The Fantasies that Most People Have About Love

by | Aug 11, 2019 | Anxiety, Relationships, Sexuality | 34 comments

Because we’ve all grown up in a relationship culture predicated on the romantic ideal, we enter relationships with the following imprints and fantasies about love, sex, and attraction:

Love should be easy.

Sex should be effortless, which means simultaneous orgasms from intercourse.

If you’re not instantly physically attracted the relationship doesn’t stand a chance.

Butterflies are a sign of true love.

The right relationship will make you feel alive and rescue you from a lifetime of pain.

From where do these fantasies originate? Hollywood and mainstream media, of course. Social media is now a primary culprit, but long before Facebook and Instagram pierced our collective consciousness we were subject to potent images and messages about how love and sex “should” feel, look, and unfold. As Reva Seth writes in First Comes Marriage (I’ve edited the quote slightly to include people of all genders):

“What is it exactly that is making us both consciously and unconsciously expect so much from our partners? Well, partly it’s the result of all of the cultural myths around what or who a partner should be. These are partly the product of the Barbie Doll and Disney princess [and prince] stories told to us from childhood. And of course Hollywood, television, and magazines aren’t helping. Instead, they bombard us with messages about what ‘real love’ should be: If it’s true love and they’re the right one, then they should, in the words of Jerry Maguire, ‘complete us’.

“Essentially, I think all of this feeds into an ultimate myth of rescue, in which our partner comes into our life and sweeps us off our feet, happily solving any outstanding problems, issues, or angst we may have. And along the way, they take us into a marvelously easy future of incredible and intuitive intimacy, where they provide us with our personal version of a life of fun, fulfillment, and romance.”

As I’m raising my boys, I’m acutely aware of the messages they’re receiving about love. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, when we hear love songs that proclaim that the partner is the singer’s sole reason for living, we discuss the message in depth. They often listen to audiobooks together and I make it a point to pause and discuss any dysfunctional messages about relationship that the author may be disseminating. Now, when they hears something that sounds like it falls into the sappy model of romantic love – like a “love at first sight” scene –  they’ll look at me and say, “I know that’s not actually how love is.”

Along these lines, a few days ago my older son asked me why I don’t watch much television. I told him that I realized a long time ago in my 20s that every time I watched TV I felt empty, alone, and bad about myself afterwards. I explained that most shows exploit our culture of comparison: they hook you in and then end up making you feel like this is how life “should” be. I “should” have a group of best friends. I “should” have a boyfriend who’s my whole world everything.

In my 20s, I was so much more susceptible to these mainstream expectations than I am now, and something inside of me knew that watching television wasn’t healthy for my development of self, that the 30 minutes of escape wasn’t worth the two hours of digging myself out of an empty, anxious hole afterwards. By the time I reached my 30s, watching TV lost most of its allure, especially as I realized that spending time in the evenings journaling, writing, reading, taking a bath, or talking on the phone to one of my friends was so much more fulfilling.

And now, as I round up to 50, the allure has died completely.

He asked because many of the teens we know watch Stranger Things, and my husband thought it might be fun for our son to watch the show so he could share a common point of reference. As my son and I talked, he could sense my hesitation, and he wanted to know why I was concerned.

“Is it the horror elements?” he asked.

“No. I think you’d be fine with that stuff now.”

“Is it the story?” he asked.

“No,” I responded. “I think you would enjoy the story.”

“Then what it is it?” he asked.

I didn’t quite know. I paused and thought about it, and then the words erupted from my soul and tumbled out of my mouth.

“You know what I think it is? It’s that once you start watching television, you’re bombarded with a fixed idea about how life ‘should’ be, and it activates a place of comparison if your life is different in any way. Right now, you don’t compare yourself to anyone or anything. You know what you like, you know what you’re interested in, you know how you want to spend your time. Once you start watching television, a mindset of comparison starts to seep in. It might be subtle at first. You might not even notice it’s happening. But gradually you might wake up one day and notice a niggling emptiness inside of you. You might feel bad about yourself and you don’t know why. You might think, ‘I should have more friends’ or ‘My body should look like that’ or ‘I should be wearing different clothes.’ I can’t say for sure about Stranger Things because I’ve never seen it, but if it’s like most of the television shows I’ve watched, it’s likely that it will subtly and unconsciously activate a sense of ‘not enough.’

