TV couples create real life drama

‘Relationship goals’ can ruin real relationships by creating unhealthy ideals

TV couples create real life drama

Megan Rakers, Staff Writer

Society is built off romance.

It’s the selling point in advertisements, the pull factor in television shows, the gossip that runs like wildfire through schools.

Love is the end-all, be-all that most people dream about.

For this reason, relationships are frequently glamorized and idealized. All too often, these ideals are based off relationships seen on television or online. And 56.5 percent of students regard their favorite TV couple as being fairly realistic.

This is hardly surprising; it’s human nature. “We are made for love, to give love and to receive love,” said Theology teacher Tony Piccotti. “It’s the way God created us.”

Everyone wants to be appreciated and loved, Piccotti added. For this reason, romance is written into most television shows and featured all over social media. Everyone has ideas about what the perfect relationship should be.

“It’s when you care so much for a person that you’re willing to accept their faults and they can accept yours in turn,” said NDP senior Tara Murnin. “Somebody you can be completely yourself around. And you’re not pressured to feel anything, it just happens naturally.”

According to senior Harrison Geesey, “Trust is a big one, because a lot of people don’t actually trust their partner. There has to be mutual respect … and communication.”

“You need honesty, trust, communication, selflessness, sacrifice and … humor is helpful too. You have to be comfortable with each other and know each other and be each other’s best friend,” said senior Elle Haugland. “You should be able to go to them with anything and know that they’ll be there for you no matter what.”

“I’d say openness, trust, and definitely communication,” said senior Aidan Gregory. “Communication is the downfall of [most] relationships.”

To NDP alumni Thomas Rapp, the perfect relationship is one in which “[you] take whatever opportunities are available, and don’t lose track of the present or the future by focusing on one or the other. Be bold if necessary, and always be strong. Never compromise your most important values … and if you find the right person, take the damn money and run.”

Idealistic Expectations

According to Mr. Piccotti, many on-screen and online relationships are not healthy. Instead of a relationship based on mutual support and respect, characters will have ones “based on personal gain and self-centeredness”. Although they are built off a bad foundation, because these relationships are broadcast to so many people, they begin to seem like the norm.  

When these unrealistic and unhealthy relationships are held as ideal standards, they can be damaging to real-life relationships. In the article “TV Romance Can Affect Real-Life Marriage” by Monica Rozenfield, researchers found that when partners do not meet the expectation created by television shows and social media, they are more likely to be unfaithful. And people are more likely to enter into unhealthy relationships if they enter into them with unrealistic expectations fostered off those seen on-screen.

Teenagers are especially at risk of being influenced by these ideals, as teenagers tend to identify strongly with characters or role models who they see similar to themselves. According to an article by Jane Brown and Carol Pardun, social identity is the biggest determining factor in what television shows teenagers watch. They empathize with characters going through similar conflicts or of the same age, gender and race as themselves.

For these reasons, they are also more likely to relate to and want to emulate these characters’ relationships. Teenagers will go into their own relationships with the expectation that they should be like the relationships seen on-screen.

Beyond the influence of television shows, social media can affect teenagers even more directly.

Social media provides the chance for teenagers to share their opinions and dreams instantaneously with their friends and peers. Although this has many benefits, according to the article “Teens, social media, and relationships,” it can also create expectations for how teenagers should be thinking and feeling.

Relationships, particularly, when shared over social media, can be idealized and twisted to seem like the norm, without showing the flaws or problems behind them.

In this way, they can breed unrealistic expectations for what real-life relationships should be. They can also create a sense of insecurity or dissatisfaction in real-life relationships, making partners feel as though they are not treating their partner as well as they are expected to, or as though they are not being treated as well as other couples that they may know or look up to.

According to a scientific article by Sonja Utz and Camiel J. Beukeboom, social media strongly influences self-esteem in real-life relationships. Partners who are uncertain about their relationship on social media “try to compensate their low self-esteem by creating an idealized picture.”

