The Rise Of Healthy Relationships On-Screen and What It Means for Us
If you look at life from a movie/TV show writer’s perspective you will notice why they do what they do. Just like in any other job, reductionism is easy and nuance is complex and applies to writing too. Writers claim to try and understand life as it happens and present a tale to the audience. The tale can be aspirational or cautionary or frankly make-believe like it did end up being throughout most of history.
If I think of writing about love, without even taking into consideration the conditioning by pop-culture, the first thing thought that comes to me is — love is hard because the people who talk most about love are people who find it hard to find and keep love. People who are already in blissful relationships don’t feel the need to talk of their bliss. They are too busy enjoying the moments. So, to an outsider, it looks like all relationships are tough and everyone is unhappy when this is far from true. The second national report “The Happiness Index: Love and Relationships in America,” commissioned by eharmony and conducted by Harris Interactive, shows that 83 per cent of Americans are “happy” in their romantic relationships with a partner or spouse. Only one in nine people in a relationship are extremely or fairly unhappy.
If we go by attachment styles, around 60% of people have secure attachment styles and are likely to choose partners who they are likely to feel happy with.
The problem is that happy couples just don’t use social media as much. They don’t have a point to prove, they seek no external validation of how their relationship looks to others and they are too busy being in the moment.
It is only when you are not too happy inthe moment to do you get distracted by the incessant need to do other things. Thus, unhappy couples are also more likely to express their grief and frustration online.
The same script plays out offline too. Your friends facing trouble in relationships are always around you, venting out their frustration and seeking advice while people in happy relationships have nothing to talk about their relationships with others. They cant brag how great it is going. If and when they do face problems, they are strong enough to handle it on their own.
Of course, there are exceptions to all of it.
All of this makes us think relationships are dramatic and everyone coupled up is unhappy.
Writers are likely to think this too hence we have had
Ross and Rachel
Ted and Robin
Edward and Bella
Mr.Big and Carrie
Rahul and Anjali
Bunny and Naina
Rahul and Aarohi
Our best films and TV shows have thrived on the lover’s tiffs and dramas. I do not need to explain how each of these relationships was problematic. Characters are often manipulative and controlling when not being selfish and emotionally unavailable.
Most importantly, when writers decide to give these characters their happy ending the problems that create drama for these lovers throughout the show suddenly disappear in the end? These characters have not stopped being themselves and unless there is some major personality change there is no reason for those problems to stop existing.
Take Bunny, for instance, he did not fall in love in all these years with any woman in all these fancy locations because he can’t stay tied up to a place which extends to lovers but seeing Naina dancing in a saree who he had last spoken 4 years on one small trip makes him fall in love again? Is this a joke?
Are we to believe that in all these years he didn’t meet any noteworthy woman in his global explorations of the world? Not one? And if he did meet other woman and is still single when he returns, it is only explained by the fact that he chooses to be single and not tied down.
Also, how is Naina going to do her practice of being a doctor? Guess that doesn’t matter. Pyaar mien sab ho jaata hai.
Drama is what kept Rachel and Ross alive for years too . They are attracted to each other but serious communication and jealousy issues plague them.
They both never seem to know what they want and much less understand each other and the part I hate most is — how insensitive they are to their other lovers when justifying their love for each other.
Ross left Julie because Rachel is back.
He insults Emily by saying Rachel’s name at the altar.
He keeps saying to Rachel he loved her for 9 years. But 9 years include him dating and marrying Susan. Shouldn’t those years be removed from it?
Rachel actively insults all of Ross’ date including Julie and ‘tall Black woman’ and manipulates his another date into getting bald. Also, Ross forgets being bald doesn’t mean being unlovable so he instantly gets unattracted to his date.
They are both also ready to jeopardise their relationship for small things including taking responsibility for earlier break-ups. Rachel calling Mark over when Ross is upset about him was insensitive and Ross takes it up a notch by sleeping with someone else was well, even more insensitive. It is very clear how emotionally disconnected they are to each other.
