March 30, 2021
Falling for Fiction: The Idealized Romance
With not much else to do in our leisure time besides binge-watch series, women in American have found romantic escape in shows like Outlander and Bridgerton, which all share the same context of the idealized romance. (Warning: spoiler alerts!)
Outlander explores the love between Claire Randall, a woman who travels back in time from post-World War II Scotland to the mid-1700s. There, she encounters Jamie Fraser, an earnest young Highlander as sensitive and tender as he is virile and strapping. Jamie adores Claire and celebrates everything about her. His dream is for them to be married. He tells her he loves her from morning until night and he is always ready for sex. It’s a tough standard for any man to live up to.
Bridgerton also presents an idealized male, albeit one a bit more complicated. The show’s Duke of Hastings enters the show as a “rake”—an incorrigible seducer of women—and concludes the show a happily married monogamist who adores his wife to the exclusion of all others. He is handsome, rich, witty, and ungettable. And yet the heroine gets him through no wile or intrigue but, rather, simply by being herself. Again: a hard act to follow.
And so men and women nationwide are locked in a heated debate: are these series nothing more than “Chick Porn,” portraying unmeetable and unrealistic standards for male-female relationships and intimacy? Or do they represent the way male-female relationships should be, such that anything less than consistent passion and unflagging loyalty is a failure? The answer is more complicated; neither position rings true.
One of the concepts I introduce to my clients is portability. Men and women often ask me how to reconcile the strengths of lost lovers with the deficiencies of current lovers—or, more pertinent to this article, how to accept the reality of their actual partner compared to an onscreen ideal. Each time, I invite my clients to consider whether any aspects of the former/onscreen lover can be borrowed and imported into the current relationship—i.e., which aspects are portable. Jamie Fraser tells his wife that he is completely hers and will belong to no other? Try telling your partner how aroused/appreciated/inspired you feel when he or she declares their fidelity to you. The Duke of Hastings cannot get enough intimacy with his new wife to the point that there is almost no corner of his estate on which they have not had sex? Encourage your partner to seek unique and creative ways to share intimacy with you. The list goes on and on.
And beyond telling your partner what you want in the relationship, I invite you to consider your own contribution to your relational rapport. Note the ways in which both fictional partners treat each other, recognizing that giving and receiving are two sides of the same coin. Do you yearn for words of affirmation even as you serve up a constant stream of complaints about your partner? Do you crave passionate intimacy but grumble that you are tired when your partner initiates sex? It is important to take an honest look at yourself, too.
Finally, Jamie Fraser and the Duke of Hastings are characters from the 18th century. Different mores were in place, and women are arguably better off now than back then. And yet there is nothing stopping a modern man (or woman) from exhibiting the traits that have Outlander and Bridgerton fans swooning—most notably gentility, gallantry, and unwavering commitment. In so doing, we are invited to become the heroes of our own real-life stories, with delicious results.