Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"It's Realistic"

So guess what? Yesterday's post ended up being my 900th post. Weird. Should I be proud of that? Or mildly embarrassed? I don't know. I won't be celebrating, minus mentioning it. But maybe I will celebrate hitting 1000 posts. It's been a while since I had a contest.

Anyway...I have a bone to pick today. A few days ago I watched 500 Days of Summer, and I really liked it! It was funny and a little sad and featured a topic not as often tackled in "romantic" films—the wonderful relationship that doesn't last forever.

This movie also happens to be one of my sister's favorites. I asked her why, and she said, "Because it's realistic. It's not about fluffy true love."

To which I replied, "Are you saying true love isn't realistic?"

"No...but this is how it is. People break up all the time, and I like that this movie doesn't sugar coat it."

(Note: That wasn't the exact conversation, but it was along those lines.)

This made me kind of sad on a few levels. First, because my sister is already jaded about finding love at the ripe old age of 21. Second, because love seems to have become the stuff of fairy tales, as impossible to find as unicorns and pots of gold.

And this is not the first time I've heard this. I hear this off kilter argument all the time when people start ragging on paranormal romance or praising contemporary fiction.

"Oh, that relationship is so unrealistic! That never happens. People don't just take one look at each other and end up getting together. People don't do that undying dramatic love for all of forever."

"This relationship is realistic—they break up and hate each other forever and move on with their lives. The girl loves the guy, but he never notices and that's how it is. Betrayal. Divorce. Boredom. Fights. These are real."

Isn't it kind of sad that we are willing to accept the crap as reality but not love? Sheesh. Is that what we think real relationships are? No wonder I know so many girls my sister's age who've already given up on love.

I'm not saying this stuff doesn't happen. It does—too often. But just because crap happens doesn't mean that the good stuff is impossible. It doesn't mean it's a fairy tale. Love is real. Maybe not as ideal as it is sometimes portrayed, but it is so very real. I live it everyday, and sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's hard, and sometimes it's every bit the stuff of fairy tales and happily ever after.

Relationships have so many faces. Some are bumpy. Some are full of scars. Some are effortless and unwrinkled. Some age poorly, while others get better. Some are ugly. Some are beautiful.

But all of them are real.

This applies to many things in fiction, not just love. "Real teens swear. Real teens have sex. Real best friends have big fights. Real parents do this. Real teachers say that. Real kids don't stand up to bullies. Insert whatever else you want here."

But you know what? It's just not true. People are all over the gammut. Who are we to say that one is more real than the other? Or are we actually saying one is more like our life's experiences than another?

It also applies to other life stuff. Most of you know I've been through a lot of crap on the writing front. I've had quite the "realistic" writing journey, filled with rejections and more rejections and countless revisions. I've heard more than once that I'm an example, an inspiration, because of this. To which I'm not sure how to reply, because I certainly don't feel inspirational, for one, but also because I wasn't planning to make this my path. Hell, could I have the fairy tale, please?

Because the "fairy tale" publishing stories are real, too. I've seen them happen. Oh sure, there's a lot of behind-the-scenes hardship in those, but they are as real as the I've-been-through-hell stories. Sometimes I'm wildly jealous things didn't fall into place for me like that (Not with writing at least—I totally had the fairy tale relationship, still do.), but then I remember that the fairy tale is still out there. Just because I haven't found it yet, doesn't mean I won't. And it certainly doesn't mean it's impossible to find.

If I accept the bad as reality, I must also accept the good as reality.


  1. You're right. Part of the problem is they can both be reality, but reality is a spectrum. Most people fall in the middle: maybe they find their true love and stay married for fifty years, but along the way he cheats, or she drinks, but they still make it work. Most relationships aren't black and white awful or fluffy.

  2. My problem with a lot of "fairy tale romances" love is that they DON'T show the bad with the good. (Also, I find it gross. And this is coming from a girl who is happily engaged to an adorable Teddy Bear.)

    It's also because I find love to be different for each individual person, and a portrayal of idealized love is off-putting, mostly because it WON'T be like that for everyone and it won't necessarily float everyone's boat, so to speak. Personally, I find the thought of someone thinking of me all the time and putting me first REALLY off-putting. But that's ME.

    But then again, I'm not someone who likes FEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELINGS anyway. ;-)

  3. Keep the faith! I feel like believing in the fairy tale keeps the door open for it to happen - and even if not, at least it makes the world more lovely in the meantime.