“Also, television depicts a technicolor reality. It shows a condensed version of life – two months squished into a forty-seven minute episode – and just that alone can create a distorted version of how we think life should be. Real life isn’t anything like television life. And I prefer real life. I prefer knowing who I am without comparing myself to this distorted and Hollywood-ized reality.”

He took in what I said. Knowing how much we all struggle with dismantling the unrealistic expectations and fantasies that we’ve been fed about love and attraction, I would like to protect my sons as along as I can from being exposed in the first place. I could see that he was taking in what I said. He also took in my husband’s opinion, which differs from mine. At fifteen, he’s old enough to make his own decisions about what he watches (for the most part), and it will be interesting to see what he decides.

The fact is that at least ninety percent of what you ingest through mainstream media – social, YouTube, magazine, Netflix, etc – is steeped in a mindset designed to activate the part of you that feels inadequate in some way. We live in a “never enough” culture – not beautiful, rich, social, smart, well-dressed, successful enough – and when you expose yourself to the media it’s very difficult for this part not to be activated. .

This is true in all areas of our life, but most especially around love and attraction. If you want to rewire the media-induced fantasies and develop a healthier mindset about your relationship – facilitating the process of rewiring the habit of comparison that places not only yourself but also your partner and your relationship under a microscope –  I invite you to take a media fast. And I don’t only mean social media; I mean all media, from television to films to magazines. Change requires action, and there are few more powerful actions when it comes to love than safeguarding your psyche by filtering the images and messages that enter your psyche. If you take this fast, let me know how it goes!

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34 Comments

  1. Thank you, Sheryl, for sharing your life with us. This vulnerability is what we learn from the most <3

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  2. I stopped Instagram and Facebook six months ago roughly and will only go on for pictures of my neices/nephews and the odd event invite but I’ve broken the habit of going on every day, every minute almost and it has put a dent in my progress of comparison…I do like TV but more car shows or funny podcasts, animated shows- somethings that are so far fetched that I wouldn’t even try to compare my life. I’m still anxious, it’s the intrusive thoughts that get me but I’m loving discovering shadow parts and embracing them. i.e: I love dark, deranged things that can be quite vulgar in the borders of my mind and endless imagination, I no longer feel ashamed of my thoughts. Sorry for the long comment haha ??

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    • No longer feeling ashamed of your thoughts is a significant part of healing, so congratulations and keep going!

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  3. I’ve been fighting certain things in my head for the past couple weeks and this article came at the perfect time ,?

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  4. So needed this tonight, to curb some huge spikes that have been happening. Thank you for your timely message.

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  5. I very much understand and appreciate the sentiments you’ve shared. I stopped watching TV in my mid-20s and have never looked back. All the news or shows I consume are ones I choose — without commercials, and with a much broader spectrum than what is just shown over the air.

    The big problem I have is with Facebook, which I avoided being on for a very long time. However, when I started grad school, I was required to have an account in order to know about required events with my department and to participate in group projects with my cohort. I also am required to have Facebook for two of my volunteer positions. It’s funny — I avoided FB for so long, even when friends or family members wouldn’t communicate with me because they use FB exclusively. But if I wanted an education, I had no choice.

    I try to limit my time on FB, I don’t have it on my phone, and I hate FB as much as I ever did before I got on it, but I’ve found (sadly) that I cannot live my life without being on it. As a sensitive soul, I feel the tug of comparison, and I struggle not to digest the material that I have no choice but to see in my newsfeed. I can follow few people (and I do), and FB makes up for that with its own ads.

    I hope some day we will come to recognize the harm that these social platforms can bring, and will allow people to study, work, and volunteer, without requiring we expose ourselves to influences we would otherwise choose to avoid.

