This Grey’s Anatomy tribute to Lexie and Mark popped up on my Facebook timeline this morning, and because I’m a sucker for tragic love stories, I watched it. From 2010 to 2015, I was a dedicated Grey’s Anatomy fan. I binged through the seasons that had already aired, had my favorite “ships,” and sobbed during each season finale. I finally gave it up at the end of season 11 when (spoiler, but I mean, really?) Derek was killed off and I began to realize that my second favorite ship of the series, April and Jackson, were never going to be together.
During my stint as a Grey’s fan, I found myself intensely invested in several relationships (Lexie and Mark being the foremost one) that always ended in tragedy or devastating heartbreak. (Darn you, Shonda Rhimes!) Even though I finally put aside my obsession with Grey’s Anatomy, I still find myself drawn to epic and/or tragic love stories.
This starts to become apparent when you take into account that one of my all time favorite movies is Moulin Rouge where love and tragedy run rampant. Some of my other favorite romances include The Time Traveler’s Wife, Atonement, and The Notebook…are you sensing a pattern here? I’ve also always held a particular affinity for couples such as Captain Hook and Emma Swan (Once Upon a Time), Damon and Elena (The Vampire Diaries), and Kirsten and Cameron (Stitchers) whose relationships struggle throughout their show runs.
Now while all this romantic struggle and tragedy is contained on a TV set or movie screen, sometimes I wonder if it’s pervasiveness bleeds over into my real life. If it’s helped shape the way I view my own romantic relationships.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be in a relationship recently. In part as I posthumously evaluate my relationship with my ex, but also as I peer over the edge of a potential relationship with someone new. I find myself more wary than I’ve ever been, and worried about my past codependent habits. I worry about descending back into that small, scared person who only wants to please her significant other. I wonder about what constitutes enough time to have “gotten over someone” and not “rush into” another relationship. (A month? A year? Several years?) I question my motives, their motives, and the world at large. (Do I just like being “in a relationship” since I’ve rarely been single for an extended period of time since I was 14?) And more than anything I wonder if my idea of love is skewed.
Despite all these questions and fears, I still find myself thinking, “But it would be one of heck of a love story to tell people!”
When this thought popped into my head recently, I realized that it wasn’t the first time I’d thought this way. In fact, it was very much how I viewed my relationship with my ex. As the years of long-distance and break-up/get-back-together yoyoing advanced, I would repeat it to myself almost like a mantra: “But imagine the love story when we succeed!”
All the best love stories in movies and on TV are filled with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Sometimes they end in tragedy, but many times the two lovers overcome the odds and find their way back together with an epic kiss to live happily ever after.
Somewhere along the way, I’ve gotten confused. I seem to think that a good love story has to be epic and overwhelming the way they are in books and movies. That a love story is worth it even if your heart is stomped on and betrayed as long as there’s a sliver of potential for everything to come together in the end. That you can still find your way back together after all the pain and chaos. That somehow having an almost tragic love story is the ideal you want to strive towards. (But not so tragic that you and your chosen lover don’t end up together for happily ever after).
I wonder if this same kind of sentiment is why some people stay in abusive or unhappy relationships. Because we believe there’s another season in store with a happier storyline to play out our romance? When in reality it may end in a metaphorical fiery plane crash minus the dying declaration of love.
I certainly stayed with my ex longer than I should have out of the misguided idea that our love story wasn’t over yet. That I hadn’t invested so many years and so much love and energy into something that could just disintegrate right underneath me. And yet, because life isn’t a romance movie, it did.
So as I approach a new relationship, I’m trying to think a little less in the vein of “Is this my love story?” It’s not always easy to do. (I’ve had years of training from the best romance books, movies, and TV out there!) But I know well enough now how detrimental thinking in terms of love stories can be. You can’t stay with someone because you think it’ll make a great love story. You can only love fully and make your own LIFE story. If there’s an epic love story in there somewhere, then all the more reason to celebrate. But maybe it’s just an average love story or a story of self-discovery. There are so many more stories than love.