Romanticizing Romance

Maya Bose, Staff Writer

The movie ends with a kiss and flowers, everyone applauds, and then they live happily ever after. As soon as the guy gets the girl, the end credits roll. It’s a familiar narrative we’ve all seen before, whether it be in romcoms or fairy tales. In fact, it’s hard to avoid the lovey-dovey trope, because practically all forms of media seem to be spinning the same story. 

The music industry is perhaps the most illuminating example. It’s widely estimated that love songs make up 50 to 60 percent of all music, and in his article “Deconstructing the Love Song”, Marton Chilton approximates that more than 100 million love songs have been recorded. “In America, the idea seems to be that love, like so much else, should be sold to the public, because it is a good thing…It fits in with the other advertisements, and one feels tempted to write to the broadcasting station for a free sample of this thing called Love” observes Raoul de Sales, writer for the Atlantic. Each short song is like a quick glimpse into someone’s personal feelings and relationships, and yet most of these intimate sentiments have been repackaged into commercial hits. It may be easy to perceive music as just simple entertainment with no real meaning. 

However, in “What Has America Been Singing About?” Peter Christiansen argues “…it seems reasonable to view patterns of content in popular music as a reflection, however, distorted, of trends in youth culture and of individual concerns of adolescents.” The media we consume is very reflective of our key interests–and it’s very telling that teenagers, as well as the rest of the general population, create and listen to a lot of love songs. 

It’s not just music, though. Enormous franchises such as Disney and Kay Jewelers profit off of the promising concept of love, the reason behind the stratospheric success of movies like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, films that have endured throughout the turn of the century and inspired live-action and spin-offs. And of course, we’re all familiar with “Every kiss begins with Kay”, the catchy slogan that catapulted Kay Jewelers into one of the top jewelry chains in America. The jewelry industry as a whole has seized on the concept of diamond-studded romance, flinging ads with happy couples exchanging expensive rings onto TV screens and billboards across America. The connection between consumerism and romance doesn’t end there–in 2019, the National Retail Federation estimated that the average per-person spending on Valentine’s Day is 162 dollars, a number that has risen 60 dollars over the last 10 years. The Daily Orange expands on this holiday, emphasizing its effect on single people: “This [anti-Valentine’s day] targets single people by marketing products geared toward fighting loneliness and practicing self-care.” The two sides of Valentine’s Day represent a new corporate angle involving romance: now single people’s insecurities about loneliness can be preyed upon as yet another advertising tactic. Dating apps promise to vanquish loneliness and solve all problems, while makeup ads and clothing labels encourage altering one’s outward appearance to be more desirable. On the flip side, the commercialized idea of grand romantic gestures can burden those who do have partners. Love language tests now include “gift-giving” as a way to express love for others, and most typical dates involve expensive dinners or outings. 

While this marriage between love and consumerism can take a financial toll on individuals, it also impacts self-esteem and even life perceptions. The reason why all those advertisements and marketing campaigns work is that Americans view love as one of the most important aspects of life. Our life goals and the very idea of happiness tend to reflect this value, and it seems ingrained into our very culture. The TV shows we watch and books we read usually have some element of romance in them. Even having a crush is something to be excited about as early as elementary school. However, love has recently morphed into a cure-all for life’s greatest challenges, a magic potion that supposedly improves all aspects of life and guarantees self-fulfillment. In his article, “Love in America”, Raoul de Sales sums it up comically: “They [Americans] want to get out of love as much enjoyment, comfort, safety, and a general sense of satisfaction, as one gets out of a well-balanced diet or a good plumbing installation.” Inflated expectations and chasing after a near-impossible ideal can only set people up for disappointment. Such an emphasis on not being alone can even encourage toxic relationships or low self-esteem among single people. If anything, the emphasis should be on self-actualization rather than finding the perfect partner. 

Romance isn’t completely doomed, though. The concept of finding true love–though perhaps overdone–still remains sweet. But the next time you see a billboard advertisement for the dating app, or feel lonely among a crowd of couples, take it with a grain of salt. Unlike the movies, there are no end credits that come with a happy ending.