*Please enjoy the accompanying soundtrack.
During a recent viewing of Crazy, Stupid, Love, which I had been looking forward to due to its mostly positive reviews, I found myself increasingly angry. I was angry at Jacob Palmer for being a total tool, I was angry at most of the women in the movie for being attracted to a total tool, and I was angry at the filmmakers for perpetuating the idea that women should be attracted to total tools. Upon sharing this anger with a friend who has known a tool or two, she suggested that I “write a manifesto about the culture of dating and how much men suck.” Well, friend, you asked for it! (Of course, I haven’t “dated” in nearly a decade, but since I started giving job market advice on this blog almost immediately after receiving a job offer, I figure that being married must qualify me to give relationship advice.)
In the movie, Ryan Gosling plays Jacob Palmer, who likes to hook up with women he meets in bars, using ridiculous pick-up lines that work mostly because he looks like Ryan Gosling. The only person he cannot successfully pick up is a woman named Hannah (she doesn’t get a last name), played by Emma Stone. When Hannah breaks up with her boyfriend (because he offers her a job at his law firm when she thinks he is going to propose to her), however, she immediately seeks out Jacob and goes home with him. Jacob’s approach to picking up women, which he teaches to Cal Weaver, played by Steve Carell, is summarized in the following clip:
The problem that I have with the movie is not so much that Jacob is hooking up with a large number of women (after all, he looks like Ryan Gosling, so I imagine there are a large number of women who would be happy to hook up with him), it is that he is presented as a predator who is manipulating women into sleeping with him. This point is driven home when it is revealed that the final stage in his manipulation involves recreating the penultimate scene from Dirty Dancing.
In addition to depicting men as sexual aggressors and women as sexual objects, Crazy, Stupid, Love also reinforces the idea that physical attraction is paramount. Indeed, in the movie’s world half of the problem with Steve Carell’s character is that he dresses like a man in his 40s. Similarly, Hannah’s friend tells her to break up with her boyfriend (played by Josh Groban) because he isn’t as physically attractive as she is. If accepted by America’s dating population, a singular focus on attraction will result in countless failed relationships when the parties involved find that their sexual attraction for each other does not make up for the fact that they have nothing else in common. Of course, the fact that they’ve been sleeping together since they met may cause them to prolong the relationship for a while so that they can imagine that they “really connected” at the beginning before things fall apart.
While it cannot be blamed on a single movie, I think that the larger Hollywood story about the early stages of relationships may also cause problems for those who are dating. Most romantic comedies focus on two people falling in love, not two people dealing with the everyday experiences of being in a long-term relationship. I would argue that the “three-month honeymoon period,” as one friend put it, at the beginning of relationships occurs mostly because the people involved do not know each other well enough to have an informed opinion about whether they enjoy spending time together. There is also a lot of pressure to be “perfect” at the beginning of a relationship. Somebody with no interest in operas, then, might spend the first few months of a relationship attending them so as not to turn off her prospective partner, only to refuse when football season starts so that she doesn’t miss her favorite team’s game. (Congratulations, you just wasted three months of your life suffering through operas before breaking up because of an argument about whether college football exploits poor inner-city youth!)
Without pressure to have a “perfect” relationship, people would be able to be honest about their likes and dislikes. The resulting relationships may be much shorter on average, as people realize more quickly that they have not found “the one,” but they would also be more able to seek that person since they wouldn’t be tied up in dead-end relationships. Maybe people would also realize that there are no perfect relationships. It seems unlikely (and likely boring) that two people would share the same taste in everything. From my extremely limited experience, relationship success seems to occur when two people have enough of the important things in common to make the things that they don’t have in common seem unimportant. Maybe your significant other doesn’t look like Ryan Gosling or Emma Stone, but if both of you support the same political party, want to send your two future children to a Montessori school, and share an affinity for Lifetime movies, maybe it doesn’t matter.