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    • Wow, Kay, that makes me so sad that it was your education that forced you onto Facebook. I, too, hope that educational institutions find other ways of sharing information and helping people stay connected rather than social media platforms.

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    • I have found that using this newsfeed blocker extension on google chrome can help prevent being bombarded by posts you weren’t even looking for. I now spend much less time on facebook because I am not getting sucked in by the newsfeed.
      Check it out if you think it could minimize the impact facebook has since you have to have it for your positions and school.

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  6. Very thought-provoking. Thanks. I just watched Poldark on PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre and realize I was comparing my boyfriend to the dashing, romantic Poldark! I’m a die-hard romantic and it makes it hard to find real love in the real world.

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    • I recommend staying away from all media for the 30 days to see if it helps you rewire!

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  7. I reduced my television watching by at least 90 percent more than a month ago and I feel more centered and less agitated. The noise emanating from Good Morning America, daily news broadcasts and all of the other unwholesome nonsense was so disturbing but I was addicted to it as an escape from myself. Remarkably, I prefer my solitude instead of that racket. I am discovering that its pleasurable spending some time with myself or reading healthy mind expanding material instead of mainstream entertainment.

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    • Beautiful, William. Thank you for sharing.

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  8. Great quote! And yes the truncated attention is problematic for everyone. I find that turning off my phone for 24 hours every week helps, as does leaving it in another room for large portions of the day, and past 9pm at night.

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  9. I had a therapist one time who taught me “What you focus on becomes your reality.” I’ll never forget that, I do have to make a conscious effort to ‘undo’ the false messages from childhood. I basically gave up television and have greatly reduced Facebook consumption. I prefer spending time either reading spiritual books that are insightful and spending time with my pets. We’re not promised tomorrow so why waste a precious moment in the digital realm poisoning my brain?

    As always, I love your introspection and beautiful writings Sheryl.

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    • Wise words from your therapist, and wise actions from you :). xo

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  10. Hi Sheryl, I agree very much that too much time spent in media an lead to a disconnect from yourself and real life. If your son does choose to watch Stranger Things though, I would say that one of the things I very much like about it is that in general it actively challenges a lot of the dysfunctional messages that young people get from TV.

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    • That’s exactly what my husband says :). Curious what messages in particular it challenges.

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  11. I think it’s been several years ago that I quit Facebook – prompted by your Trust Yourself course, so that was early 2017? Thought that was the best decision ever. Then I started getting into nature photography and Instagram and the mindset to build a following as a way to travel/do what I love and maybe someday make money doing it. I would spend 1-2 hours almost every night crafting an Instagram post, constantly checking how many likes it got, how many followers I got, etc. It got to the point that I realized I used to go out into nature (hike/backpack/climb/kayak) for ME because I loved it, regardless of the weather or who knew I was out there. Suddenly it became if I missed the sunset photo I expected to capture or didn’t do something epic and story-worthy, I was entirely disappointed. I was no longer present to appreciate all the other beauty that nature provides. That was soul crushing. Quitting Instagram in December of 2018 was the best decision of my life. Maybe my weekends aren’t always filled with epic adventures or incredible sights. But I feel relaxed and I do things I enjoy. I go to a natural area nearby without posting about it – without feeling bad because it’s not “beautiful enough” to post. It feels like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders!!

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    • I LOVE THIS. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  12. Thank you for this post darling Sheryl, I cherish each and every one of them. There’s another side of the coin too. We’re flooded by films and series where the charming boy/guy/man cheats on the good girl. He repents, asks for forgiveness, the good girl is so good that understands and they live happily ever after. I’ve just learned my husband had a sexual affair with my best friend one weekend three years ago when he was visiting her town on business (I was at home with the kids). I’m a good person, you know me, I’m your follower, I’ve done all your courses but one, I’ve worked a lot on myself, and I know there’s plenty more to be done. Nevertheless, I hate the examples depicted in Hollywood/TV/culture/Church that demand women to be forgiving. I don’t feel a little bit of compassion for my husband. Even though he begs me, I just hate him and her. I keep picturing their sexual encounter on replay. I feel sby kicked my stomach and is choking me. I’ve started to feel panick attacks as I did a long long time ago. So this is me hearing my parents, my priest and the film/tv culture saying “forgive him, he just made a mistake, just do it for the kids, he’s truly sorry, he came clean, blah blah blah” But I can’t and I don’t want to be in a relationship with somebody who broke my trust and who upon questioning (because I had some reason to suspect) swore by his children that he hadn’t done anything and I was just being paranoid. I just can’t stand the notion of living with sby whom I cherished who I’ll never forgive or trust again. I’m on the opposite sidewalk now. I feel lonely, broken, cheated, crazy and I must admit I’ve even thought of taking revenge sexually. I’m crying a lot as I write this down. It’s the culture and society against me right now. Isn’t that completely wrong? So what now? It’s so sad. PS sorry this must be the longest post I ever posted on your blog.

