#2. Being in a Healthy Relationship Means Not Changing Yourself at All
The Thing: "Damn, my relationships keep failing for eerily similar reasons. Whelp, I'm forced to conclude that whatever shortcomings every previous ex hated just adds to my charm: I will change nothing and learn nothing, and just wait around for someone who will love every last shitty thing I do."
Worst Offenders:(500) Days of Summer, How I Met Your Mother.
You've met people who believe this. Everyone has odd, often endearing little quirks, and strange habits ("I need to sleep on the RIGHT side of the bed" or "I'm very particular about the way I order food"). And everyone also has flaws ("I'm a dick"). These people see no difference between the two. To them, saying, "I want a guy who will love me even though I'm late all the time, and even though I snore in bed" is exactly the same as saying, "I want a guy who will love me even though I'm unreliable, emotionally unavailable, and romantically disconnected, and even though I snore when I'm awake." They're from the school of thought that believes everyone is perfect all the time, and no one needs to work on anything. A school of thought funded by Hollywood.
And here's your Dean.
How I Met Your Mother is a show about how awesome Neil Patrick Harris is, but there's also a recurring sub plot about a guy named Ted Mosby who, no matter how many of his relationships fail for very valid reasons, is convinced that he'll make just the perfect husband (as soon as there's a woman smart and cool enough to ignore all of the valid reasons to break up with him). In a sentence, (500) Days of Summer is about a guy who invents a girlfriend in his head and then gets mad when his actual girlfriend doesn't conform to his expectations.
Also this happens.
In more sentences, the main character in Summer is a guy who is ready to meet his dream girl and then does, in the form of Summer (Zooey Deschanel, obviously). She likes the same music that he likes, and even though she explicitly tells him early in the film that she doesn't believe in love and hates the idea of being someone's girlfriend, she likes the same music that he likes so he concludes that they'll be perfect together. He's so excited about the idea of dating someone interesting that he never actually gets around to totally investing in or understanding his girlfriend. He's already fallen in love with Summer because he's a guy who falls in love a lot, and that's what he'll be, always, forever. They date for a while, and it's good for a while, and then they break up, obviously, because dating someone solely because they like the same shitty music that you like is never the best plan.
And there's an opportunity for our protagonist to learn something. He can realize, "Hey, maybe I'm wrong because I moved too fast too soon, or I expected too much based on my own idea of what a girlfriend should be, or because I based our entire relationship on superficial similarities." But none of that happens. Instead, the movie ends with him meeting a new girl. He falls in love with her because she's pretty, and because they both like the same building, or something, (which frankly seems like an even shakier foundation for a relationship than liking the same band). Similarly, How I Met Your Mother puts our protagonist through relationship after relationship, and instead of growing or changing with each relationship, he holds out hope that he's already the "right guy" for someone else, so all he needs to do is coast.
"I'm sure handling my next relationship in the exact same way I handled my last one won't be a problem."
I actually love both this movie and this show because they're realistic (no one ever really does learn anything), but as far as pushing bad lessons on romantic guy morons, they're both very guilty. The basic moral is "Learn no lessons from past relationships: If something didn't work out, it wasn't 'meant to be,' so just wait around for someone who does conform to all of your preset expectations." Whenever a character in a movie has flaws that are objectively detrimental, the movie will never teach us to, hey, maybe work on those flaws; the movie says, "No, you're fine, everyone else is wrong, just wait around for the PERFECT GIRL WHO WILL SOLVE AND ACCEPT EVERYTHING. Because relationships are easy and require absolutely no work, compromise, or self-awareness."
And sure, eventually someone will come along that DOES love all of the weirdest and quirkiest aspects of your personality, but assuming that all you need to do is sit around and imagine him/her is wrong. That attitude is just going to breed generation after generation of lazy people. Eventually, you'll get two people in a room together who were both raised on pop culture, both of them assuming that the other will accept and love all of their flaws, neither of them budging. And what happens then?
It could be worse, I guess. Hollywood could be teaching the opposite lesson and telling everyone that...
#1. Being in a Healthy Relationship Means Changing Yourself Completely
The Thing: "Look, Baby, I know you were mad at me because you hated all of my friends, and the way I dressed, and my apartment, and everything else I've ever cultivated throughout my entire life that has contributed to my personality, but I want you to know that I've gotten rid of all of that. For you!"
"Oh, Darling. That's all I ever wanted! You had me at 'I'm a different person now.'"
Worst Offenders:Knocked Up, and basically any movie starring either a Wilson brother or a Heigl.
These movies take a good lesson, (being in a relationship sometimes means compromise, empathy, and growing the shit up), and taking it to the extreme, (by completely transforming yourself into the person your girlfriend/boyfriend actually wants to date). To get the girl in Knocked Up, the main character moves, gets a new job, and reduces ties with his old friends, and while there's something undeniably romantic about going to great lengths to please and impress the person you're in love with, it is in no way a healthy move. Because, eventually, he'll miss hid old life, the one he abruptly gave up to impress his girlfriend after they got in a fight. He'll miss the life that he loved and enjoyed, and he'll miss all of his friends and, eventually, he'll resent his girlfriend turned wife turned inevitable ex-wife, because she's the one who made him give it all up.
No one enters a relationship as the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend. There are always necessary adjustments, but Hollywood is sucking that message in and repackaging it, saying "If you really care about someone, you'll respect that she would only like you if you were a completely different person, and you'll adjust accordingly." It's why Seth Rogen will become a new person over and over again, and it's why all of those whatshisnames will do all of those life-changing things to impress Drew Barrymore in those movies I've never actually seen. And, when people do it in real life, it's why couples break up, or get divorced.
Just once I'd like to see a Hollywood movie about two well-adjusted, intelligent characters who have a mature relationship based on trust and mutual respect. They run into some problems, but they work through them together, because they're reasonable and they care about each other.
Actually that movie sounds boring as shit. I change my mind: keep doing what you're doing, Hollywood. Maybe throw in a few more robots punching other robots.
Daniel O'Brien is Cracked.com's Senior Writer (ladies), and he's still watching The New Girl despite his rage, (Zooey Deschanel).