The Unnecessary Perpetuation of the ‘Boy Meets Girl’ Love Story

A popularised representation of love: Two people fused together as one
A popularised representation of love: Two people fused together as one

Over several thousands of years, love has burrowed its way into assumed behaviour, even warranting a whole day celebrated worldwide on the 14th of February every year. Similarly, art has tried to confront and define the concept of love since its popularisation. Now ubiquitous throughout popular culture, the ever-repeated ‘boy meets girl, boy loves girl, girl loves boy, they learn something ugly about each other, they realise that they need each other regardless of hardships they have to endure, they live happily ever after’ cycle does not represent modern love. Amongst the diversions away from heterosexual romance to homosexual, polygamous or purely sexual relationships in the modern age, art is still stuck in this antiquated idea of unconditional and transcendental love. If art is going to continue to advance towards realistic representations, there needs to be a radical confrontation with the ‘chick flick’ or Mills and Boon-like story, moving towards a more analytical viewpoint on the behavioural side of love, rather than some obsolete pursuit for some conceptual ideal.

With Valentine’s Day upon us, the annual inevitable throwaway film tie-in is being released. Endless Love (2014), starring Alex Pettyfer and Gabriella Wilde, is just another adaptation of escapist fiction for middle-aged women pining for a return to young and innocent love. It tells the story of David Elliot (Pettyfer), an under-privileged hunk who falls in love with Jade Butterfield (Wilde) an over-privileged babe as they fall into days (and nights) of lust and quote-unquote love. Eventually, Jade’s parents disapprove of this affair, as David becomes dangerously obsessed with being with Jade. This epitomises the typical love story in almost every way, being very reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet. However, a problem that works of the romantic elites (such as the Valentine’s Day classic The Notebook (2004) (damn you, Nicholas Sparks) and the pornographic 50 Shades of Grey series) create is that they are sustaining the plethora of ‘love stories’ which are rarely about love. Instead, they are about lust, and it is here where the line between the two has been muddied by art’s view of love.

Alex Pettyfer and Gabrielle Wilde in Endless Love (2014)
Alex Pettyfer and Gabrielle Wilde in Endless Love (2014)

The kind of love where you can live with the same person, talk with the same person and commit yourself to them for the rest of your life, or “true love”, if you will, is not as interesting to the consumer as lust. Essentially, art has shaped us to believe that love is lust, some constantly passionate, larger than life feeling which makes us feel more alive. Lust is purely derived from some aesthetic origin or from unfettered sexual desire. The idea of ‘one true love’ is only applicable in a narrative sense of dramatic storytelling. In a world where sexual activity is rife from a younger age, it is misleading to engender a world where ‘eternal love’ is possible, while sex for pleasure is becoming more and more common. To popularise stories in which the lust of two attractive people becomes some predestined, divine connection is dangerous for the development of teenager’s opinions (especially girls) of what love is. It is this sort of exaggeration of love, showing it as some sort of ultimate achievement of life which can be detrimental, forcing girls or boys to fall in love for no reason and stay in abusive relationships. Therefore, art should distance itself from the simplistic storytelling device of the romantic interest.

While placing sex or a lustful relationship within your film or book may be one of the easiest ways to make people want to see or read it, it is not always presented in an idealised way. Stories often need characters to go through hardship, by inserting a love interest and compressing a relationship, eventually leading to a hard break-up, in order to develop and strengthen the characters. This is especially applicable to long-running serial dramas, such as Breaking Bad (giving something for Jesse to lose) or Dexter (as something to fight for). Conversely, episodic television series can benefit from analysing love or at least lust. A perfect example is an episode of Becker in which a side character who is blind after a car accident questioning whether he should stay in a relationship with a blind woman. Works of art such as this force us to look at why we are in relationships, whether it be for aesthetic values, interpersonal understanding or sexual satisfaction. At the episode’s conclusion, the woman breaks up with him after learning that he is blind. Such a subversion of the typical love story should set a precedent for more in-depth observation in other mediums, looking at the ugly part of love rather than the ideal.