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    • Dearest Georgina: I’m stunned and heartbroken to read this, and I’m sending you the biggest hug across space and time. I can only imagine how utterly shattered you’re feeling right now. As always, there are no “shoulds” when it comes to life and love, meaning forgiveness isn’t something that you need to do. I don’t think the culture is against you (at least not the entire culture). It is entirely understandable NOT to try to repair, and to know yourself well enough to know what you’re willing to do and not do. Many marriages end because of infidelity, so in no way is there a unilateral expectation to just “forgive and move on.”

      If you do choose to go down the road of attempting to repair, it would require months and months of couples therapy (preferably EFT or Gottman). But you don’t need to make that decision right now. You’re in shock, you’re heartbroken, you’re furious. Right now is the time to seek support for you, to tend gently to your broken heart and shattered trust, and to move slowly. Again, I’m sending you so much love.

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      • Sheryl, thank you, your words bring tears to my eyes, tears of connection, I feel so lonely, disconnected and hurt that your words are like a virtual hug.
        It’s true this terrible situation is an invitation to move slowly. With the kids and the pretense (because we have kept appearances for them), I have forgotten that I can’t juggle everything as I usually do and maybe that’s the very same reason that I have started with the panic attacks. You’re so wise. I love you so so much. When you mentioned EFT before were you referring to tapping or Emotional Freedom Technique? Thanks, a big hug

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        • I’m so glad my words helped you soften and feel loved. You ARE loved. Don’t ever forget that. The EFT I’m referring to is Emotionally Focused Therapy. It’s the couple’s work developed by Sue Johnson.

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          • I love you. Thank you and I’m most grateful for the tips. I’ll keep you posted. A big hug

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  13. Ugh, I’m going to indulge for a bit and say that I love “Stranger Things.” That being said, I’m starting to see how media has distorted my idea of the world and real life. I was a total Disney kid and what you would call a “hopeless romantic.” I’ve come to realize that media is completely responsible for that. I’m going to try the media fast to the best of my abilities and I’ll post on the forum how it goes!

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  14. Thank you so much for this post, Sheryl! I love how you mother your sons. I love how raw and honest you are with them. I sense so much aliveness in your relationship with them! Ironically, I made the decision to finally delete my Facebook account after 11 years just last week! The truth is that I had been nearly inactive for the past 6 years, and frequently thought about deleting it, but something in me kept me from following through. The other day, I signed in and was triggered by a post I saw. In the aftermath of the anxiety, I decided to really sit with my resistance to deleting my page all together, and I was so intrigued with what came up…it was a fear of disappearing, a fear of dissolving into nothing. I pictured people searching for me on Facebook and not coming up with anything, and just imagining that made me feel this great sense of emptiness (I have no other forms of social media). However, I have been doing inner work for long enough to know that this fear was holding me back from a much more beautiful truth…the truth that deleting Facebook would somehow make my life richer rather than smaller. And so I did it! I just love how it feels to live my life knowing that the downloads that I get from others come in the form of face-to-face contact or phone conversations. I love that I don’t have the thought in the back of my mind of what others may think of my photos or my “virtual life”. It is a very grounding feeling, I must say. I also don’t watch TV on my own (I will join my mom or friend if they want to watch), so most of my time is spent talking to friends or family on the phone, reading self-help books, or journaling. I wholeheartedly encourage anyone who is on the fence about deleting their account to take the leap!

