Don’t romanticize your relationships

Illustration by Fahmida Khan.

Matt Shenker
Guest Columnist

Everyone reaches a point in their personal lives where they feel disappointed, frustrated and dissatisfied. This same possibility looms right around the corner in many of our relationships.

Most of us have been in a relationship that didn’t end up in a “happily ever after” situation, unless you are one of the few people who fall in love with the first person you date. I’m betting for most of you, that is not the case.

Relationships can be a struggle. Two people are faced with the challenge of balancing their own needs and desires with someone else’s. During some of the best moments, being in a relationship can feel like a fairytale. Other times, they can be strenuous, annoying and dissatisfying for a number of reasons.

Maybe your partner’s needs and wants weigh more heavily than your own and you are tired of their selfishness. Maybe your partner craves constant attention and you feel like you just can’t catch a moment of tranquility. Maybe you feel like your partner is too overbearing.

Anyone who has dealt with a break-up can tell you it’s a depressing process. Even more saddening can be the weeks afterward when you start reflecting on what caused the relationship to shatter. Oftentimes, these reflections lead to realizations that maybe you let your perfect princess or prince charming slip through your fingers, and you are now faced with living in the world as a single person.

These reflections lead us to wonder what made us ‘dissatisfied’ in the first place. We tend to come up with reasons: “They didn’t really love me,” “they were too self-absorbed,” “they only wanted attention” or “they just couldn’t get their life together.” Any reason that will ease our minds tends to work just fine.

But what if the problem wasn’t just your partner’s imperfections?

Dissatisfaction can exist because of unfulfilled expectations. The true problem may be that many of your expectations of how relationships function are unrealistic. This seems to be a new phenomenon in our society, and who’s to blame? One answer is popular culture, specifically romantic comedies and Disney movies.

We live in a society where most successful films are love stories that present us with a princess who needs a prince to sweep her off her feet, and then the two sail off into “happily ever after.” From a very early age, these movies, books and stories present us with an unrealisitc measuring stick for relationships. This expectation we all build for our Disney princess or prince to keep us madly in love for the entirety of a relationship has us flinch and analyze every potential flaw or imperfection within our relationships.

Surely, most of us have heard some variation of this argument before. Is Western society perpetuating unrealistic expectations for people?

We can look at the use of social networking for some answers. Social media has grown into a large tool for people to post the highlights of their lives. Every person who has a Facebook, Twitter or any other social media account is the prime preserver and promoter of their personal image on the Internet.

Among such outlets, we see the highlights of other people’s relationships. On your Facebook news feed and even on your Twitter feed, you see your friends who are in relationships posting their highlights. These friends post pictures of Valentine’s Day spectacles, birthday gifts, anniversaries. All the memorable moments throughout our friends’ relationships are available for all of us to observe and envy.

But what’s not posted on your friend’s Facebooks and Twitters are the inevitable arguments and bitter disagreements, the unrealized hopes and desires that lead to dissatisfactions in these relationships. Social media is no better than romantic comedies or Disney movies, in that they focus on perpetuating idealized expectations for their audience’s relationships. These expectations are unrealistic and set us up for dissatisfaction.

Any couple who has been married could admit that every day in their relationship was not a “happily ever after.” A real relationship involves work, fights, give and take. Relationship struggles are inevitable. We have complex emotional systems and there isn’t a “right” way to mesh two of those systems together in perfect harmony to find that perfect happiness. A healthy and happy relationship is one in which you and your partner feel supported and happy, but sometimes, fighting can be good, it’s a reminder that we’re human.

It’s perfectly acceptable to demand support, love and respect from your partner, but be wary when placing unrealistic expectations that are unattainable; that’s how we set ourselves up to be knocked down and left on the couch with a pint as we try to rationalize what went wrong.

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