Ronn Moss as Ridge Forrester and Katherine Kelly Lang as Brooke Logan in The Bold and the Beautiful
Ronn Moss as Ridge Forrester and Katherine Kelly Lang as Brooke Logan in The Bold and the Beautiful (1987-present)

Perhaps the ugliest form of art concerning love is the soap opera, as it constantly contradicts itself about what love is. Infidelity and secrets are what fuels soap operas and they feed off suffering and heartbreak or the antithesis of love. For example, Brooke Logan from The Bold and the Beautiful has been married 13 times, even having a baby with her daughter’s husband. Therefore, it often shows love at its most realistic (albeit, highly exaggerated and dramatized), yet, no matter how much infidelity people have endured they still believe in fateful love. The central couple of Brooke Logan and Ridge Forrester from The Bold and the Beautiful, for example, have been married 7 times, still protesting that they were ‘meant to be together’. While soap operas are unrealistic in their over-the-top presentation and acting, they set a precedent for more toned-down presentations of the devastating consequences of love which are inevitable, rather than the perfect soppiness of romantic art.

Art, at its purest, is the depiction of the ideal, as it aims to aesthetically please via the depiction of beauty. As art has been commercialised, this ideal has only been subject to more and more hyperbole. Love is also an ideal, and thus visual, aural, oral, written word or representations of other kinds of love have been attempted throughout the ages. However, as one’s idea of ‘love’ is constantly subject to change by one’s culture, experiences or other beliefs, artistic representation is instantly obsolete after its publication or release. Love or the widely held belief in ‘the one’ is only sustained by films and television shows. Yet, without it, perhaps, the world would descend into a chaotic world dependent on promiscuity. Whether one believes in ‘true love’ or not, the institutions of marriage, relationships and romantic love are too embedded in Western culture to be instantly eradicated. However, with the times of Whitney Houston being taken over by the likes of Beyoncé and Jason Derulo, it is evident that love has shifted from a romantic to a sexual origin. Therefore, art should try and gradually peter out the concept of love from popular art forms.

Expectations of love created by art rarely meet reality as Tom finds out in (500) Days of Summer (2009)
Expectations of love created by art rarely meet reality as Tom finds out in (500) Days of Summer (2009)

Relationships are never perfect, and thus, unconditional love does not exist (at least for an extended period of time). Therefore, art should reflect the imperfection of modern love and relationships, rather than repeating itself with the ‘boy meets girl’ formula. This idea continues to mislead countless numbers of people about what love is, which is not applicable to today’s world of homosexual, polygamous and promiscuous relationships. While art is the depiction of the ideal, art borne out of love should come from the deepest of feelings, rather than a recycled idea. While a picture of a heart and a sonnet from Shakespeare would correctly depict your feelings, it would not expose or describe them. So, perhaps, draw your Valentine a portrait or write them a short story and try to move away from the ideal of endless love. As Tom from (500) Days of Summer (2009) said, “What does that even mean, love?…It’s these cards, and the movies and the pop songs, they’re to blame for all the lies and the heartache, everything…People should be able to say how they feel, how they really feel, not y’know, some words that some stranger put in their mouth. Words like love, that don’t mean anything.”

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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My name is Matthew Sims and I am a 25 year-old journalist from Victoria, Australia, writing about film and TV on the side.

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  1. Honestly, love in the films is, at the best, incomplete. Love is something that is long and internal. Most importantly, it is personal. There are things I would share with my wife that the world outside would look upon and say “huh?!” but we know… which is all that matters.

    And Love is very rarely wacky, so that would leave out about 90 percent of films from hollywood. Off the top of my head, I’d say a pretty realistic portrayal of love was On Golden Pond where 2 old people are comfortable with one another after a long life together.

  2. Art make people feel good about the world… Reality as we know it does not exist there.

    • Matthew Sims

      Art is a sort of escapism, as is the concept of love, a way to logically explain something which is intangible or unable to be explained by logic. However, while reality can not exist in most art, it can at least reflect reality back to us.

  3. Diana Chin

    This was a great article! Pretty spot on regarding the “boy meets girl” love story plots.

  4. Great article. Mainstream rom-coms have historically been one of the greatest offenders but writers like Judd Appatow have recently made some effort to address this. His comedy, This Is 40, begins after the traditional ‘happy ending’ and explores some of the difficulties of marriage. This approach is refreshing in mainstream cinema and, while the film still has its problems, I think its willingness to be more honest contributed to its success.

  5. Joe Harker

    I wish we had more films that showed us what comes after the “And they lived happily ever after” moment. I remember seeing Revolutionary Road (often described as “if Jack and Rose from Titanic survived and settled down”) and loving the portrayal of the prefect relationship falling apart.

