A week ago, I was watching Julia Roberts’ Pretty Woman for the first time. I found myself glued to the blossoming love between a rich, eligible bachelor and the golden-hearted hooker he had hired. How it worked so well when it was just between the two of them, but bringing it out into the world posed dreadful consequences.
In real life, I had watched a rich friend eventually shake his head with finality at an on-again-off-again girlfriend who had been born to his family’s help. She had bagged herself a career and a degree from a reputable university. I had witnessed her transform from being a doormat to us, her friends, to finally knowing how to accommodate us — no longer as someone who felt she had to please, but as the girlfriend — the possible future queen and gracious hostess. But in the end, it wasn’t enough. “When you marry someone, you also marry their family,” my friend said in earnest. He told me they had values he had taken as red flags. I’ve interviewed an assortment of society figures, and have heard the phrase “As long as he/she comes from a good family,” thrown about casually. There are real, practical concerns attached to this statement, true. But it doesn’t change the fact that it automatically legitimizes and dooms people from the day they were born.
If we were to be realistic, Edward Lewis and Vivian Ward had a real problem on their hands. I was very interested to find out how they would resolve it. But the movie copped out and gave us a fairy-tale ending. The writers might as well have said, “Basta they ended up together, cause we know that’s what the audience wants. Never mind the loopholes.” He chased her down in a car, they kissed, and that was it.
It is for this reason that I never learned to look forward to onscreen romances. “Basta they ended up together,” I’d correctly assume, and pass.
I don’t know if it’s just the shows I’ve been watching, but lately there seems to be a trend towards the opposite. More and more storylines are ending with couples going separate ways and growing into better versions of themselves as individuals. In Begin Again, Greta won her rockstar ex-boyfriend Dave’s heart back. This after he left to pursue the spark he felt for a new woman. But by the time Dave wanted her back, Greta had grown. She had been making her own music, had played all over the city, found a new group of friends, been offered a record deal that she powerfully turned down in favor of self-distributing online. She was no longer the person she was when she was Dave’s girlfriend and partner in music making. Thus, with a few silent tears down her cheek, she walked away as he sang the song she had written for him before a roaring crowd.
In Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, we were led to believe Dev was following his ex-girlfriend, Rachel on her dream/now-or-never move Japan. He had packed, arrived at the airport, and in the airplane he sat silently next to an Asian woman. It turned out they were on a flight to Italy, where Dev would be developing his love for cooking pasta.
Locally, we had Toni Gonzaga and Piolo Pascual’s Starting Over Again and Matteo Guidicelli and Shaina Magdayao’s Single/Single. In music, there was Taylor Swift’s Out of the Woods music video, which despite its high levels of cringe followed the same theme. “She lost him… But she found herself. And somehow that was everything,” the final lines on the black screen read.
Autonomy and individualism
The premium once placed on actually ending up with somebody glossed over a lot of problems and incompatibilities that eventually arose between two people. There is a growing awareness in media of how we’re all essentially individuals who aren’t necessarily headed the same way, or fall in love or ripen at the same time. We’re also constantly bombarded with knowledge of how big the world is, with travel and moving abroad to cure one’s jaded heart as one of this generation’s rising trends. We’re aware of how simultaneously light and powerful autonomy is. Unlike our parents, we never really had to worry about survival, so we’re heady on freedom. Thus, the actual price two people pay in order to stay together is highlighted. That and how we can always choose to opt out, go our separate ways, let our heartbreak mold us into better people, and still have our whole lives before us.
I’m not sure what to think about this. On one hand, independence has started to lose its appeal. I’ve always done my own thing. Indeed, I wonder how much longer society plans to patronizingly celebrate the fact that I have my own career, or the growing number of times I have found a new self (hindi ba dapat naman talaga?). Settling into someone and making it work is what appears to be the new frontier, and something I honestly want as well. But I tend to doubt that whenever I hear my mom and dad argue and am made privy to the sometimes painful compromises that are made. Do I really want someone getting in the way of my life?
“Na-realize ko baka hindi ako marunong mag-mahal,” a guy in my improv theater class said last night. We were each tasked to perform an activity of our choice on stage, and somehow create a scene with a partner who was also doing his own on-the-spot thing — even if the two actions weren’t logically linked. The struggle between staying committed to our individual ideas and calibrating to meet someone else was real. A prestigious university professor who was off to China for a one-year teaching job realized he didn’t calibrate much in real life.
And there lies the millennial struggle. For all our cool and sophistication, we want the exact same things — the sappy fairy tales we grew up watching — except at the moment, many of us are ill-equipped to actually pay for it.
Originally published in The Philippine Star SUPREME (13 February 2016)