From birth, we've been inundated with one-sentence messages that are meant to be quick fixes for virtually any problem. You find them everywhere: songs, sitcoms, movies, novels. Pour enough beer into the biggest badass in the bar, and you'll find him hugging random strangers and spouting off generic "Be true to yourself" type advice and thinking he's a modern day Gandhi.
That's not saying that the advice he's giving is necessarily wrong -- we've just been hammered with it for so long that we sort of just accept it as absolute gospel. But just like any advice or random pill you find on the floorboard of your car, it needs to be examined before it's swallowed. Take, for example ...
#6. "Follow Your Heart"
If there's one thing that Hollywood loves doing, it's trying to convince us that it's wise to ignore our responsibilities in favor of a reward that has virtually no chance of happening. In Field of Dreams, Ray (Kevin Costner) is in very real danger of losing his house, his land and his job because he can't pay the mortgage. Instead of doing the sane thing and getting a backup job, he instead plows up his crops, ensuring even less money from the harvest, and spends money he doesn't have on a baseball diamond, complete with a lighting system and bleachers that probably could have paid off a pretty big fucking chunk of his debt.
Or how about Richard Gere, who decides at the end of Pretty Woman that he should follow his heart and commit to a prostitute he knew for seven days? Hell, even Luke Skywalker turns off his targeting system and banks an entire planet's existence on space magic.
"Luke, you turned off your targeting system. Are you fucking stupid? Do you hate those people on that planet?"
A Better Alternative:
"Your heart gets a vote, but your brain gets veto power."
What they're telling you when they say "Follow your heart" is to set aside logic, ignore any potential consequences and trust that your emotionally fueled guess will be the right one. The problem with that is nobody really knows what they're talking about when they say "heart." Is it emotions? Gut instinct? A supernatural fate detector? In reality, the urges and cravings that spring up from your primal self are all based on such mundane, almost random factors. How much sleep you had the night before. Whether or not you have a headache. Depression. Your mood. Comet trails of old lessons floating around in your subconscious that you picked up from shows and songs when you were a kid.
"Right now, my heart is telling me to fuck all six of you."
In the movies, it always pays off. In real life, that's about the worst way to make any sort of rational decision, because without the balance of emotion and cold, robotic logic, you'd be homeless and insane by the end of the week.
Your "heart" is telling you to walk out on your crappy job. Your brain is the one saying, "No, we have bills to pay and food to buy. Get another job secured first and then give a two-week notice so we don't end up sucking dick for cheeseburgers." Your heart tells you to confess your love to a married woman. Your brain is the one that stops you and explains, "Are you fucking crazy? She has a husband and kids. If she doesn't love you back, you've ruined your friendship forever. If she does accept you, you just wrecked an entire family."
"No, I swear it wasn't me! It was my heart!"
There's nothing wrong with pursuing a dream or going after the person you love. But following the movie message of doing it at the expense of everything else in your life is just plain stupid.
Which leads me to another fucked up, overly romantic Hollywood rule ...
#5. "You Have to Tell Her How You Feel"
I think at some point pretty much everyone has had an unattainable crush, and calling it "torture" doesn't really do the situation justice. Maybe it's a person who sits across the room at work or school and doesn't know you exist -- Jake from Sixteen Candles. Or maybe it's your best friend, and you just can't bring yourself to say anything -- Pam from the early seasons of The Office.
Hollywood considers this a mortal sin, so they usually inject a best friend into the story who constantly nags the main characters to confess their love. In Steve Martin's Roxanne, the best friend not only nags him about it, but when he decides he's not going to come clean, she does it for him behind his back. One way or another, you are fucking well going to tell that person how you feel, whether you like it or not. And in the end, you shall be awarded exclusive access to their squishy parts.
"I've finally found the only person in the world who doesn't throw punches at me when I smile like this."
A Better Alternative:
"Find out how she feels."