Therefore, the idealized representation of relationships over social media is often just a cover for uncertainty or low self-esteem. When these relationships are portrayed as being ideal or ‘goals,’ they promote a lie.

Teenagers and Media

In a poll taken of Notre Dame Prep students, 56.5 percent of students said that they regarded their favorite TV couple’s relationship as being fairly realistic. A combined 86.9 percent of students said that their couple’s relationship was at least realistic within the show.

Of those surveyed, 43.4 percent cited celebrity couples, TV couples or social media couples as their main role models for relationships.

These statistics show just how influential television and social media can be within teenage relationships. If couples in TV shows are seen as being realistic, they can set ideals for what viewers believe relationships should be. And as demonstrated by the poll, they can even become role models for teenagers’ perception of relationships.

“They’re so real,” said NDP senior Renee Grambihler about her favorite TV couple, Rory and Amy Williams from the show Doctor Who. “They’re always there for each other and you can see what they’re willing to do for each other … They’re something everyone should aspire to.”

However, not everyone agrees with that mentality. Senior Harrison Geesey said instead that Doctor Who “has the worst relationships — all about use.” If the latter is true, Doctor Who may present a perfect example as to ways that TV shows can normalize unrealistic and even unhealthy relationships.

Despite the debate over how healthy TV relationships are, most can agree on what a healthy relationship should be. “There should be mutual respect,” said Grambihler. “You have to be friends.

Similarly: “A good relationship should be established in friendship,” Mr. Piccotti said. “It needs support and dependability.”

Added Murnin, “You have to trust each other enough not to always be paranoid that they’re looking at someone else.”

Other sources besides TV, celebrity or social media couples that students identified as role models for relationships included parents, family members and friends.

There’s the potential for bad relationships in all areas of life, according to an article published by the University of Washington. However, unhealthy relationships within media can lead to unhealthy relationships in real life because the media normalizes the unhealthy values that these relationships are built on.

“The media displays relationships as needing to give something to someone,” Grambihler said.

“They’re based on a lot of use,” Mr. Piccotti agreed. “[They’re] more about what you get in a relationship instead of what you give.” Additionally, the media tends to “overly dramatize and glamorize” the relationships it presents.

These unrealistic and unhealthy standards can create big problems for teenagers in relationships, as they create “lots of outside pressure from peers and the media.”

These pressures are analyzed in Madden and Lenhart’s article. Teenagers are easily influenced by the relationships they see on TV and on social media. They begin to feel as though everyone around them is dating, and they feel stress to enter relationships or be intimate.

“Teens begin to feel inadequate if they’re not dating or intimate with someone,” Mr. Piccotti said. The idea of a relationship is so romanticized that teenagers often feel pressured to be in one.

According to senior Emma Nowicki, “With relationships being the focus of so many TV shows, I guess it’s hard not to feel like it’s happening to everyone. And the pressure isn’t just to be in a relationship, but for it to be a perfect one.”

“TV shows make it seem like something that happens to everyone, which teaches kids who watch it that this is something they need to do so they feel like they’re fitting in or something,” Murnin said.

“And for social media. there’s all this pressure to have the perfect partner and all that relationship goals stuff,” she said. “I just feel like people don’t get together as naturally or healthily anymore, because there’s all this pressure society puts on to find your ‘other half.’ The authenticity gets lost.”

“Going on social media, I’ll see all these posts about wanting cute dates or about how you should act in a relationship,” said senior Gabi Johnson. “Those aren’t always bad, but they definitely make it seem like everyone should be in, or at least want to be in a relationship. And there’s also an expectation level for being in that relationship that you feel you have to conform to.”

Media Relationships Influence Students

So what media couples do students admire?

Some of the most commonly mentioned couples include Jim and Pam from The Office, Nathan and Haley from One Tree Hill, Shawn and Juliet from Psych and Meredith and Derek from Grey’s Anatomy.

Jim and Pam are widely accepted as one of the greatest TV couples of all time. Jim is shown to be in love with Pam from the very first episode of the show, and they first get together in season four.

