At this point in our lives, we’ve all realized life isn’t a movie. Things don’t go exactly the way we thought they would when we watched romantic movies growing up. The hero doesn’t rush in at the last minute to fix all misunderstandings, there’s no swelling music to wipe away any apprehension, and there are no closing titles to officially end the story and keep things perfect forever. Sometimes hearts get broken. Sometimes our stories have a bad ending.
Despite this knowledge, we strive for that ideal ending because we have been shown that when we share a bounty of beautiful moments with a partner, things have a tendency to culminate in a happy ending. I’m confident that everyone has, at least once, thought to themselves “this is amazing. I could be in a movie right now,” with the profound hope that things would never change. These intimate moments can inspire in us an optimism that leads us to believe an idyllic future is on the horizon.
I struggle with this wish because I’ve experienced a number of those picturesque moments. A passionate kiss after my favorite band finished playing my favorite song. A warm July night on the beach with a bottle of chardonnay spent contemplating the constellations and the meaning of life. A Saturday night spent watching weak episodes of a waning childhood show, lamenting the declining quality but unwilling to give up just yet.
Yet sooner or later, the silver screen can start to lose its sparkle. He gives up pretending to care about the music you like. You visit the same beach under the stars, but this time he barely consoles you as you cry over losing your best friend. He prefers spending Saturday nights getting drunk with his college friends instead of tenuously laughing at home. Things break down. The story ends.
If my life were a movie, he would have apologized. I would have accepted, taken everything as an inconsequential slight, begged pardon for anything that had upset him in turn, and we would have lived the stereotypical happily ever after. But that’s not what happened. That’s not what happens in the vast majority of relationships. Though we understand that the situation is almost universal, it still isn’t easy to accept that something that at one point seemed so secure could shatter so spectacularly.
But since our lives don’t follow the script of a feature film, we all step out of the screening room brimming with beautiful moments into the blinding light of reality. Life goes on. We go to work slightly hungover from that extra glass of wine, we go grocery shopping for one, we have to do things that the closing credits of our favorite movies never anticipated. Shit, maybe we even get a cat.
While we realize dips in the action are a part of the ride, sometimes we can’t help but call into question the deeper meaning of these disappointing experiences. The less-than fairytale ending can make even the most optimistic romantic doubt the whole institution. If even the most cinematic, magnificent romance can end, what’s the point? But time taken off from seeking and continuing love can put things into perspective. Eventually, time will turn questions like, Is it me? Why do I bother? Does love even exist anymore? into What can I learn from this? What am I looking for next time in a partner? How can I be a better significant other?
When these questions start to form, we can come to a new realization. We knew that life wasn’t like a movie with a perfect ending, but maybe it isn’t over at all. Maybe we just finished Part One. There’s still a Part Two to be written, maybe even Parts Three and Four. The story isn’t finished; we’ve just started production on the sequel. We can let the credits roll on the first part, that scene is over. The next one is just beginning.