I’m a super romantic guy. Not like in the flower-buying, sonnet spouting sort of way. More in the, “I have unrealistic expectations about everything” sort of way. It’s the disease of the naive.
Take writing for example; I’m convinced I liked the idea of writing more than writing in actuality. I once thought of writing as this beautiful, creative process — a constant journey into imagination. Reality? Me sitting in front of my computer, staring at a blank screen trying to convince myself I’m not a complete failure in life. It was hard to accept what writing is, but after being met with the hard reality, I have risen to the occasion and can honestly say I love writing.
Marriage and relationships has been very similar for me. I faced a lot of rejection as a kid, (whether real or imagined). I also had an overactive imagination — TERRIBLE combination. I would often imagine finding that one person who would save me from my loneliness; we would run away together and be everything to each other.
That dream sadly went on far longer than it should have into my adulthood. This caused me to have unrealistic expectations on my relationships, and as a result — no significant, authentic relationships were formed for quite some time.
Now that I have a better grasp on realistic expectations, I have been able to build good and healthy relationships with others. No significant relationships yet, but who knows! Maybe one day. I am now cool either way.
I know what you’re thinking: What the heck does this have to do with Tangled? Isn’t that the cute Disney movie with the sassy chameleon? Yes, I’m getting to that.
I grew up watching and loving #Disney films as a kid. I wiggled around the floor in my pillowcase calling myself a merman and picked a towel I deemed my magic carpet for the remainder of my childhood. In many ways, Disney films helped define and shape a lot of my childhood experiences.
However, I realized that a lot of my unhealthy perception of relationships came from some of these films. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, The Little Mermaid: all of them are about the love of the other saving the hero from their loneliness.
A Tangled Mess
I’m going to pick on Tangled because it’s the most recent version of the same story. On the exterior, Tangled is a fun ride with some catchy tunes and memorable characters. There are no boobs or cuss words, so it seems like it would be alright for children. However, here is the plot of the movie:
Girl is lonely. Girl meets boy. Girl discovers she is royalty. Boy gives up everything for girl. Girl is no longer lonely and is royalty.
Do you see the issue here? It’s a story of wish fulfillment. Whether in small or large ways, all of us have felt like we are on our own and wanted more. All of us have wanted to meet someone that will save us from our loneliness. None of these desires are bad; in fact, they are normal and good.
It’s not frustrating that the character of Rapunzel (the main character of Tangled) has those desires and then finds someone to journey through life with. What’s frustrating is she sacrifices nothing to get these things; everyone around her sacrifices for her. Flynn (her love interest) is the one who comes to her rescue in the end and sacrifices HIS life for her.
In Cinderella, the mice sacrifice themselves to give Cinderella her shoe. In Sleeping Beauty, Rose literally does nothing but be pretty enough to make some guy fall in love with her, prick her finger and fall asleep. The fairies and the prince really save the day here. In The Little Mermaid, her father literally gives his life for his daughter and Prince Eric risks his life to save her (all caused by a situation CREATED by Ariel nonetheless, which she, in the end, does nothing to resolve herself and faces zero consequences for her actions).
I have been in unhealthy, codependent relationships where I’ve expected people to sacrifice everything for me, and have been the one that was expected to sacrifice everything for others. It’s exhausting and awful on both sides of the equation. Nothing kills authenticity in relationship faster than unrealistic expectations.
It will cause fellow codependents to pretend to be what you’re looking for until you’re both tired of being inauthentic. Simultaneously, it will scare healthy people away from your brand of intimacy entirely. Watching films where everyone around the hero of the story is sacrificing everything while the hero sacrifices nothing has to have an effect. I’m afraid the effect would be learning to believe if you want to be the main character of your own story, everyone around you needs to be sacrificing for you.
Tangled Versus Frozen
Disney doesn’t always do this badly, I don’t mean to pick on Disney. For every wish fulfillment story there is a story about someone sacrificing themselves for others: The Lion King, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, Hercules, The Princess and the Frog, Frozen, Moana — to name a few.
I want to focus in on Frozen specifically because I think it is the antithesis of Tangled. Tangled encourages its audience to not only wait for someone to come and save them from their hum-drum life, but also that in less than 48 hours you can make a hardened criminal fall madly in love with you and have him completely change his ways and give up everything for you. Everything is done for you.
I don’t know about you, but this does not jive with my own, real-life experiences. Frozen encourages its audience to love and accept people as they are, and sacrificing yourself for someone else without thought of reciprocity is the highest form of love.
The hero of the film is Anna, a naive young girl who dreams of big things and finding a man who will love her sacrificially. She finds this love in the character of Hans, but it’s shallow and empty. As she journeys to help her sister, Elsa, she learns love isn’t about having your needs met, but helping meet the needs of others. She sacrifices her own life for her sister rather than getting the romantic fulfillment she thinks she needs. It may be cheesy and cliche, but it’s also a truer picture of what love is than the alternative.
Now, am I actually not going to let my kids watch Tangled? Of course not, I’m not a monster. However, watching film after film unprocessed where the central message is wish fulfillment, can’t be good for our expectations on relationships.
If we’re going to be healthy, well-balanced people we need to have realistic expectations on each other, and to understand that true love is not what we can get from others, but what we can give. Sacrificing isn’t fun or easy. That’s why it’s called sacrifice — it’s a loss of control.
While it’s attractive to watch wish fulfillment entertainment like Tangled and dream of a love that costs nothing, it’s better to fill our mind with the truth: True love is a sacrifice and true life will only be found there.
What Disney films would you keep your kids from watching?
(Originally Published on The Independent Initiative)