  4. The thing about fairy tales, whether it's true love or getting published, is it takes work. But then that's why I like reading those fluffy love stories. who wants to read about how hard it is to keep true love going?

  5. Who would'a thought in my fairy tale relationship I still have to take out the garbage?

    Oh well. I guess the realistic has to be mixed in somewhere.

  6. JJ, exactly, that's you! And I love how you see it! Then there are others who love the sappy stuff. I find them adorable, even if the thought of Valentine's Day personally makes me gag:)

    I guess I'm saying the fact that there is a spectrum should be acknowledged, and just because we don't connect with a certain hue doesn't make it completely unrealistic.

  7. Fairy tales are actually dark things (not the sanitized versions we tend to be familiar with), so that's one thing to keep in mind.

    Also, yes, occasionally those things happen, but many of us would like to see a relationship develop. It's annoying to see two people lay eyes on each other and suddenly be in love. What's there to form the bond? What common interests, what shared experiences, what demonstration of personality?

  8. I've never experienced the romantic kind of instant connection, but I've had the friendship kind. If I hadn't, I probably would've rolled my eyes at this post.

    Truth is, people accept crap as realistic because more often than not, it's all they know. If they knew better, they'd believe better.

    To that end, though, you're only ever going to get what you let yourself have. If you think something's unattainable, you won't reach out to grab it. And if you think crap is all you're ever going to get, you'll be more than willing to settle for the least-crappy crap you can find.

    Definitely something to think about

  9. Nick, at least I'm not expecting a giant diamond and chocolates and roses next Monday:P Now THAT would be a nightmare, wouldn't it?

    Also, I'm making pumpkin pie today, so shut your mouth:P (And thank you for taking out the garbage.)

  10. Anon, this is true, but isn't it also true that physical attraction usually is a factor in any budding relationship? The growing and development sometimes comes after. Like, "Oh, that girl is hot! I want her! Huh...what do you know? She's actually a cool person, too. Awesome. I think this can go somewhere..."

    There are many ways for relationships to develop, I suppose the key it making whatever you choose believable. Which, either way, we can sometimes fail at.

  11. Natalie, that part we agree on. That's actually what I mean about watching a relationship develop. But so many books/movies skip that. They have the initial attraction and nothing more.

    Yes to the believability thing. It's also important to remember what many writing teachers have said, that not everything that happens in real life works on the page.

  12. I agree. Everybody's experience is different -- and unhappy endings are no more "real" than happy ones.

  13. I agree with you.

    It is sad to think that people give up on the good things just because the bad exists.


  14. SO true! I hate when people refer to contemporary fiction that's all dreary and glum as "real" and the fantasy that has a good moral, get-the-girl ending is "fake". You are right- we can't define what is real or what is fake. It just is. I found my true love in college, and we are still in love. It's my own fairytale. But I know others who have been crushed or broken. And that's real too. (this is why I prefer fantasy and romance- good things happen most of the time. I want to feel good when reading, not all depressed). Thanks, that was a great post!

  15. Love this post! And I thought 500 Days of Summer kind of ended on a happy note...like no matter how awful things get, autumn could be around the corner :-).

    And sometimes it does annoy me when I read YA that's trying to be realistic by showing drugs and sex. When I was in high school (which was just a few years ago) my friends would have Disney Scene It parties. People live different lives and there should be a variety of stories to reflect that.

    Sometimes happy stories are realistic.

  16. I agree that the range of reality is wide and varied. Everyone has a different story. And even those who experience similar things react to those things differently. On the other hand, I read to escape reality so I don't really care so much about the "real" factor.

  17. I met my soulmate a month before I turned 19.. wasn't planned or wanted.. of course I wouldn't change it for the world now *grin* so yes movies that show the 'real' side are awesome

    The Arrival, only .99c on Amazon

  18. You'll find your fairy tale! :) And I second what Nicole said. Someone in my former crit group complained about my heroine not being realistic...but she was true to her character. Just because something isn't in your life experience doesn't mean it's not true for anyone. Happiness is as real as anything else.

  19. Very true!! Fiction is fiction and just because it's not similar to one person's reality doesn't make it unlike true life.

    I'm a romantic, so of course I believe in true love and happily ever afters. I've had good luck in love so I guess my opinions never had the chance to become jaded.

  20. LOL to you and Nick in the comments.

    The last line of this post says it all. (I mean, the rest of the post was good, too! But the last line encapsulates it.)

