Despite the changing face of modern relationships with swipe-right for love apps, culturally diverse and LBGTQI relationships, old-fashioned fairy tale ideals such as finding your 'one true love' or 'happily ever after' - and what these must look like - continue to create impossible expectations and wreak havoc on relationships.
These fantasies could be damaging, with research from Relationship Australia showing 23 per cent of Australians reporting different expectations and values as a major factor to breaking up.
Thought leader, author and founder of Access Consciousness, Gary Douglas believes that when we buy into the idea of fairy tales being real and true, we are putting life on hold.
“You are not perfect. No one out there is perfect and yet we have this idea that two imperfect people will come together and it will be perfect.
“Rather than enjoying life now, just as it is, you are waiting for something, you are waiting for the fairy tale,” Douglas says.
There is “no one-size fits all” for relationships. Except in fairy tales.
Popular culture continues to perpetuate fairy tale relationship ideals through TV programs like The Bachelor and Hollywood blockbuster romances portraying a “one-size fits all” approach when it comes to love: monogamous, white and heterosexual.
A study from the University of Southern California of the 700 highest grossing movies from 2007 – 2014 found diversity is hugely unrepresented. In 2014 flicks, 73 per cent of leading characters were white and only 19 out of 4,610 characters were lesbian, gay or bisexual. No transgender characters were represented.
A 2015 study from eHarmony found that over half of all single Aussies are influenced by what love should be like from films.
65% of single Aussies believe that love is not something to search for; rather, love will find us.
John Harradine, relationship counsellor at Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney, says while romantic fairy tales are based on the genuine human need for finding a place in the world, if your relationship doesn’t fit into these norms, you may feel lost.
“Think about how much of our intake from movies and music is devoted to [romantic] love. It’s almost as if we are brainwashed into thinking it is the entire answer and yet at on some level, we know it isn’t," Harradine explains.
Douglas says the fairy tale concept encourages judgement and separation; modern relationships need to accept and embrace their differences.
“If you are willing to look at what works for you and choose that no matter what anyone else says about it, difficulty goes away. Don’t make the opinions of others valuable or real… don’t apologise for choosing what works or you.”
Forget Prince Charming or your finding your one true love
A 2011 survey by Marist Poll found that 73 per cent of Americans believed in finding a soul-mate, while 65% of single Aussies believe that love is not something to search for; rather, love will find us.
And while many aren’t actually waiting for a significant other to save them on a white stallion (who owns a horse these days?) many are looking for someone to complete them, give meaning to their life and save them from the tedium of the everyday, or their current relationship.
Harradine says that while there is nothing wrong with wanting a special partner, being fixated on finding the perfect soulmate can lead to obsessive and unhealthy relationships.
“Enmeshed relationships that ride on romantic love in the long-term can lead to co-dependence and even addictive patterns, which results in each person judging the other when their ideals are not met.”
Douglas says that searching for a soulmate is an unrealistic fantasy: “You are not perfect. No one out there is perfect and yet we have this idea that two imperfect people will come together and it will be perfect.
“There are multiple people that could be potential partners. If you are holding onto the idea of a soulmate, you will miss the multiple possibilities that are available.”
Reality can be better than a fairy tale
It may seem strange, but reality and its imperfections can be better than a fairy tale; it gives you freedom to be yourself.
Harradine says, “embracing all of ourselves and who we are with without judgement is freeing. Life is lived more consciously and purposefully and therefore enriched.”
And, according to Douglas, individuals can be empowered by making a choice.
“Fairy tales often begin with, ‘Once upon a time’. Instead, if we chose to function from ‘Once upon a choice’, our relationships would work out a whole lot better.
It’s the active choosing of a relationship that creates something greater, rather than a wishing that everything will work itself out perfectly. ‘Once upon a time’ leaves you powerless and at the effect of what’s around you. 'Once upon a choice' empowers you to create.”
Undressed airs weekly from Monday 16 January at 9.30pm on SBS. Join the conversation: #Undressed. Catch-up on episodes online via SBS On Demand here or watch episode 6 below: