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5 problematic things pop culture taught me about love and dating

There's no denying that pop culture influences the way we see the world. Sometimes that's a good thing, and sometimes it's a bad thing. Films, TV shows, books and games can push society forward and educate us - but it can also hold society back and teach us some terrible life lessons along the way.

For me, personally, pop culture taught me some problematic af things about love and dating. Things I believed as gospel for years and, in some cases, only unlearnt after a sharp wake-up call. These days I'm pretty media literate (plus older with more life experience) and can watch films with a critical eye while still enjoying them.

But back when I was teenager? Not so much. Here are five really negative things pop culture taught me about love and dating.

1. If someone doesn't feel the same way? Wait for them...and then wait some more

If you assume I have an anecdote about a guy who tried to woo me by pathetically waiting for years, you would be correct. But the anecdote I'm about to share is about how I once waited. I was once one of those douche-bags. It was years ago - we're talking high school - that I kept waiting for the same guy to admit undying love for me, and spent too long staring at him in class (which in hindsight was super creepy and probably made him hella uncomfortable). The guy was blatantly not interested but I kept convincing myself that there we were meant to be....

There was no storybook ending here though. He never ending up feeling the same way, and is now married with a someone else. These days I am over him (thankfully) and have learnt how to take a hint.

2. Bad boundaries is a sign of true love

My very first relationship was unhealthy boundaries central. He had my parents house number, memorised all my passwords, knew what my bank balance usually sat at, spent all his time at mine, would tag along on almost all social situations and latch onto me all night, phoned me at work and got confused when I didn't answer, and would book a trip to come see me without checking if that weekend was good for me first.

Even at the time I wasn't happy with any of this - but we're taught that these actions are cute and a sign of true love (think Edward Cullen and Christian Grey). It wasn't even just me. When I got frustrated about his behaviour in front of my parents, my mum poo-pooed it as a sign of true love. It was only when I started dating my second boyfriend - who never once did any of things listed above - that I realised these behaviours weren't a sign of adoration, but of self-entitlement and possessiveness.

3. Nerds are good and jocks are bad

I self-identify as a geek, so it's only natural that I tend to date other geeks. But from high school until only a few years ago, I believed that geeks were all sensitive guys who just wanted to be loved and football players were, well, players. Pop culture taught me that girls should give nerds a chance because they really deserved us (Revenge of the Nerds is probably one of the finest examples).

It's easy to see why so many films teach us this: nerds are more likely to grow up to be film directors than football captains. So they're now free to live out their high school fantasies where the cheer captain realises she wants a sweet nerd with wonky glasses than some arrogant jock with a six pack.

Dude, get the fuck over it.

I wasn't cool during school either and you could not pay me to go back. But I haven't developed an ego complex where I think hot men should fall at my feet because I'm deep and intellectual. These days I've dated enough men to know that some geeks can treat women just as badly as the jock film archetype - and some jocks are actually amazing boyfriend material.

William Bradley wrote a great personal article on getting the fuck over his high-school nerdness, that you should totally read.

4. Guys always fancy the same type of girl

In film world even the geeks fancy the hot cheerleader. Where does that leave the rest of us?

Insecure as fuck, that's where it leaves us. For years I spent far too much time moulding myself to be the kind of gal I thought all guys wanted. Instead of experimenting with fashion and make-up because it's fun, I spent ages doing my make-up they way I thought all guys liked it. I even dumbed myself down and faked interests.

Think Laney Boggs in She's All That. She's undesirable because she's clumsy, wears overalls and has a ponytail - despite her conventionally attractive face. That really makes us non-cheerleader girls feel great.

But it's not even just girls who's behaviour is being effected by this bullshit. We've all met guys who police women's appearances and decide that because he doesn't personally find a girl attractive, then no one else should and these girls need to know that they're out of line.

I wonder where these guys learnt that there's only one type of girl worth fancying? 

5. You can tame (or change) them

Whether it's drug addiction or not believing in marriage, we see fictional characters tame bad boys and fall in love after an accidental baby. It's not my story to tell so I won't go into detail but let's say I have exes that came with a side serving of Issues (with a capital I). I naively believed that with enough love and affection, their demons would evaporate.

But the old saying is true: you can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped. Even when someone does genuinely want to change, it's usually a professional they need rather than a romantic partner.

I've also been on the flip side of this situation. I've had exes who are convinced that somewhere in me lies the desire to breed children. I've dated people who are adamant that the right person will put me off polyamory. I've been *ahem* casual with people who believe that if they *you know* enough times that I'll fall in love. Heck, people still don't believe that I like being single. 

One of my favourite female characters is Samantha Jones from Sex and the City. She's one of the few women in pop culture who is single....and loves it. This single lady has a fabulous life with a successful career, stylish NYC apartment, fun friends and sparkly hand bags. She didn't morn the man-shaped hole in her life.

But then she was tamed by Smith Jerrod. No wonder men are convinced they came tame me when foxy Samantha Jones was tamed into the domesticated life (even if it was by the best looking guy ever).  I was thankful as hell when she ended their relationship in the first film with the perfect "I love you, but I love me more".

So are you suggesting we should ban teenagers from watching television and films? Absolutely not.

Films, books and television are fun, and can be a massive force for good. But they need to be taken with a pinch of salt. That's why I strongly believe that media studies in school is not a pointless subject and should be an essential part of Personal Social Education (alongside comprehensive sex and relationship education).

That way, there's a smaller chance of the next generation growing up believing the same bullshit.

morag | mo adore
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