How do romantic movies affect relationships of women between the ages of 18 and 26?

Andrezza Lops

Western Connecticut State University






The research examines how romantic movies affect relationships of women between the ages of 18 and 26. This study suggests that women experience a variety of feelings and emotions while watching these movies and they apply them to their relationships. The results indicated that there is a high demand for romantic movies and women are provided with fantasies, lessons and instructions about love from watching them.






How do romantic movies affect relationships of women between the ages of 18 and 26?

Movies have been one of America’s favorite pastimes. They are appealing to all age groups, culture and classes. Since the early 1930’s, romantic movies have played a major role in our society. They have distracted oppressed people during the Depression and they made ordinary actors teenager idols. They have made us laugh and cry. With that in mind, the researcher decided to look into how these movies can affect relationships of women between the ages of 18 and 26. In order to better understand the nature of these movies and how they can affect the women in the stated age group, it is necessary to look at some theoretical basis and works written about the topic.

Gerbner’s cultivation theory suggests that media can affect beliefs of people regarding the social world. He states that "Television, among modern media, has acquired such a central place in daily life that it dominates our symbolic environment, substituting its distorted message about reality for personal experience and other means of knowing about the world (as cited in McQuail, 1994, p.364)." He also states that "Television is the cultural arm of the established industrial order which serves primarily to maintain, stabilize and reinforce rather than to alter, threaten or weaken conventional beliefs and behavior (as cited in McQuail, 1994, p. 365)."

Fiori (1996) says "the hope of romance springs eternal even in the most cynical souls. Love is an emotion and romance is an expression. Romance is for anyone and everyone, not just for the young, not only for women (65)."

Whipp (2000) asserts that most of our romantic ideas and expectations in dating and marriage come from watching movies.

Hoffman (1996) states that the reason why we cry in movies is because "there is hole so deeply embedded in our hearts that is not, perhaps ever filled, no matter how much love we have in our lives". When a "viewer watches the movie, he/she realizes that the love that the lovers share on the screen is the type of love he/she will never have. The type of love that is impossible or forbidden, but we wish we have or did not have". He says, "we cry because these movies point out how easy or close true love is and yet, we don’t seem to accomplish it." He also suggests that "movies are written the way we would like them to be, easy and similar to how we want our lives to be run". He finally suggests that "the movies kind of love represents the ideal to which we all strive but, can perhaps never reach (17)."

Souder(1996) states that "movies are big enough to capture our most tender, fragile feelings, and in doing so, they capture us (26)." He states that movies are great assets to explore the human heart and they teach us fundamental elements of romance. He also suggests that love stories may not be real but they are educational.

Sikov(1989) indicates that "screwball" stories grew out of the depression. These movies became popular because people utilized them as a form of escape, from their own miserable lives into a world of wealth and happiness. He also suggests that "screwball" stories are popular among people because they deal with everyday human relations.

Now we shift our attention to a specific gender group, women. How are they personally affected as viewers by this category of movies? What is the nature of the feelings and expectations they experience while watching these movies?

Modleski(1984) suggests that since women are often unable to explain and understand male behavior in real life, romances gives them an "outlet for female resentment (43)." Women are devastated when they realize that their real life romances will never be fulfilled, unlike the harlequin romances(64). She also proposes that "while romance serves to keep women in their place, may at the same time be concerned with real female problems"(37). She asserts that the reason why women are drawn into romance is because it allows them to relate their own personal lives

With the ones portrayed on the screen and, allows them to travel into a world of pure imagination.

Brown (1990) states that "women have unifying qualities such as the inability to know or say what they want, the preoccupation with romance and relationships, the ability to care for and to nurture (25)." She also states that women spend most of their free time at home watching television, soap opera being the program most watched among them. And "melodramatic serial, is usually considered to be almost exclusively a women’s genre(203)."

Press(1991) studies state that the social images used by media affect how we view the world and how we define ourselves. These pictures are presented to the viewers as a true representation of the real world and are unconsciously accepted by the viewers. When she presents her theory towards women, she suggests that because women keep such a close relationship with their families throughout their lives, that it is easier for them to make a strong connection with others. She also states that "romances are liberating, encouraging women to find their own, independent identity, while in other respects they conservatively encourage women to conform to the dictates of their traditional roles as wives, mothers, and nurturers of men and children(24)." She concludes by saying "women may in fact believe the stories are only fantasies on one level at the very same time that they take other aspects of them to be real therefore apply information learned about the fictional world to the events and occurrences of theirs (as cited in Press, 1991, p. 187).


