Those unfortunate souls who have been around me lately know that I have been obsessed with ABC’s Once Upon a Time (like, binge watched the whole first season last week, and just finished the second season this weekend). I’ve been utterly blown away by the character development and acting, the costuming and setting, the creativity and threading of the show. It asks SO many questions, and of course, one of those includes “true love” and Prince Charming.
Jason Mittell wrote this brilliant chapter, called “Screening America”, in which he talks about the power of television to influence and reinforce certain ideologies. One of his arguments says that, because what we are watching are “real” people in “real places”, we automatically relate to these characters, and carry these perceptions into our own lives. I think this is why so many of our perceptions of “true love” and “Prince Charming” are so corrupt. We watch Snow & Prince Charming’s relationship, and automatically think this is ideal “true love”, because the show says it is true love. Then, when we are in search of our own “true love”, we bring these same perceptions with us.
Ok, so I was at the mall today, and noticed myself scanning the crowd for potential eligible bachelors as I stood in the check out line (of course, before I even let myself get anywhere, I do a quick scan for a ring; if there’s most definitely a ring on that finger, there’s no point in fantasizing about him striking up a conversation with me). But, according to Mittell’s theory, this natural reaction from me stems from watching shows like Once Upon a Time; I just watched the episode where it is revealed Neal meets his former fiance, Tamara, by running into her in the crowded streets of New York City, and spilling coffee all over her shirt. Apparently by just one two second interaction, he somehow feels the urge to ask her out, they fall madly in love with each other, and eventually get engaged.
But, this same scenario trumps all over the media. We watch couples find each other while standing in the grocery line; the guy notices she has Greek yogurt in her cart (a secret fetish of his), they strike up a conversation, and the rest is history. Or, she’s walking across the street, he turns a corner too sharp, runs into her, they gaze into each other’s eyes, and the whole world stops. Or, we see the scene where he randomly sits next to her on the subway, asks her to turn down her loud music, is transfixed by her baby blue eyes, and they end up in each other’s apartments the next scene. And, according to Mittell, because these shows depict semi-reality, we expect the same things to happen to us.
We forget that television is not reality. I think I’ve met ONE couple in my entire life who has met this way–it was something about how she took a nasty spill while skiing, he was the EMT who saved her, and now they’ve been married for twenty years. Now, I don’t necessarily think we need to crush these fairy tale ideals–as the first season asks us, what IS the harm afterall, if Henry believes in this “imaginary” world? But, where it does become a problem is when we are unable to root ourselves in reality. I’ve met girls before who literally spend two hours getting pageant ready, and go to bed the same, JUST IN CASE they happen to fall out of their car in the parking lot and Prince Charming coincidentally steps on them, they squeal, and it’s “love at first sight”. It rarely works this way.
What I’ve learned is I’m probably not meeting my Prince Charming at the mall. We aren’t pulling up next to each other at the gas station pump. He’s not standing behind me in the post office line. Maybe he attends my yoga class, but we will probably need to be in the same class at least three times before he strikes up a conversation with me. I’m not accidentally rear ending his car at the stoplight. He won’t randomly walk into my classroom while I’m teaching, a choir of angels sing, a beam of light shines down on him, and the world momentarily stops. He isn’t accidentally knocking on my front door, or climbing through my window in the middle of the night. The hot guy at the gym that I’ve never seen before is probably not going to write his number on the treadmill for me to call. I mean, I did meet someone once while standing in the Chipotle line, but that was only because I was frantically trying to send an e-mail on my computer and he was trying to help me with the WiFi password. So, whenever I’m in these venues, I can breathe a sigh of relief because, if I live in reality, it’s not happening here. No need to spend three hours putting on make up, straightening my hair, and picking out the perfect outfit (although I should at least do everyone a favor and brush my teeth).
However, there are plenty of other places it certainly could happen. Weddings are often a safe bet; chances are, if you are invited to the same wedding I have been invited to, we already have some common interests (AND you have already passed the creep-o meter). Lots of people meet their significant others at the bar (although if I’m at a really loud bar downtown, I’m already betting its not happening). Friends of friends always presents an option (again, most likely, they have been screened, and hopefully you have good friends). Church activities always seem to be good venues as well. You might run into someone you already know in the grocery line, and that might spark conversation further. But, for the most part, you don’t just meet someone for two minutes and fall madly in love with them and realize you can’t live without them. Instead, there has to be some kind of connection, some kind of long-ish term commitment, some kind of meaningful interaction. Even when you meet someone at the bar, you talk to them for at least 20 minutes before exchanging phone numbers.
Believe me, nothing would satisfy me more than “Prince Charming” showing up as the hot fireman who came to rescue me from locking my keys in my car. But, reality doesn’t work the way television does, and in the case of Neal and Tamara, the run in doesn’t actually work out for them anyways because she turns out to be a deceitful, manipulated pawn for someone else (but I haven’t gotten that far to figure out who it is). So for now, I can rest assured that “Prince Charming” isn’t coming in any of these romanticized environments, so no shower needed.