    There are more films that are trying to have a go at this and I’m glad, it sets them apart from the wishy-washy stuff we normally get.

  6. HunterWolfe

    I could not have said this better myself. Film and books cause so many misconceptions about love, and music inappropriately “depicts” it as lust more than anything. It’s going to be the challenge of future generations to reject these ideas which are quickly becoming social norms.

    I believe writers are beginning to address this. *SPOILERS AHEAD* In the most recent episode of Arrow, “Heir to the Demon,” it is revealed that a presumed-straight character, Sarah Lance, had an intimate relationship with another same-sex member of the League of Assassins. When her father confronts her about this, Sarah says, “I loved her, Dad. Are you upset?” – to which he responds, “In the end, I’m just happy you had someone to care for you.” This is the inherent nature of love. It’s not salacious, it’s about caring for someone else and having them care for you in return. It is great to see writers treating on-screen chemistry with accuracy and delicacy.

    • Matthew Sims

      Thank you for your comment. Have not seen Arrow, but have heard some good things about it and this plot line sounds interesting. Hopefully, TV and Hollywood can continue the trend.

  7. Happy valentines day 🙂

  8. H

    This essay is badass. From your thoughts on the “escapist fiction for middle-aged women” to confusing lust for love and the 13 marriages on that soap opera to the last bit about “some words that some stranger put in their mouth,” everything fits. Putting very real words and opinions to an oftentimes muddle conversation. Pretty solid.

  9. I agree completely although just from viewing the trailer to me the more damaging idea in the movie is the apparent tug of war between Alex Pettyfer’s character and the father of the love interest. I’m sick of seeing love represented as ownership and sick of women being controlled and shown as a prize to fight over, not a person deserving of making their own choices.

    • Matthew Sims

      I have not seen the movie, but I completely agree that love is often seen as a form of possession or as some sort of leverage. Also, love is seen as a rite of passage thing, which is often connected with sex, as young people see a relationship as necessary in their most formative years.

      Stories of young love only further entrench the idea that not having a girl friend in high school (or even primary school) means that you are not cool, which is a concept which is completely ludicrous to sustain. Yet, this is not to say that the relationship can not be reversed, with many stories showing female authority over men. However, more often than not, stories such as the Twilight Saga are perfect examples of women seeing ultimate devotion and loyalty to their significant other as the ultimate purpose of life. Women (or indeed, men) should be seen as individual entities not made complete by others, but which adds to their character, challenges them, occasionally hurting them, eventually destroying them, so that they can rebuild.

      Love is the necessary evil which makes us realise pain, so that we can accept mediocrity or the ordinary in our “soulmate”. To engender the idea of a perfect relationship in film and TV is objectifying both genders (or a partner) as some defining aspect of our life. While it can definitely be a big part, especially if that bond creates a child, it is not the pinnacle of everything. This is why people spend a good part of their life looking for the ‘one’ on eHarmony or Tinder. One should stumble upon love, when one least expects it, not go looking for the perfect Hollywood relationship.

      Anyway, thank you for reading and commenting, Alex.

  10. Siobhan Calafiore

    Great article! It’s just a shame that sometimes that’s what it takes to hook so many people in and if this concept of ‘love’ or really ‘lust’ works and people watch the movies, read the books, listen to the music then its not going to be abandoned any time soon. It is so refreshing though when you see another take on ‘love’ as with 500 Days of Summer.

    • Matthew Sims

      Thanks! I am not suggesting abandonment, just more of a gradual awareness and better education, among distinct examples of films or tv shows, or other forms of art which are subversive. Whilst (500) Days of Summer is not a perfect example (especially, if one looks at its conclusion), it is definitely a step in the right direction.

  11. Great commentary on the idealized parts of love. I think it is also interesting to note that most of these films/examples examine the start of a relationship, as opposed to the continuation and struggles that come with it. I think it’s important for people to know that love is more of a verb.
    What are your thoughts on how Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind looks at love?