The population from which data were gathered was women between the ages of 18 and 26. It consisted of 44 female students at Western Connecticut State University in that age group. The 50 movies included in the questionnaire were randomly picked from a list of the most popular romantic movies of the 90’s according to and all-time top grossing movies for the years of 1990 and 1999.

A questionnaire was created which consisted of 17 questions regarding feelings, expectations, wishes, decisions, and experiences resulting from viewing these films. (see appendix A)

The questionnaire designed by the researcher was handed out to 44 female students at Western Connecticut State University between the ages of 18 and 26. The average time to complete the questionnaire was 10 minutes for each respondent.


The survey consisted of 17 questions answered by 44 women between the ages of 18 and 26. Answers to questions 6, 12 and 16 are believed to be irrelevant due to confusion and misunderstandings. Out of 50 romantic movies, they viewed 61% of them. When asked how do they usually feel after watching these romantic movies, they mostly felt: angry(1), confused(2), sad(15), irritated(4), envious(18), charmed(15), happy(34), jealous(9), hurt(4), mad(1), hopeful(24), ambitious(7), disappointed(5), excited(16), lonely(11), joyful(16), loving(27) and contented(11).

Combining the positive and negative emotions, 66% consisted of positive feelings and 32% negative.

When asked if they expect their relationships to be more like the ones in the movies, 50% answered yes, 43% answered no and 7% were neutral.

When asked if they think that men in the movies are like men in real life, 16% answered yes, 80% answered no and 4 were neutral.

In describing an ideal relationship between a man and a woman in the movies, the researcher picked seven couples. Of the seven couples, Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in Pretty Woman were picked 3 times, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic 9 times, Renee Zellweger and Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire 8 times, Claire Forlani and Brad Pitt in Meet Joe Black 2 times, Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo and Juliet 3 times, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in

Sleepless in Seattle 10 times, Annette Bening and Michael Douglas in The American President 4 times and 4 women were neutral.

In responding to the questions about making decisions in their relationships because a movie gave them an idea, 40% answered yes and 60% answered no. Those who answered yes, experienced a break up(2), encounter(1), reconciliation(4), expression of feelings(15) and argument(1).

When asked if they have tried to relive a scene from a movie in their relationship, 38% answered yes and 61% answered no.

When asked if there is a song that reminds them of a special moment in their relationship, 88% answered yes and 12% answered no. Of those who answered yes, 38% says that this song is from a movie, 64% says it’s not from a movie and 6% were neutral.

When asked how often they cry while watching a movie, (1) answered never, (7) not often, (25) sometimes and (11) all the time.

When asked if they wish their relationship were more like the ones in the movies, 56% answered yes, 36% answered no and 8% were neutral.

When asked if they ever wish their boyfriend/husband would do something romantic like something they’ve seen in a movie, 86% answered yes, 11% answered no and 3% were neutral.

When asked if they compare situations in their relationship to similar ones in the movies, 70% answered no and 30% answered yes.

When asked if they try to get their boyfriend/husband to watch a romantic movie expecting him to learn something from it, 54% answered yes, 40% answered no and 6% were neutral.

When asked if they think that romantic movies can affect their relationships, 52% answered yes, 45 answered no and 3% were neutral.

When asked how often they watch romantic movies, (10) watched 1-2 a week, (25) 1-2 a month, (7) 1-2 a year and (2) other than that.

When asked which movie reminds them of "good times", the most common picks were: My Bestfriend’s Wedding, You’ve Got Mail, The Wedding Singer, When a Man Loves a Woman, Only You, Sleepless in Seattle, 10 Things I Hate About You and Ever After.

When asked which movie reminds them of "difficult times", the most common picks were: Four Weddings and a Funeral, Meet Joe Black, Sleepless in Seattle, My Bestfriend’s Wedding, Ghost, You’ve Got Mail, Titanic, Dying Young and Only You.

When asked of which movie reminds them of "why they began a relationship", the most common picks were: Ghost, Jerry Maguire, Mrs.Winterbourne, A Walk in the Clouds, The Truth About Cats and Dogs, Only You and Bed of Roses.

When asked of which movies reminds them of "why they ended a relationship", the most common picks were: Chasing Amy, Sliding Doors, My Bestfriend’s Wedding, When a Man Loves a Woman, Romeo and Juliet and Ghost.

