“And they all lived happily ever after.” We’ve heard these words a million times since we were children, bringing our stories and fairy tales to a happy, satisfying conclusion. As children, we loved the “happily ever after” because it was a quick and satisfying way to finish off a story. It left no loose ends, nothing more to think about. It kept the story simple, everyone getting what they deserved. But we’re older now and we understand that life isn’t simple or fair. Our innocence and optimism is long gone, but we still can’t help longing for that “happily ever after.”
Everyone wants to be happy. Everyone wants the best for themselves – a good life. And most of us define a good life as one filled with happiness, one where we have our happy ending, and everything working out how it does in the movies. The “happy ending” looks different for everyone, whether it be a loving marriage, a successful career, having perfect children, or something else equally idyllic. Movies make all of these things look easily attainable, suddenly appearing in the protagonists’ lives without much effort or conflict. As the protagonist of our own lives, we then reason we should get what we deserve without much conflict as well, and that we deserve a “happily ever after.” And we think because we deserve it, life will oblige. In moments of sorrow, we fantasize of a solution that magically fixes and changes everything, because in fiction that’s how it works.
In the classic rom-com Sixteen Candles, the protagonist, Samantha Baker, spends the entire movie chasing after a handsome, popular, and older boy named Jake Ryan, who miraculously ends up falling in love with her in the end. He sweeps her off of her feet on her 16th birthday, rescuing her from her sister’s wedding in a fancy red sports car, the movie ending with the classic scene of them sitting on a table together, her birthday cake in between them. “Happy Birthday, Samantha. Make a wish,” Jake says. Samantha responds in a cheesy yet sweet fashion, “It already came true.” Deep down we realize that forming a meaningful relationship is rarely that easy, and a hopeless, unrealistic crush is usually just that: hopeless and unrealistic. Nonetheless, we wish we were Samatha Baker, our hearts won in some swift, beautiful romantic gesture, all of our dreams coming true. And in our weakest, most desperate moments, we hold onto that notion, fooling ourselves into thinking that these romantic situations can happen in our own lives.
But these expectations prevent us from moving forward. Hoping for something like a broken relationship to be magically fixed or unrequited love to suddenly be returned like in the movies causes us to remain stuck, instead of going out and living, healing, and improving ourselves. We’re so busy dreaming of this “happily ever after” that we miss out on potential areas for growth.
But do we ever stop to think that maybe this picture-perfect “happily ever after” is unattainable? In movies, life is greatly oversimplified. It has to be, because real life is way too complicated to condense into a 90 minute movie. Life is full of overlapping events, strange and unclear emotion, and is never as clean and simple as portrayed by Hollywood. We need to let go of this obsession with having our “happily ever after” and realize that life is bittersweet. And to truly live we must accept the bitter.
Don’t get me wrong – I love movies with happy endings as much as the next person. They give us hope, teach us important lessons, and help us to understand ourselves and the human condition. They can make us laugh, cry, and feel so much emotion because we connect with the characters and their struggles. However, it becomes a problem if we lean on movies’ unrealistic messages too much to the point where we ignore our problems and feelings in favor of denial and disappointment.
Imperfection is a simple fact of life, so we shouldn’t get too swept up in yearning for this perfect “happily ever after.” Instead, we should be content with ourselves and what we have, and stop comparing our unavoidably imperfect lives to the perfect lives of movie characters. And in accepting everything life throws at us, good and bad, we’ll find our own “happily ever after”.