Access to our favorite TV shows is constant. With Americans on average watching five hours of television a day, time that was once reserved for family and friends is now for keeping up with our newest Netflix binge.
If we’re spending so much time watching TV, how is that affecting how we view love and how are we maintaining relationships with those we care about?
Well, we’re able to keep in touch (thank you smartphones and multi-tasking), but TV is affecting our relationship expectations. Television is a valuable resource in helping individuals navigate interpersonal relationships. The issue with this is that the portrayals of romance in media do not reflect norms; they usually reflect idealism.
Looking for love in all the wrong places…
The desire to relate and feel love is a commonality amongst humans. That fact alone makes it easy to understand why audiences sometimes emulate the patterns of love and romance they see on TV. George Gerbner’s Cultivation Theory helps further explain why audiences can be quick to over-trust the narratives they see on screen. The theory says the more TV you watch over time, the more likely you are to perceive reality in the same way it is depicted by the media.
Romantic portrayals on TV stem from some of the most notorious clichés and popular love myths, such as “love at first sight.” The University of Michigan led a study to find out how TV viewing affects audiences. After working with 600+ college students, one of the conclusions was that more time spent watching dating-focused TV shows increases belief in “love at first sight” in viewers. The study also found that over-exposure to shows like this supports the idea that love should work itself out. In other words, true love does not require much effort; true love falls into place on its own, with ease.
Stories of romance have always existed in television. But in recent history, romantic plots have filtered into reality TV. In just seven years, reality dating shows increased from 3 to 30+, so this has had an impact on audience perceptions of romance and dating norms. The Bachelor is a reality show where a single man goes on dates with various women with the end goal of finding not only love but a wife. The show has had several spin-off series, all focusing on drama, grandiose dates, and the quickness in which individuals are able to “find the one.” So, if a viewer with a low sense of media literacy is watching a lot, they might expect their significant other will provide the constant whirlwind of magnificence they see on screen.
The reality of love.
Love, intimacy, affection, and romance are terms that can mean very different things to different people based on perceptions and experiences, likely affected by TV watching. Over-exposure to romance focused shows is changing the expectations individuals have for their own love lives. Today, these types of shows are readily available thanks to the many media platforms that exist. It’s no wonder that TV is impacting how audiences view their own lives, but viewers should be conscious of the distinctions between entertainment and reality.
We should all have goals and standards for the type of love we feel comfortable with and desire most. But the journey to reaching these goals isn’t always easy, doesn’t happen overnight, and can’t always be found on television. There is an infinite amount of ways to find love and experience romance; too many for TV to ever tell.