other person. What makes Elena and Damon so passionate in the show is their constant battle. Damon even admits out loud that their relationship is toxic. At one point, Elena says, “You want a love that consumes you. You want passion, an adventure, and even a little danger.” Drama like this, however, isn’t necessarily a healthy behavior in a relationship. If a couple is constantly arguing or fighting or “on-again-off-again”, this is not a sign of passionate love. Rather, this can be a sign of intensity in an unhealthy relationship.
I’m not saying that a couple arguing automatically means their relationship is unhealthy. On the contrary, it is completely normal to argue and disagree sometimes (here’s some tips on how you can handle conflict in your relationship). Healthy arguments can help couples and individuals learn and grow with each other, preventing similar conflicts in the future.
The differentiator between a healthy argument and an unhealthy argument is how they are addressed and resolved. How does the argument sound? How does it feel? Do both partners feel heard and supported, or is someone or both people left feeling disrespected or devalued? It all comes down to using empathy to understand how the other person feels and making sure that both people feel safe and supported.
When Noah from The Notebook jumps on the Ferris wheel to get Ally to go on a date with him, moviegoers swoon over his commitment to his instant love-at-first-sight. In real life, that could be extremely manipulative and threatening. Love is a strong emotion and when someone enters a new relationship, feelings can certainly begin to develop sooner than expected. That instant passion and persistence, however, can potentially be a sign of intensity.
Intensity is not the same as romance. Romance is making someone feel loved and desired, and it’s a mutual bond between those two people. Intensity can be intimidating, all-consuming, or obsessive. And this behavior at the beginning of a relationship can be a red flag for future violent or aggressive behaviors.
Remember, healthy relationships and love develop over time. Each person needs time (and how much time is up to them) to get to know each other’s quirks and feel out each other’s personalities.
Pretty Little Liars
Another way intensity is portrayed as love is with the “I’d do anything for you” notion. When Hanna is determined to commit a crime and her boyfriend Caleb finds out, she gives him an ultimatum. Caleb doesn’t agree with her plan but helps her anyway because he loves her and is willing to do anything for her.
This “I’d do anything for you” sentiment is problematic for a few reasons. It not only suggests that someone should be willing to get in trouble or compromise their values or beliefs for their partner, but it also implies that their partner should want to do the same for them in return. This “do anything” or “risk it all” behavior is unhealthy and can easily escalate into crossing your boundaries and comfort zone. In a healthy relationship, each partner should respect each other’s values and boundaries without making the other feel obligated to do anything they aren’t comfortable doing.
A warning sign of intensity can also be when a new relationship goes from zero to sixty – you know, when two people meet and instantly are in a committed relationship where they only have eyes for each other. Bella and Edward from Twilight are the poster couple for this behavior – they instantly become a serious couple. Edward’s intensity is so great that he resorts to stalking Bella to “protect her.”
Entering a new relationship is fun. Each person should feel flattered by the other, and excited about that person and the relationship as it progresses at its own pace. But that pace can look different for each person and each relationship, so it’s important to talk about what makes both partner’s comfortable. For example, what are your boundaries or expectations in a new relationship? Much like many other parts of a healthy relationship, both people in that relationship should decide together the pace in which they want their relationship to move.
Start a Conversation
Of course, I’m not saying we should boycott these TV shows or movies because of the way they portray this intensity as love or romance. Rather, I invite you to be critical of the messages we’re receiving about relationships that are unhealthy. Talk to your friends about the relationships of your favorite characters while you’re watching. And name the behaviors as they are instead of what they’re romanticized to be.