    • Matthew Sims

      Thank you. I acknowledge that I have focused on cases limited to the beginning of a relationship, but there are many cases which show the struggles and riches of a long-term one (i.e. the beginning of Up, perhaps Gone with the Wind, Annie Hall, Brokeback Mountain and so on). As for ESotSM, I love this movie and I think it tells an idealised story so well, as we are told their relationship through back tracking, allowing us to know exactly where they are going to go by the end. Ultimately, that is one of the best messages about love, that it is this endless cycle of mistakes and irritations with ultimately the same kind of person, before that person is not just a memory, but an extension (and indeed an influence) of who you are. Therefore, I definitely concur with your statement about love being a verb. But, Eternal would have to be one of (if not) my favourite love story, alongside (500).

  12. Emily Lighezzolo

    Ah Matthew…. Amen to this article. Every time a lonely girls verbalises that she craves for a love like Romeo and Juliet, I condescendingly shake my head!Sure, if you want to take poison for a girl who danced lasciviously in front of you… go ahead! Has “instant attraction” and connections by fate ever actually lasted

  13. Michele Marie

    You write well Matthew. What a huge task to write about love.
    I would say from my experience until you love and value yourself fully, you cannot truly love another. Many want full time pay for part time devotion. We have a bunch of unfulfilled people running around looking for someone else to validate us. You can be sure if you want something, there is a gap to fill, if there is a gap to fill and you look to another to fill it, it is not love – it is need and want. Love is whole and complete in itself and has no needs.
    As you say – society has a massively distorted love and there’s not much truth out there about love.
    Maybe life is designed that way – and it is perfect as it is. There is no back door, no easy way out, no shortcuts and no claiming love where it is not.

    • Matthew Sims

      Thank you very much. I do not think I am trying to write about love, but how it is misrepresented in art, which is highly romanticised.

      While I can hardly speak towards love, having never really experienced it or confronted it, but I agree with most of what you are saying.

      However, to say love is complete in itself implies that it is without origin; some predestined connection between people, which is exactly what I am arguing against. Love does need to be nurtured (and indeed created), relationships (i.e. ones which lead to marriage or raising children) are not instantly strong enough to last until death.

      In addition, to say life “is perfect as it is” is to say it is some static item, whereas it is actually a thing which is constantly under flux. Perhaps, the only constant in life is that we were designed to have sex and thus, love was created to give this primitive thing some sort of beauty. However, love or relationships is also connected to the human need of connection.

      As to your last sentence, art is still creating the artifice of love within the genre of romance, which has lasted way too long since its inception, allowing people to get out without confronting the truth about each other.

      I am not proposing that the popular idea(l) of love be overhauled or overthrown, but that art realise the harm that it has done to society and gradually cull the classic idea of love, confronting the often ugly side of modern relationships.

      • Matthew Sims

        P.S. While most people of the older generations (i.e. ‘Baby Boomers’ or Gen-X) still live by the old ideal of love, art has damaged the younger, more malleable minds. This means that they see lust (or sex) as love, which is a fallacy which leads to sex for pleasure* and abusive relationships. I appreciate that this is a highly cynical view, but surely I am not the only one who is sick of seeing a movie or reading a book with another highly predictable love interest or sex scene, and not see the utter hypocrisy. However, I hope that along with art, my view of love will mature with my experiences later in life.

  14. I completely agree that love and romance is often portrayed as idealistic and obtainable in popular forms of art such as feature films. I absolutely love this article as it says what everyone is feeling, yes it is nice to believe and have a ‘2-hour’ escape from reality and believe in the happily-ever-after, yet I wish there were more films that focussed on the ups and downs of relationships. I strongly recommend ‘Like Crazy’ or ‘Atonement’ for those looking for a bit of truth in their films.

    • Matthew Sims

      Thank you and I definitely agree that an escape is necessary from time to time. Have never seen Like Crazy and loved Atonement back when it first came out.

  15. PerkAlert

    Very well-written analysis! The depiction of love is an ongoing evolution–and one that’s not always evolving in the right direction. However, I think criticizing this concept in movies/literature/etc is a bit of a double-edged sword. I feel like media is often times an escape. I mean, we watch TV generally to turn our brains off, or at least I do, so most of the time, all people want is a buffet of guilty pleasure to feed their mind. Sure, it’s not particularly ideal, especially with the ideas these images sometimes perpetuate, but that’s where you can only hope that people are mature enough to tell the difference between fantasy and reality.