“It’s OK to admit that The Office’s Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly give unrealistic relationship goals that, even years after the show’s finale, you still can’t capture,” wrote Mary Grace Garis in this article.

Jim and Pam from The Office. Photo: NBC.

“I like that they’re able to be silly with each other and it’s very relaxed humor … they both seem to really enjoy it,” said senior Katie Cunningham.

“[Their relationship is] realistic because the last couple of seasons, Jim is involved in a new start-up company and he had to be away a lot, and that does affect their relationship, as it would a real relationship. Couples aren’t happy all the time and Jim and Pam represent the ups and downs in a realistic way,” Cunningham added.

Nathan and Haley from the show Nathan and Haley Scott from One Tree Hill. Photo: The CW.

Nathan and Haley Scott of One Tree Hill first meet when Haley begins tutoring Nathan in English. They get married in season one and remain together throughout the duration of the show.

“I like that fact that, even though they seem like total opposites and a very unlikely match, they found love” said senior Amanda Thomas. But she admits that the relationship is not very realistic, “considering the fact that they got married while in high school.”

In the opposite school of thought: “Them getting married in high school and having a kid so early is pretty realistic” said senior Matthew Peters. “That definitely happens in real life.”

Shawn and Juliet in Psych. Photo: USA Network

In the show Psych, Shawn and Juliet are both detectives who frequently work together to solve crimes. They don’t get together until the fifth season, but their continual partnership and support of each other has earned them many fans.

“They put each other first and had their priorities straight,” said Nowicki on why they’re her favorite TV couple. However, she also acknowledges that their relationship probably isn’t realistic because “interference with their careers … would have probably ruined the relationship in real life.”

Meredith Grey and Derek Shepherd in Grey’s Anatomy. Photo: ABC.

“The relationship between Meredith Grey and Derek Shepherd on Grey’s Anatomy will go down as one of the most epic love stories ever,” wrote Sharon Knolle in the article “5 Most Memorable Meredith and Derek Moments Ever”. This is a sentiment that seems to be shared by most Grey’s Anatomy fans.

“I like the fact how they stayed together despite all the challenges they faced individually and as a couple,” said Thomas.

“I think they highlight the hardships and struggles of a relationship really well,” added Wilder.

But, as with all TV couples, their relationship doesn’t quite translate to real life. “For dramatic purposes I feel that everything they have gone through is more than that of a normal couple,” said Thomas.

Similarly: “There are definitely some classic cinema dramatic flourishes,” said Wilder.

Relationship Role Models

Fortunately, unhealthy and unrealistic media standards – though extremely influential – are not the only role models that teens have. Here at NDP, many teachers have been married for numerous years and provide healthy role models for students.

Mrs. Leslie Gjerstad and Mr. Bruce Gjerstad on their wedding day, 34 years ago. The relationship experience that NDP teachers have make them relationship role models for students. Photo: Leslie Gjerstad.

And an overlapping 69.6 percent of those polled about relationship role models identified family members as role models as well.

Emma Nowicki admires the relationship between her sister and brother-in-law, because “they have helped each other through personal problems and family problems.” She sees this acceptance between the two as an important staple in all relationships.

“They are just super supportive of each other and it helps them have a strong bond,” said Nowicki.

“I’d have to say my parents because they’re really open with each other and they always get along,” said Gregory. “They don’t have any secrets, and it’s to the point that I just kind of see them as one entity. They don’t make any decisions separately.”

“Two longtime friends of my parents who are more or less my adopted grandparents have perhaps the best relationship that I know,” said Rapp. “Both of them are very elderly now and despite the ailments of such a prolonged existence, I have never seen a happier or more devoted couple.”

“They cherish the seemingly insignificant moments,” Rapp added. “I’ve learned [from them] that cherishing family was the greatest reward in life.”

“I admire my parents,” said Geesey. “They both came from divorced families so scientifically they’re more likely to divorce but they’ve stayed together through everything.”