Also, Rachel is Ross’ projection of fantasy. An unpopular high school nerd who wants to date the cheerleader and it is this aspiration that drives him most of the series, instead of understanding Rachel as a human which is something he does late grow into in the later seasons. Though, he still tries to control her life till the end by getting her Paris trip cancelled or get her promoted.
All of these shows give us the wrong lessons like
- Just hold out, it will be good one fine day
- The more drama, the intenser the love
- If it is easy, it is probably not the one.
The writer of Sex and The City writes that she made Carrie marry Mr Big as her fantasy and in reality that could never happen.
But then, why couldn’t she write a love story that could happen?
Because it is boring.
There it is. There is your answer. Secure, healthy relationships are boring which just don’t make for good television viewing.
But now with a new generation of audience, writers are cognizant of the fact that this depiction is not working and has led to a rise in the depiction of healthy relationships on TV where shows have been a hit without the drama, fights, on and off relationships and still a great viewing experience.
So, I am going to list out my two favourites.
- Ted and Alexis (Schitt’s Creek)
This is THE relationships that made me take cognizance of the fact that Schitt’s Creek does not use drama to make two people ‘soulmate.’
When Ted and Alexis are dating in the beginning, Alexis is shown to secretly pine for Mutt who too daydreams of her while dating Olivia. Mutt and Alexis share unbelievable earth-shattering chemistry, you know one of those moments where you just know this is the one for you? Like the way, Ted(HIMYM) knew when he saw Robin or the kind of electricity Mr.Big and Carrie have? Yeah exactly like that. EXCEPT it goes dud. She soon realises this intensity was just attraction and hormones.
Her growth through the next two seasons is finally revealed in the mature career choices she makes and when she starts liking Ted for being a genuine and kind person. This is the same boring Ted who would have been treated like a Julie in FRIENDS. A side character. He is awkward and not at all attractive in the first season but we grow with Alexis to realise Ted is a good person and the kind of person she would be happy with. He is boring in the beginning but amazing towards the end. It takes Alexis to be a certain kind of person to realise what Ted offers as a partner. Unconditional support, always being there, loyalty and making his partner always feel safe.
And even then, in the end, they part ways because their careers and individual growth takes precedence, even though they are very much in love and even though, the audience did hope for a reunion, Dan Levy decided to end the show on real terms. Even the parting is not dramatic.
2. Jake and Amy (Brooklyn 99)
I remember watching this crime series called Castle and the show’s lead pair had the most sizzling chemistry I had ever seen. He was a crime-fiction writer and she was a cop, it was a match made in heaven but those two just didn’t seem to date each other and when they did I will admit show used to look a bit boring and because of this the writers separated them soon enough with ‘sizzling chemistry’ back again.
But the show wasn’t boring because they were coupled up but because their entire personality was written in a way that a major portion of their personality was pining for each other and when that went away not much of their personality was left to display.
On the other hand, on B99 ever since Jake and Amy have got together, there is no drama. Their relationship is the only romance between any of the main characters yet it does not take centre-stage. Both of them are shown to have their individual personalities and quirks which continue even when they are together including their competitive fights, friendships etc.
It is a healthy relationship which adds meaning to their lives but is not the only thing in their lives.
Not once does B99 resolve to add spice to the show by showing them fight or conflict or on and off and still maintains them as interesting individuals.
Also, if you will note there is no sign of showing intensity as love. They are funny, know each other’s insecurities, are truly good friends and understand each other is what makes them good lovers.
For a long time, I did have it internalised that true love is tough and has to be fought for and other such rubbish while the truth I am eventually learning is that most of the time genuine love and affection requires bare minimum effort because you are both with someone who genuinely cares about you and makes things easy for you as much as possible.
P.S I am not able to mention any Indian on-screen couple because I haven’t really watched many Indian romantic movies/shows off-late.