    With love and gratitude,

    Jeana

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    • There is so much wisdom in your comment, Jeana, as always. Thank you for sharing your journey here!

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  15. Thank you. I also avoid both TV and social networks and it works well. I am also finding that I often feel very bad from reading the news so I am trying to avoid those too. The problem is that they show the news in the public transport where I live, on buses and trains. So on the bus to work every morning I have to hear about all the tragic ways people are treating each other. I would really have preferred not to have my world view and people view colored in grey or black every morning.

    I have tried to think of ways out of this but have not been able to come up with anything. Grateful for any ideas. Kindly,

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    • Could it work to wear earplugs and look down at your book or your screen where you can control the information?

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      • Fortunately there is no sound, but good idea to focus visually on something else.

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  16. Like many other comments I have read previously, this post is so timely. I was just watching a video on YouTube of a couples love story and it ignited my ever present relationship anxiety. I think it’s been 3 weeks now since I’ve come across your blogs, and I believe they were an answered prayer. I have been dealing with relationship anxiety for I think as long as the first time I ever fell “inlove” at the young age of 14, which started a journey to failed relationship after failed relationship. I’m now 28 and getting married next month to an incredible man of God and yet am crippled most days by anxiety. I’ve been struggling with this sense of my love story not being romantic enough. Not having experienced months or even days of fluttering stomach butterflies and hearts in my eyes. Till I found your work, I truly felt alone and swallowed up by fear and pending doom. I am so relieved that there are so many other people struggling with the same thoughts and feelings. Yet, I’m struggling so much while listening to other people’s love stories and how they seemed to have experienced this fairytale love. They literally use the words “it felt like a fairytale” which triggers my anxiety that much more. Sometimes it feels like I’m numb. Though I know I want to be with him and can’t picture my life without him I wonder and struggle so much with why I haven’t experienced that romantic fairytale love story that some people really do seem to find. I do think it’s also a confirmation from the Holy Spirit to do an ALL media fast since I have been feeling to do this for quite a while. Tho I am not on Facebook or Instagram, I spend hours watching YouTube videos. I’m also reading a book a friend lent me called “a love letter life” and this has just fired up my anxieties even more. God truly is what brought us together and that truly brings peace to my heart but when I examine my feelings throughout most of the relationship it really scares me and makes me feel that I did something wrong not to deserve a love like “a love letter life”. I even fear I’m not in Gods timing. Though things have been really falling into place with the wedding planning and we’ve been really blessed financially for the wedding, not to mention also the ongoing support from friends and family and our beloved pastors and brothers and sisters in Christ, who are all in favour of our relationship which does reassure my fears, It’s still an in going battle in my mind. Please help; I guess I’m just looking for advice. Much love

    Reply
  17. Wonderful advice! I couldn’t agree more with avoiding social media and most TV shows. My partner and I have never really been interested in regular TV (soaps, quiz shows etc.).

    Before I had my first anxiety attack and what brought me to this site, I very much enjoyed all my hobbies. Watching a funny netflix show, reading my favourite webtoon (on my phone), editing videos/photography on my laptop, gaming etc. I never noticed that virtually all my hobbies are attached to a screen. Even reading books is on my kindle app. I now find myself occaisionally struggling to read comics I thoroughly enjoyed before. Whenever, love or romance or anything tragic or dark is mentioned it can trigger intense negative thinking and I worry that that’ll happen to me.

    However I know I enjoy reading, gaming and watching a good drama. These aren’t hobbies I want to avoid or give up. I want to find a healthy balance. Where I can see these negative false ideals of love and death but be able to say ‘that won’t be me’ without getting sad, or feel inadequate. I don’t want to avoid a particularly intense film because it might trigger my anxiety?

    Before it felt like I had bundles of confidence and self-esteem. What I saw through media was easily dissmissed and I simply enjoyed the show. I feel like the comparisons and the triggers are happening more because I can feel the anxiety now.

    Reply

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