    • Matthew Sims

      Thank you! I definitely agree with your point of media as an escape, and whilst it may have been that in the past, I think it has more potential as an art form than we give it credit for, especially television. Whilst we sit down every day and surf channels and generally pick the ‘reality’ television shows or others like ‘Ellen’, ‘Dr. Phil’, ‘E.T’, ‘TMZ’ and so on, there is a lot more potential for truth telling in the media, rather than creating truth out of a fallacy. I think there is a lot of difference between the ‘fantasy’ of such shows like ‘Game of Thrones’ or movies like ‘LOTR’ and the social accepted reality of love. There are websites and legitimate jobs related to love, which tells you that it just isn’t fantasy anymore. People want that perfect relationship and the media should not, at least always, give the people what they want, but expose some truth about humanity.

  16. Jon Lisi

    I enjoyed reading you article, arguably the most articulate rant of its kind. I don’t know if I agree with you that we need to do away with this kind of storytelling though, but you’ve made a strong case against it.

    The film Annie Hall deals with this question beautifully. The relationship is imperfect, but unlike in real life, the end of the relationship itself is viewed by Allen as the perfect ending to the movie, thereby subverting the genre and our expectations of it.

    There are, as well, many non-mainstream works that deal with love in more sophisticated ways, though I’m sure you’re aware of this.

    • Matthew Sims

      Thanks mate. While I am not necessarily positing a world without the romantic side of storytelling, we need to realise that it is just an idealistic narrative device, rather than some ultimate way of life.

      Annie Hall is perhaps the perfect love story told through film.

      I know I am being biased by only looking at the bad, because there is a lot of good out there, but only the minority realise it, while the majority go see films like ‘Endless Love’ or watch ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ every second Tuesday.

  17. Courtney Acampora

    I am so happy I stumbled upon your article. It is so refreshing! I too think 500 Days of Summer was a move in the right direction in illustrating an alternative take on dating and relationships. Thank you for this!

  18. There has been a shift in the way ‘boy meets girl’ is presented over the years because the audience gets tired of hearing the same story. There are lots of alternative representations as well. I agree with you that there has been a shift in the way love is portrayed in music videos. This shift is evident upon observing how an artist’s music style changes across the decades. Many musicians’ songs have become less romantic and idealistic.

    • Matthew Sims

      Thank you for commenting. I am sure there are plenty of alternative representations of love in film and television. One needs to only look at artists like Miley Cyrus to see that sex and/or lust sells more units than romantic love.

  19. Kelsey

    I really enjoyed your article and I think it raises a lot of interesting points.

    I think the problem is that modern art finds real love boring. Real love, which, I would hazard to argue is rarely based on physical attraction, does not sell movie theatre tickets like fast-paced, lust stories. People like the troubled and dangerous relationships that are portrayed in the media–Twilight, anyone? Audiences have forgotten what real, healthy love looks like. It isn’t based on dependency but rather, it is complimentary. But who doesn’t like the idea of being able to say, “he completes me?” Unfortunately, nobody would sit through a two hour film about two completely healthy and stable people who take the proper steps to ensure that their relationship is also healthy and stable? Drama sells. And unfortunately, drama sells unrealistic expectations of “love” to viewers of all ages which is quite unfortunate and disastrous. I only hope people can realize this and stop taking their love advice from cookie-cutter movies like Endless Love.

  20. I think you make a good point. I believe society would be better without that stereotype. Life is different in reality. I also believe that those stories will continue to be told in at least some media until there are drops in sales regarding such things.

  21. Good article, I agree with just about everything you said. I think that the idealized love that is in movies, TV shows, and books is popular because it is mostly fantasy. The idea that “true love” is a lifelong state of sexual and emotional euphoria, and that it is everyone’s destiny, is really appealing. Unfortunately, that leaves a lot of people confused and heartbroken when their lives don’t become fairy tales. I actually prefer a lust story that has a beginning, middle, and end to a love-at-first-sight-and-ever-after story. Lust stories are more relatable and tend to have some real personal revelations made by each character along the way.

    • Matthew Sims

      I do not mind a lust story from time to time, but it has become a bit of a over-used staple of everything nowadays. Just because something works consistently does not mean that it should not be questioned, at least.

  22. Thank you for sharing this, especially in the difference between love and lust. “Love” is so often polluted nowdays and its portrayal in media all over the place certainly isn’t helping the way many view it in the real world.

  23. I think the reason for the durability of love stories is that there is a fundamental truth as to humanity within. I could see complaints as to how well more modern stories articulate this truth.

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