In real life, it's not so cut and dried. Yes, if you feel comfortable enough to come clean with that information, you'd be stupid not to. But just like all the other entries in this list, it has to be weighed out and not just accepted as standard human protocol. The cold, hard truth is that some relationships just aren't set up to be romantic ... and although it's ridiculously tough to admit, most people know when they're in a friendship with no room for promotion. That they're in a boner-free zone.
"Sorry, but you dress really weird. I just can't have that."
We've kind of been trained to think that since we consider the other person to be our soul mate, as soon as they know our feelings, they immediately fall in line. When it's a male lead who's secretly in love with the woman, as soon as she finds out, she embraces him as if she had no idea what she wanted until he told her. When it's a female lead, she has to transform herself with a complete makeover like Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club.
Unfortunately, we're never really shown the much more likely side of that, where the secret "soul mate" simply doesn't feel the same way. That after being told, they sort of just stammer in embarrassment, "Oh, hey. Um ... thanks, buddy. That's ... really flattering."
Yes, it sucks. No, confessing your love isn't going to make the relationship stronger. In those cases, it's most likely going to make it awkward, and no matter how many Ross and Rachel fairy tale endings we see, real-life rejection changes everything. The key to knowing whether or not this is the right advice for you is all based on whether or not you feel like you can remain friends, even if there's no chance you'll ever be together as a couple.
"I ... uh ... have to take a huge shit!"
It's a double-edged bitch of a sword that no one-sentence piece of advice can fix. Oh, and speaking of rejection, Hollywood has a solution for that, too ...
#4. "Don't Take 'No' for an Answer"
In Ghost, we're told that Patrick Swayze's character got Demi Moore to date him by following her around and singing a grating song until she gave in out of sheer annoyance. Scrubs had a slightly different take, but the core message was still the same. Turk proposed to his girlfriend, Carla, and she said she'd think about it. He hounded her for an answer over the course of two full episodes before we finally got a "yes."
The 27th time's a charm, baby!
A Better Alternative:
"Make sure their 'no' is final."
Here's where it really helps to think of other people as human beings, rather than as malfunctioning machines you're trying to get working the way you want. And in reality, most human beings do not like it when you try to impose your will on them. They have a knee-jerk reaction to it. That's why people have a way of rooting themselves deeper into a decision or belief when someone tries too hard to convince them to take an opposite stance.
"Did you see Game of Thrones last night? That's a good show."
"I wouldn't say it's 'good.' I don't really care for it."
"Really? It's one of the best shows on TV."
"I tried watching it once, and I just couldn't do it. It may be the worst thing I've ever seen."
"Say something about it one more time and see if I don't punch you in the fucking throat."
It's exactly that easy to go from "I don't really care for it" to proclaiming it's the single worst thing to ever appear on television. The next time you get into an opinion-based discussion with your friends, keep an eye out for it. Almost everyone does it. And if you keep bugging your potential "other" the way they did in those two initial examples above, they're going to eventually react the same way.
Even outside of the relationship setting, we've morphed this message into a sort of admirable "go-getter" attitude. Business owners want their salespeople to operate that way. They tell you to do the same thing when you're looking for a job. Apply, then call. Then call some more. Every time they tell you nothing is available, wait a few days and call again. If you're persistent enough, you'll get that job.
But in practice, persistence is an incredibly tricky balancing act. There's a fine line between keeping your resume fresh in the mind of a potential employer and just being a complete pain in the ass who keeps disrupting their workday. I'm telling you from personal experience that when someone steps over that line, they're going to move your application from the "considering" pile to the "annoying piece of shit, fuck that guy" pile.
"GIVE ME A JOB OR I'LL CUT YOUR GODDAMN HEAD OFF!"
I've seen it happen at many, many jobs -- you have to remember that these people who control the fate of your employment are still just people. If you take your persistence too far, they start thinking, "If he's this annoying during the impression stage, how bad is he going to be when he settles in and gets comfortable?" Then they picture you making that Jim Carrey sound from Dumb and Dumber while shitting on other people's desks.
It's why some businesses tell you right on the application "Don't call us. We'll call you if we're interested." Of course, in the movies they don't let companies get away with that. If they blow you off, you stand up and fight, because you ...