I once had a girlfriend who told me to stop trying so hard in my pursuit of her. No matter how original or creative my date ideas, no matter how scripted my witty banter, no matter how earnestly delivered my compliments it wasn't what she was really looking for. "This isn't a movie," she would say. About the time I was spreading rose petals all over my dining room table in my apartment to prepare a candlelight dinner for two on Valentine's Day, I thought she was a fool.
Now I think she might be the only normal person I know.
See, we have a common affliction in our culture and I am relatively certain that every person in my generation suffers from the same fundamental problem. We don't want to be in love. We want to be in love in a movie.
Chuck Klosterman addresses this problem in his book, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.
I once loved a girl who almost loved me, but not as much as she loved John Cusack. Under certain circumstances, this would have been fine; Cusack is relatively good-looking, he seems like a pretty cool guy (he likes the Clash and the Who, at least), and he undoubtedly has millions of bones in the bank. If Cusack and I were competing for the same woman, I could easily accept losing. However, I don't really feel like John and I were "competing" for the girl I'm referring to, inasmuch as her relationship to Cusack was confined to watching him as a two-dimensional projection, pretending to be characters who don't actually exist. Now, there was a time when I would have thought that detachment would have given me a huge advantage over Johnny C., inasmuch as my relationship with this woman included things like "talking on the phone" and "nuzzling under umbrellas" and "eating pancakes." However, I have come to realize that I perceived this competition completely backward; it was definitely an unfair battle, but not in my favor. It was unfair in Cusack's favor. I never had a chance.
I'm not going to blame John Cusack. Not because John Cusack isn't still cool or as formidable a foe for me as he was for Kolsterman but I just feel like his cultural relevancy has somewhat dwindled. So who then shall be my greatest nemesis the person I will forever be locked in a clash of the ages with yet all the while be only further delaying my inevitable demise?
Personally, I am no match for Edward Cullen.
I know this because I am 27 years old and single. I spend much of my free time trying to get girls to think I am smart or funny or charming or whatever it is that I think that women find desirable that day. But I will always fail. Because what women really want me to be is Edward Cullen. Yet I am not immortal, I do not have perfect hair and bone structure, I do not sparkle in the sunlight, I do not often allow my shirt to be blown open effortlessly by a gentle breeze, and I shower far too often to resemble the fantastical vampire anti-hero in the center of the adoration of millions of "Twihards." I will never be Edward Cullen because Edward Cullen does not exist.
People do not write scripts for me to attempt to deliver unironically the cheese-dripping melodrama of angst-ridden proclamation of teen love. To the best of my knowledge no one has ever accused me of "smoldering."
People don't expect those kinds of things out of real life. In the real world, things are never as epic as the movies and so they are never as satisfying. In the movies, people fall in love while risking certain death or saving the world from nuclear holocaust or while fighting evil clans of rogue werewolves. In real life, people can fall in love while eating pancakes. Don't get me wrong. I love I.H.O.P as much as anyone but I'm not setting my screenplay there. Still, shouldn't true love still be as satisfying in real life as it is in the movies?
Which brings me to Taylor Swift. She has become a cultural icon for her purity, innocence and dissatisfaction with boys in general. Despite her tender age, she has become an incredibly powerful symbol for postmodern angst. (Not only has she become this larger than life force of celebrity but she is also keenly self-aware enough to unironically croon the lyrics of "White Horse" simultaneously embodying the unfilled promises of an entire generation's longing for love while also diagnosing herself as part of the problem. This is no small feat to accomplish before being able to play a club without wearing a special wristband.)
Her biggest single to date, "Love Story," is a comptemporary reworking of Romeo and Juliet imagery in the form of an uptempo, radio-prepackaged power pop ballad.
As Swift croons out the lyrics, she exposes her own double-mindedness about the essential nature of love. Romeo has been chasing her the entire time yet she can't help but feel alone. Togetherness is not enough for our modern Juliet. Melodramatic, scene-stealing kisses and grand gestures worthy of John Cusak are her aim instead of the less glossy images of the realities of love. She doesn't want a man; she wants a script. She wants a love story and she wants it to be in high definition.
Romeo save me I've been feeling so alone
I keep waiting for you but you never come
Is this in my head? I don't know what to think
He knelt to the ground and pulled out a ring
And said, marry me Juliet
You'll never have to be alone
I love you and that's all I really know
I talked to your dad, go pick out a white dress
It's a love story baby just say yes
I am choosing to interpret the most interesting lyric as existential mediation on the current state of love as a function of the human condition. "Is this in my head? I don't know what to think." Who does?
In a culture inundated with images of love burned into celluloid, is it possible that we have culturally anesthetized ourselves to the point that we can no longer recognize the gritty realities of love when we see them?
What I am saying is that it is at least arguably possible that real love is better than movie love.
That happily ever after is the most overrated concept in all of human existence. True love stories never end. They play themselves out in perpetuity in the scenes that find the cutting room floor, in late morning pancake breakfasts and comfortable silences. The sappy, heartstrings-tugging musical number may fade out when the credits roll but the dance survives even without music.
What we must do is reject a culture that sets us up for failure by forcing us to compare ourselves against impossibly beautiful stars and idyllic settings, against flawless writing and effortless dénouements. Appreciate the reality of longer, more enduring stories. The ones we don't watch but instead live.
We should learn to appreciate the kind of love that happens over pancakes.