How My Romantic Interest With TV Relationships Has Changed


Many of us grew up watching a lot of television and often feel like we’re learning something from what we’re watching, whether it was Full House or Gilmore Girls. Especially as impressionable pre-teens, we often are most invested in learning about what it’s like to be in love from our favorite TV relationships. As a result of this, our favorite episodes of Gilmore Girls were the ones surrounding Jess and Rory’s will-they-or-won’t-they relationship (enough time has passed for me to finally admit their relationship wasn’t very healthy). Every episode of The Office we were waiting to see what would happen next between Jim and Pam. Many of us were “shippers” before we even knew what that was. 

Jim and Pam in the first season of The Office.
Credit: NBC

We grew up on this idealized version of happily ever after. TV taught us the couples that we liked would break up, but their love was so strong they would find their way back to each other in whatever universe they were in. To a 15-year-old that’s sweet, but I’ve realized how damaging that idea can be. I’m no cynic, but this past year I experienced real heartbreak for the first time and no matter how many shows I’ve watched or couples I’ve rooted for, nothing had prepared me for it. 

Chasing The Happy Ending

My favorite show in the world is New Girl. I’ve been an avid fan for years and was heartbroken when it ended. I know people have mixed opinions on their relationship, but I’m a diehard Nick and Jess fan. They’re one of the best all-time favorite TV relationships. Their storyline was exactly the perfect best-friends-to-lovers arc that many of us had always dreamed of.

So when I started developing feelings for my best friend, I had this set idea of how everything was supposed to be. I thought that even if it’s hard along the way, we would still get to that so-called happy ending. During this period of my life, I noticed my feelings manifesting in ways similar to what I watched on TV. I’d watch scenes of Nick and Jess and feel like I was watching my life; I was Jessica Day and they were the perfect Nick Miller. 

One of the best TV relationships, Nick and Jess, cuddling during their relationship.
Credit: FOX

Months later I’ve realized that I so desperately wanted my own Nick Miller that I projected that feeling onto a person I knew. New Girl can show you that you want someone who is really sweet and considerate even if they have a tough exterior. So when I experienced real feelings for someone for the first time, I made them up in my head to be exactly that. 

Likewise, when Atypical’s newest season came out, I saw so much of the relationship I thought I had with that person in Casey and Izzie. Two friends who get really close really fast and realized their feelings went deeper than friendship was basically my kryptonite at that point. You can feel so seen in the scenes you see on TV. It feels like someone is stalking you and wrote a story based on your life. But in reality, someone would’ve just been writing based on our daydreams.

TV Relationships: You Probably Won’t Kiss In The Rain

Unfortunately, no matter how much you idealize TV relationships, they’ll never live up to real ones. There’s no scriptwriter making sure you’re saying all the right things all the time. You don’t have a director yelling cut right before something bad happens. The rain doesn’t start falling exactly when you have your first kiss.

One of the most popular TV relationships, Damon and Elena, kissing in the rain.
Credit: The CW

Real relationships take work. You have to put yourself out there and be vulnerable to someone with no guarantee they’ll feel the same way. It’s terrifying. On TV, it’s so different. I’ve always loved the big confession scenes of TV relationships. It could be blurted out in a fight or a character finally saying what’s been on their mind for months. It’s always romantic, and it always works out.

Life Isn’t A Teen Drama

With this mindset, I talked myself into telling my friend how I felt. Spoiler alert: it didn’t go how I thought it would. I thought I’d immediately feel better getting it off my chest, and that my friend would say they felt the same. But instead, it was just really, really awkward. They didn’t know how to handle it and it messed up our friendship.

I had a weird sense of false hope that the first person I liked would automatically like me back because I’d seen that a million times before on television. A common trope in TV relationships is when the surrounding characters see signs of a relationship forming before the two characters involved do. When this happens in real life, since we’re told this by TV shows, it can feel like a sure sign that we’re well on our way into the romantic story arc for our lives.

But our lives aren’t a television show. Just because we want something to happen and people we know validate our feelings doesn’t mean anything. Sometimes, things really are just one-sided.

Taking Off The Rose-Colored Glasses

Now when I watch New Girl it’s clear to me that the relationship I imagined I had was nowhere near the relationship on screen. Nick and Jess both genuinely cared for one another and developed a relationship based on friendship, mutual feelings, and the effort they put into it. I just found someone who had a tough exterior. That didn’t mean they liked me or would tease me because they were secretly pining. To them, it was just a friendship.

Atypical can be a bit harder to watch, even on the other side of the experience. It still feels a bit too personal. However, from what I have been able to rewatch, I can tell it’s the same thing. Just because I wanted to be like Casey and Izzie didn’t mean I was. There were still similarities between the relationship. But ultimately, my life was more a story of what would have happened if Casey didn’t feel the same way Izzie did.

Casey and Izzie sitting together before their relationship starts.
Credit: Netflix

Getting your heart broken sucks. But it changed my perspective on television and life in general. I realized how much of our favorite TV relationships can warp our perceptions of love. Thankfully, now I know what I want in a relationship and the shipping goggles have since been taken off, and hopefully, they are for you too. The future looks brighter than it did before. 

TV Relationships: Give Me A Pacey, Not A Dawson

We can still want a dork like Jim Halpert or someone who we instantly click with like Izzie. We can want someone who’s considerate enough to surprise us with a homemade video on our birthday like Nick Miller. But more importantly, we can know what we don’t want. We shouldn’t want someone who will lash out at us like Jess Mariano. We’re not looking for a controlling, jealous guy like Ross Geller. We deserve better than anyone who will lead us on as Lucas Scott did to Brooke for years.

Brooke and Lucas at a wedding.
Credit: The CW

We should move past the romantic perspective on unrequited love that TV shows us. We should have someone who genuinely cares for us and knows how to handle complicated emotional situations well. Miscommunications and mixed signals are great plot devices, but horrible in practice. It’s fun to root for couples, but I realized we need to root for ourselves first. 

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