Earlier this week, Lisa Anderson, director of young adults for Focus on the Family and host of the wildly popular and incredibly entertaining The Boundless Show, spent some time on Focus on the Family’s daily broadcast chatting about her new book The Dating Manifesto: A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage With Purpose. You can catch up with her broadcasts here, and it’s well worth the listen: Lisa’s one of the most entertaining, insightful folks I know, particularly on the subject of young adulthood and dating. We asked her to give us her own thoughts on how entertainment can impact your dating life, and the resulting blog post is pretty delightful. But don’t take my word for it: Check it out for yourself.
Pride and Prejudice ruined me.
I know I’m not alone. Women the world over know exactly what I’m talking about. We know the lines to repeat and scenes to replay in A&E’s 1995 movie version (the only true version) of the Jane Austen classic.
The Lizzy-overhears-Darcy-at-the-ball scene.
The Lizzy-dances-with-Darcy-at-the-ball scene.
The Lizzy-banters-with-Darcy-at-the-pianoforte scene.
The Darcy-proposes-but-Lizzy-tells-him-off scene.
The Darcy-pays-off-Wickham-but-doesn’t-take-credit-for-it scene.
The Darcy-against-all-odds-proposes-again-and-Lizzy-accepts scene.
The Lizzy-and-Darcy-kiss-as-they-drive-away scene.
Pride and Prejudice as a novel qualifies as classic British literature; Pride and Prejudice as a movie is pure romantic escapism.
So are its knock-offs: You’ve Got Mail, Bridget Jones’ Diary, and Life As We Know It, among others. Many filmmakers have acknowledged and tried to reproduce (most unsuccessfully) the power of Lizzy’s and Darcy’s tumultuous tale.
Why the obsession with P&P? Why is it the only movie I’ll watch over and over, scene by scene? Why is the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy irrevocably burned into my brain?
Because I desperately want it to be my story, that’s why.
I want a handsome, brooding, intelligent, emotionally distant but winnable, guarded but compassionate, truthful, just and impossibly rich bachelor to look my way. And if I’m being honest, I want him to not just look my way—I want him to really see me and then fall in love with me.
You see, I’m a bit like Lizzy. Average looking, past my prime (more than a few years beyond Lizzy’s 21), middle-class with few societal connections to speak of, hopelessly opinionated, and with more than one socially inept or embarrassing relative in my family tree.
But with Lizzy, Darcy eventually saw beyond all that.
He saw who she really was: a spunky, smart, self-starting girl with a true heart and a lot of common sense.
I like to think I’m that, too.
But whatever I am, the truth is that Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet were birthed out of Jane Austen’s imagination. They don’t exist. They are fiction.
As is my assumption that my story should look like theirs. Or like a movie script, period. Life’s just not like that.
Somehow we’ve been conditioned to believe—even expect—that our path to true love will unfold like a Hollywood plotline; that in a mere 90 minutes we’ll experience an intoxicating romantic ride that will unfold into an inevitable lifetime of marital bliss.
But life isn’t a blockbuster rom-com. And neither is the path to marriage. I think Hollywood has duped us, encouraging us to believe that true love is “out there” if we’ll only “believe” (yeah, thanks, Disney).
This is nonsense. To this point, here are a few of the movie myths I’ve fallen for in my own dating history, along with why I think they’re a key reason for so many relationship stops, starts, stall-outs and general toxicity and dysfunction. See if any of them sound familiar:
Myth One: There’s one person in the world who’s your perfect soul mate.
Is this concept in the Bible? No. Is it in a number of romantic screenplays? Yes. The idea of finding our perfect match is tempting, because it almost guarantees success. After all, if you find “The One,” won’t life be easy and perfect? Won’t you be so compatible with your significant other that each blissful day will hum along with little to interrupt it? Not so fast. Remember, you’re a sinner who will date and marry another sinner. Looking for perfection will either keep you looking forever, or you’ll find your “soul mate” only to have him or her disappoint you and leave you angry and disillusioned, prompting a breakup or even a divorce.
Myth Two: A relationship will solve all your problems.
“You. Complete. Me.” Jerry McGuire said it to Dorothy Boyd, and an entire generation believed him. We shouldn’t have.
Jerry convinced us that all you need is love. It’s a great sentiment, but a relationship is more than love. It’s also sacrifice, commitment and hard work. It’s sickness and kids and carpools. It’s bills and bickering. There are incredible benefits, too, of course, but marriage doesn’t “happen” to you as some kind of reward for little to no effort. We’re encouraged to believe that Jerry’s shaky job history, cocky attitude, and questionable relationship track record mean nothing. Neither does Dorothy’s difficult life as a single mother with all its history, baggage and responsibilities.
Last I checked, a relationship is for two healthy people who will love better, serve more and glorify God more fully together than they will apart. It’s not for people who are looking to fix or escape problems or people. That’s what counseling and godly mentorship is for. Know the difference.
Myth Three: The more drama your story has, the better it will be.
Let me return to Pride and Prejudice for a moment.
Because of the way Darcy and Lizzy’s story unfolded, I dared to believe that the ideal romance was made up of two individuals who at the very least misunderstood each other, and in some cases hated each other. But after twenty or so scenes, a crisis or two, a breathtaking location or adventurous situation, love would strike them both like lightning. Or smallpox. Whatever. I looked at the guys around me whom I couldn’t stand to be around, and wondered if any were my future husband. Was one of them Darcy in disguise? Nope. They all turned out to be guys I couldn’t stand to be around. Nothing more. My hopes were dashed.
Guys play this out by pretending they need a girl to rescue. She’s impossibly beautiful, but a general mess in every other area of her life. No worries. Mr. Awesome will swoop in and talk her off the ledge. But after they’re married, he discovers that she is a compulsive shopper or incessant talker or commitment-phobe, and he wishes he hadn’t acted so fast. Bummer.
I’m not intending to bash movies altogether. Some, including some romances and romantic comedies, are quite charming and innocuous. But it’s time we stop taking our dating cues from Hollywood. It’s time to instead get a biblical view of dating, relationships and marriage.
How do we do this? For starters, we read the Bible and see how God created relationships to function. We look at Jesus as an example. We pray for discernment. We practice humility, compassion and love in all of our relationships, including those with our family, friends and coworkers.
Second, we get godly mentors to model what marriage looks like—the good, bad and ugly. We have them act as “mirrors” to us, pointing out blind spots and areas of necessary growth. We work on the areas over which we have control.
Finally, we move forward boldly. We look around us for potential people to date—people who love Jesus, are in a position to date and marry well, and with whom we could potentially craft a future.
Want to date with the best possible success? Leave the fantasies in the theater. Let the princesses and superheroes have their day; but don’t be one. Do your best, trust God with the rest, and you may actually find a real human being who wants to date you. That’s better than Hollywood. That’s a story actually worth living.
Lisa Anderson is director of young adults for Focus on the Family and host of the popular weekly radio program and podcast The Boundless Show. She’s the author of the brand-new book The Dating Manifesto: A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage With Purpose. Her writing is featured in newspapers, magazines, and at Boundless.org. Lisa is a frequent guest on radio and TV programs, and she speaks around the world about relationships, faith, and the many challenges facing today’s young adults. She can be found at LisaCAnderson.com, Boundless.org and @LisaCAnderson.