What love on-screen has taught me about what real-life love is (and isn’t)

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In today’s society the idea and meaning of love comes with many different views and opinions attached to it. It’s branded as a buzz word daily – whether when talking about the practice of self-love or when it’s shown to us consistently in music, books and storylines among various films, TV shows and meme culture.

But do we know what it is and more importantly how to give it?

My earliest understanding of love comes from my grandmother. She never left me out and always provided a sense of safety and belonging for me throughout my life. As I got older this was later influenced by what was bright, shiny and beautifully showcased on-screen through couples like Martin and Gina from the TV show, “Martin,” Nina and Darius in “Love Jones” and of course, Justice and Lucky in “Poetic Justice.”

These are all beloved fictional characters who have one thing in common – they represent something meaningful that is sought after in real life. While all the films and TV shows mentioned were of the 1990s, in 2021 it’s no different. Especially if you add in Twitter and Instagram. Meme culture and social media plays a major role in this generation’s perception of romance and relationships. We want to emulate what’s on-screen and social media in real life; it’s something to admire and go looking for.

We want to emulate what’s on-screen and social media in real life; it’s something to admire and go looking for.

And then there is music. R&B especially shapes a lot of how people identify and describe what love can be. Songs like “Nothing Even Matters” by Lauryn Hill and D’Angelo and “Best Part” by H.E.R. and Daniel Caesar describe the sweetness and intoxication that comes with falling in love.

Tweets like “If love doesn’t feel like R&B, I don’t want it,” consistently pop on my timeline daily and tag lines like “we could be like this, but you playing” or “big mood” are often attached to images specifically relating to intimacy, romance and celebrity couples.

The reality is though in real life, personal experience has shown me, relationships are far from simple. And if you don’t respect yourself, what you allow will continue.

The Netflix film “Malcolm & Marie” is one recent film to stir up a lot of online chatter about love and relationships. Starring actress Zendaya Coleman (“Euphoria”) and actor John David Washington (“Ballers”), it depicts the not so pretty parts of love – addiction, emotional abuse and what some might deem as toxic behaviour that does exist in real-life relationships.

Described as a “story of love” rather than your usual love story, the film was written and directed by Sam Levinson. The acting by Zendaya and Washington was praised highly while the core messaging had mixed reviews. The relationship between the two mirrors the difficulties that come to the surface between an artist and his muse. Some said they were Marie in a relationship and Malcolm represented everything they chose to leave behind.

“Okay, Now Listen,” podcast co-host, Scottie Beam said via Twitter that she sees herself in the complexities of Zendaya’s character. “Marie is such a great character. She’s me. She’s tough but super fragile and vulnerable. You can see her grappling with when to be one or the other and that’s my issue. I don’t wanna be too soft, and I don’t wanna be too hard, but I am both of these things. They both exist in my life,” Scottie Beam wrote.

Watching the film, I identified with the parts of Marie where she just wanted Malcolm to see and appreciate her without having to ask. This represents something we all want at the core, to be seen, heard and understood. It’s the opposite of what happens in the film.

We’ve seen love presented in healthier ways like in HBO’s “Insecure” season 4 episode titled “Lowkey Happy.” Watching, you feel the chemistry and genuine connection that Issa and Lawrence still share after bearing witness to their imperfect rollercoaster of a love story. We rooted for them and saw ourselves in the realistic narrative of realizing that there’s still a spark between you and a complicated ex.

We understood it. The conversation between Issa and Lawrence a year after their break-up mirrors what author bell hooks describes as a part of what goes into being able to give and receive love. In the book, “All About Love: New Visions,” she suggests that the key to love is affection but the ability to give comes with some other things.

“To truly love, we must learn to mix various ingredients – care, recognition, respect, commitment and trust as well as open and honest communication.”

While like Malcolm and Marie, Issa and Lawrence were no stranger to their share of problems, we witnessed what happens when you can step outside of blame, look at yourself in the mirror and do the work to be better.

I must be accountable for and nourish the love story that exists within me before anyone can come along and add to it.

As I learn more and unpack the layers of myself, I understand I deserve a different love than what was given to me, what was not chosen by me. Love is still something I’m working to understand because I do believe in it. It’s complex. It’s not enough, but so much all at the same time. Relationships and love hold so much weight in society, but if you aren’t a healthy individual first it can take a lot out of you. Now as a healthier and more secure young woman, my journey of healing childhood trauma, caring for my mental health and building my self-worth is more important than the next guy I date. I know I can’t pour from an empty cup.

Taking the time to recognize my own patterns, building healthy communication skills, setting boundaries and shedding unrealistic expectations for myself and others has changed a lot for me. My perception of how a relationship “should be” and the rules and expectations don’t matter anymore. I’m more interested in building a solid partnership that is wrapped in a flow of mutual respect, genuine connection and chemistry. I have more work to do and still haven’t gotten quite there yet, but one thing I’m certain of is love is all around us and isn’t linear.

Although it’s beautifully written and displayed on-screen, I must be accountable for and nourish the love story that exists within me before anyone can come along and add to it.

Photo by Vinícius Vieira ft from Pexels

Gabrielle Austin is a writer who is passionate about all things film, TV, music and culture related. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism at Humber College after receiving her Advanced Diploma in 2016. When she’s not looking for her next writing idea, you can probably find her watching some kind of reality show or reading a book.

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