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The Harmful Narrative of the Breakup Stereotype

Breakups Suck. What sucks even more is what the media teaches us to believe about them. We all can picture the classic image of some young woman in her pajamas with a pint of cookie dough ice cream, or the male lead punching his fist through some wall or window in a fit of pent up emotion. We can see it in any romance storyline. While it might make for good plot development, it’s not the real thing.

I have watched my share of teen dramas and 90’s era romantic comedies. No matter the characters, the plotline always goes a little something like this. Two inhumanly gorgeous people meet in some cute but unrealistic manner. They begrudgingly fall in love despite whatever obstacles, and then one of them messes it all up. In the time they spend apart there’s usually a montage of sad music and the characters dimly going through the motions of life until the writers decide it’s time to bring them back together again, and then the movie usually ends.

What’s always stuck out to me is the glossiness of the breakup montage. If only we could play some depressing instrumental music and have it all be over in a minute long sequence of clips featuring downcast eyes and bleary city sounds. And no matter how long the sequence lasts, you always know in the end love will win and the happy couple will reunite. Even in the sappy young adult novels I love so much, there is always a long drawn out monologue of apologies and I love yous to end the book.

I, like most people, have been consuming this media for most of my life, and to say it hasn’t affected my expectations would be denying the truth, and I have a feeling I’m not alone. When the content we consume so widely is constantly forcing this narrative down our throats, it’s impossible not to absorb it into our expectations of reality. 

The reality of losing someone you care about, be it a friend or partner or family member, is much darker than commonly discussed. The movie montage often romanticizes the emotions that come with losing a partner. What we fail to recognize is that it’s real grief, just as intense and consuming as when someone dies. Because in your reality, that person just disappears from your life. The person with whom you’ve confided in, laughed with, shared your life with is no longer there, and you are expected to somehow continue living.

There is no greater pain we as humans can experience than grief.

The thing about breakups is that the aftermath of one is never about the person who left. Breakups force us to hold a mirror to ourselves and face the fact that we made mistakes.

So the question is, why does the media’s version versus the reality of a breakup matter. But it isn’t really about the breakup. It’s pretty widely accepted that in general, what television and film is not a realistic representation of life. That also extends as far as literature and social media and any other form of mass media.

Every genre has its own basic storylines that are repeated over and over again with a rose tinted camera lens. We can see it in almost every romance, two people meet, fall in love, then some catastrophic event tears them apart and after a brief montage they find their way back to each other. We’ve all seen some variation of the parents fighting for their family’s survival in any apocalyptic thriller, or the teenagers running from some crazed killer until they find a way to save the world.

No matter how much we remind ourselves that it isn’t real, a lifetime of viewing these romanticized portrayals of a hyperreal life leads to some level of expectation, even if only subconsciously. The breakup narrative is only one example of that.

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