    I think you're right that too many people take their life experiences and (super)impose them onto stories, and that becomes their measuring stick for "reality." Which is a dangerous thing to do.

    That said, I agree with JJ, in that personally I appreciate the fairytale romances showing the hard stuff sometimes too.


    Wait a minute... JJ, you got engaged?!?!?!?!? (Or did that happen before I started reading your blog...?)

  21. Wonderful post, Natalie. I'm one of those people caught in the middle, where half of me thinks love is a fairytale and the other half is a hopeless romantic. And it doesn't help when everyone else is so incredibly negative all of the time. Thank you for this. I'm glad someone else sees that things aren't just black and white when it comes to writing what's "real." Just because you've never experienced it or seen it, doesn't mean it's not out there somewhere. :) Thanks!

  22. Kristan: Oh, Bear and I've been engaged for years. Quite literally. :)

  23. I simply adore the last line of this post. It sums up your wonderful thoughts so well! Thanks for sharing this post. I'll keep my fingers crossed that you'll get your fairy tale soon!

  24. Wow. This entire post should be carved into stone.
    And no, I don't think sadness, disappointment and regret are the only reality. Don't fairy tales have those parts too?

    I guess thinking you live a charmed life has everything to do with what you choose to focus on--half empty, half full--kind of thing.

    Ask Jack in the Beanstalk if he lives a charmed life, yeesh! Or Cinderella.

    You're right. The happiness is just as real. For me, maybe even more real, because the acquisition of more happiness defines my understanding of the journey.

  25. It's interesting that you mention this. I had a conversation with my sister not long ago about luck, both good and bad, and the "that stuff doesn't happen to real people" mentality attached to both. People win the lottery, people are involved in terrible accidents, find the love of their life, contract a life-threatening disease.

    We were joking that I've already been through the life-threatening disease and so to balance it out now I'm due for some sort of brilliant good luck. You, too - you've been through hell on your writing journey the last couple years, perhaps you're soon due to win the lottery (metaphorically or literally!).

  26. I think the thing to remember is that Happily Ever After doesn't happen in one day--it happens one day at a time.
    Good things happen and bad things happen, but we remember the bad things, unfortunately because they hurt more. We aren't taught to celebrate joy and relish in our accomplishments. So we push the good things aside and only see the darkness. One in two marriages will fail, the better you look the more money you make (yes that was a study), Double zero is the new two, the list goes on and on. My senior thesis advisor told me to keep a journal and explore the things that I did well, because often we just record how much we failed.
    And I have to admit the more I look back and think about everything I've done, it makes my bad days seem a little less bad. So to recap: happily ever after=one day at a time

  27. I hear what you're saying - it's the realistic that makes life authentic, though that can be tough to take! But it's those unrealistic and the painful parts of the journey that make the triumph all the more sweeter!

  28. I love this post Natalie. I deliberately seek out the uplifting, inspiring and positive stories in media and in life. I see the heartbreak too (and as I get older it seems to make me cry a lot more, maddeningly), but I choose to focus on the good stuff. And it makes the good stuff in my own life seem even better.

    For example, after seeing a movie with lots of violence or depressing themes I feel depressed and it takes me a couple of hours to recover. But when I see a more uplifting movie, I feel great and then I look over at my husband and I just want to snuggle him even more than usual. Yes there's hard times, but why put a magnifying glass on them?

  29. Oh gosh, THANK you for this post. I was a teen that didn't have sex or swear. While I think that some teens do, some don't as well. There should be stories about all of us. The good stories are sometimes just as important as the bad.

  30. Eh, it's not really so black and white. People get together and break up; people get together and stay together. Sometimes people go through a long series of break-ups and reunions before they decide one way or another.

    As for being published, there isn't one either/or reality. There are many paths to being published; there are many rungs on the ladder of success. It's up to us to decide just how good we can stand it while never settling for less, and aim for that rung rather than worrying about whether it's at the very top or along the ground.


  31. It makes sad sense. People have been conditioned to believe anything negative and doubt positives. The more twisted and uncomfortable, the more "realistic," even if it is actually quite unrealistic.

  32. Oh okay, I'm glad I didn't miss it. Thought I was going crazy... (Entirely possible.) Well, super belated congrats! :)

  33. Yes, and yes!

    My hubby and I dated for three months, broke up, spent three YEARS dating other people, even got engaged to other people, reunited once we both left that happy little valley (I think you know which one), got married and have 2.5 kids.

