Popular Culture Gives Relationships Unrealistic Portrayals and Unfair Expectations


Media by Jilian Bunderson

The variety of romance novels available to high school students portray unrealistic relationships and can impact students' expectations about relationships.

In the week leading up to Valentine’s Day, stress rises for singles and couples throughout MHS. With romance at the center of much popular culture, expectations and pressures increase with the desire to make it the perfect day.

One couple – juniors Josh Cudney and Caroline Cooper – have been together for one year and eight months. 

“Basically she’s a part of the family now,” Cudney said. “She goes to family events. Like if we have a party with family or something, she goes.” 

The couple believes unnecessary pressure is often put on couples to create the perfect fairy tale, but with time and commitment, they don’t feel those pressures anymore.

“Sometimes with formal stuff we feel pressures on our relationship where you feel like ‘I have to do this perfect’. Since it’s been almost two years, I feel like we’re comfortable with each other, and it’s not a problem with us. But in general, I think there are expectations” Cudney said. 

In addition to unnecessary pressure, Cudney said relationships are incorrectly portrayed in popular culture.

“It’s always so glamorous and such a big deal – not that our relationship is not a big thing in our lives – but it’s not a centerpoint for some plot,” Cudney said. “Like whenever there’s a relationship in a movie, it’s the centerpoint and everything, but it’s less a centerpoint and just a constant we can rely on.”

Laurie Schultz, Language Arts teacher, said high schoolers can easily get caught up in those romances described in romantic novels. This desire for relationships could cause them to miss crucial development and experiences.

“I think it’s okay that high schoolers read romance books, but I don’t think it should be front and center or the most important thing in their life,” Schultz said. “Sometimes high schoolers get so caught up in their own high school romance that they don’t realize things that they could be missing out on. As a person, you’re going to have so many more experiences that are going to shape and mold you into the young adult you will eventually become.”

Schultz also agrees that an overabundance of romance novels can lead to a certain expectation of what a relationship should look like.

The representation of romance novels makes it seem like you have to be perfect.”

— Morgan Ranchel

“I think it’s possible that high schoolers have unrealistic expectations about relationships. I think they surround themselves with those types of models, but I think it probably depends more on the person and the type of books they choose. There are other awesome things they can expand their horizons with if they are a little more well-rounded with the stuff they like to read, write about and watch.”

Along with being well-rounded in genres, Schultz also encourages reading for enjoyment and trying out different types of literature.

“As an English teacher, most of what we want to do is just to get you to read to understand that reading is something that’s going to touch all facets of your life. It’s not something that we want to make you feel like you’re forced to do. We want you to like doing it and to find a genre or an author or even a subject that you enjoy,” Schultz said. “I would encourage kids to try all sorts of books and authors and get a taste of what’s out there before you limit yourself to one particular type.”

Morgan Ranchel, senior, is one student who enjoys a good romance novel, but keeps in mind the fictional aspect of them at the same time.

“I don’t think romance novels portray realistic relationships at all because in the media there’s always a formula for relationships. They fall in love, one falls out and then they always come back together, but that’s not how it works,” Ranchel said. “Relationships are really hard work, and sometimes they suck, but there are the moments that make them worth it.” 

Ranchel also agrees that unrealistic expectations on relationships can stem from these types of books.

“I think most high schoolers probably have unrealistic expectations about relationships because I think these books put “rose-colored glasses” on love and relationships which leads to unrealistic expectations” Ranchel said.

Those expectations can put pressure on high school students when entering a relationship.

“The representation of romance novels makes it seem like you have to be perfect and the perfect couple, and that’s not always going to be the case,” Ranchel said. 

Despite the consequences of reading romance novels too often, Ranchel still wants to encourage reading them.

“They definitely do give expectations different from an actual relationship,” Ranchel said. “But still go read romance novels, they’re a good time.”