    Magic happens folks. And not just in cheesy novels.

  34. A very interesting post and I do agree with you. However, when we're hurting, it kind of helps to alleviate the pain by recognizing the "bad" as reality because that's what's familiar. For my part, most of my writing tackles the bad part of reality. It's more comfortable for me.

    Fairy tale-like reality may exist but the bad has to underlie it so that we can truly appreciate it if we are so lucky as to attain it. :)

  35. Congrats! 900 is nothing to sniff at. :)

    I admit, I was a little disappointed in the movie. But maybe because I have a small (big) crush on Josheph Gordon-Levitt, and wanted him to get the girl. I thought she was too mean. That said, I'll watch it again, and keep what you and your sister have said in mind.

  36. Great post! And that last line is pure gold.

    I liked the movie (except that the next girl he met was called Autumn - too cliche), because it was quirky and real and still, somehow, really beautiful. I think if we can't find beauty even in the broken parts of life, we won't find it anywhere.

  37. AMEN! There are some fairy tales that happen in real life. It's just that the bad stuff tends to get more attention, unfortunately.

    I think that's why I love fairy tale type stories and romance--because it is possible.

    BTW, I couldn't stand that movie. Maybe because it was too "real" and just plain depressing for me.

  38. Hi Nathalie :)

    I mostly agree with what you're saying, but I think the "dreary" and "negative" stories are getting a bit too much flack here. While I personally don't read/watch too many of them (I get depressed T_T), I really don't think they are overestimated -- on the contrary, I'd say the overly fluffy books/movies get way too many sales in comparison.

    In the end, though, I think a combination of optimism and pessimism is optimal :) Not fluffy enough to make you roll your eyes, and not so bleak you see no point reading/watching it. Then again, it's all a matter of personal taste.

  39. Oh dear, I misspelled Natalie. My apologies ^^

  40. I agree with your assessment. Knowing life can be difficult, but refusing to focus on the negative and continually seeking/celebrating the victories (our own and those of others) is a conscious choice and (i.m.h.o.) requires more effort than lapsing into cynicism.

    I've known plenty of people with far more difficult histories than mine who are also the kindest, most optimistic folks anyone could meet. If I'm ever tempted to wallow in self-pity, I can always pull out of it now by reminding myself of every blessing received.

    (Thanks for the reminder today). :)

  41. In general, people find it easier to accept that hardship and pain are the default way of things. More attention is always paid to bad things in the world than the good, in any sense. It's a shame, because people all too easily forget that there is beauty in the world.

    I met a woman in college. I was 20, she was 19. We talked for hours. Two days later, we kissed for the first time.

    Ten years later, we're married, have a house and are expecting our first child. Any crazy thing can happen in life. But keeping an eye out for the good things and seizing those chances when they come is the real trick.

    I don't believe in criticising anything for being unrealistic. So long as what I'm seeing doesn't contradict the internal logic of the story, I'd rather be taken for a fun ride by the story and characters than question whether true love at first sight or that one big break for the struggling artist can exist.

  42. I think what your sister's referring to is the fact that there is a huge spectrum between the fake, idealized Hollywood romance, which is full of drama and passion but lacking any of the lovely stability, commitment, quarreling and occasional boredom that comprise happy, lasting relationships---and the despair of love that often happens between people who either aren't right for each other or mature enough to sustain any kind of relationship at all. Those are two polar opposite things, but they're nuanced, and the entertainment of this world doesn't deal yet with romantic nuance. To deal in nuance requires us to be self-aware and able to pick out where we fit into that spectrum. We don't look to Hollywood for guidance (as we shouldn't), we look to be entertained, and I get your sister's disillusionment with the fact that this "entertainment" medium portrays love in such a formulaic unreal way. It's just sad that young people end up assuming it's either or---either a flawless love, which no love is; or one that's full of dysfunction. Or that just doesn't work. I wish there were more films that give a realistic depiction of a healthy relationship and all its ups and downs---it would help young people understand the messy and unpredictable and sometimes chaotic nature of true love, so they wouldn't just be so tempted to dismiss it altogether.

  43. Reality is a pretty sketchy thing. I've learned slowly over the years that the way I view life is completely different than most of the people around me.
    Every one grows up differently and every one views life differently. Two people can look the exact same situation and come away with different perspectives.