When asked to what extent their idea of what their romantic relationship should be more like the ones from the movies, (2) answered 0%, (15) answered 25%, (16) answered 50%, (11) answered 75% and (0) answered 100%.


Women and television has been a popular subject among media and feminists for many decades. There are theories, stories, suggestions and statements about this subject, but unfortunately, no previous research about how women are personally affected by romantic movies had been done.

The results from the survey supported the idea and expectations of the researcher, even though it was only answered by 44 females between the ages of 18 and 26 in our society.

The movies included in the survey ranged from melodramatic romance to screwball comedies. Since 61% of these selected movies were viewed and the average viewing time for them was 1-2 a month, it proves that there is a great demand and acceptance for them among the women surveyed. Signs of positive and negative feelings were present after viewing the selected movies, although the positive feelings such as happy, hopeful and loving were the most predominant ones.

The survey results showed great frustration and dissatisfaction towards their personal relationships once it was compared to the ones in the movies. By viewing these movies, women are allowing themselves to believe that men and relationships portrayed in the movies are better than their real ones. This result proves Hoffman’s point when he suggested that "the movies kind of love represents the ideal to which we all strive but, can perhaps never reach (Hoffman, 1996, p. 17)." The researcher believes that the fantasies and desires of having a perfect man (like the ones from the movies) become so strong that women are unsatisfied with their relationships since they keep comparing movie love with real love.

Once they were asked to pick an ideal couple in which they believed were "the perfect one", the meant-to-be Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks of Sleepless in Seattle and unsinkable Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio of Titanic were the top choices among the women. Apparently, the women made a stronger connection with the more dramatic stories. The story of a young boy who calls a radio station seeking a wife for his widowed father and the story of a mismatched couple falling in love aboard a doomed oceanliner, were the favorite ones. This result suggests that the women surveyed believe that distance, faith, tragedy and drama are the necessary components for an ideal relationship. It also proves that women are constantly falling for the Hollywood style tearjerkers. This brings us to one of the questions asked in the survey. How often do you cry while watching a movie? More than half said they cried sometimes and all the time. "The reason we cry when we see these movies is because our hearts get overwhelmed with simultaneous sadness and joy (Hoffman, 1996, p. 17)."

We shift our attention to how these movies are directly affecting the relationships of the women surveyed. As a result of the survey, the women experienced many mixed feelings. In one of the questions, most of them said they didn’t make any decisions because a movie gave them an idea, but the ones who did, expressed their feelings and reconciled with their loved ones.

Signs of expectations within their relationships were encountered. 56% of the women said they wish that their boyfriend/husband were more like the ones from the movies and 86% expect them to do something romantic like something they’ve seen in a movie. Also, 71% of them compare their real life situations to the ones in the movies and 54% expect their boyfriend/husband to learn from romantic movies. There’s an evident pattern which they seem to follow, one where they tend to take the negative and positive features from the movies and apply them to real life. That is not necessarily a bad thing but a very educational one. Love, sex and everything that comes with it, have always been a very delicate subject to teach. Or can we really teach it? So we bring it upon ourselves to learn, separate and apply all the good and bad things we acquire from these movies. Souder says "Movie love stories may not be real, but they are instructive (Souder, 1996, p. 26)."

The researcher carefully designed the survey so every question had its purpose. But there were 2 very important questions that defined the whole survey. The first being- to what extent their idea of romantic relationships should be like the movies they had seen. Out of 44 women, 27 said that their idea of what a perfect relationship should be like is 50%-75% due to how the film industry portrays them to be. The second question and the closure of this survey was very straight and to the point. It asked the women if they think that romantic movies could affect their relationship and 52% of them answered yes. So it is obvious that at least half of them are aware of this matter.

The results were predictable, even though there was no documented research published on this topic before. The 44 women who answered the survey showed very strong signs of expectations, wishes, emotions, feelings and demand towards their boyfriend/husband relationships, which is believed to be caused by watching the selected movies. The results make us believe that they are many positive features to this addiction that women seem to have, watching romantic movies. It proves that this category of movies provide women with fantasies, lessons and instructions about love and how to love. Maybe that is why women are more romantic and wiser about love than men are, as known in popular culture, but we will never know for sure.






Brown, Mary Ellen. (1990). Television and women’s culture. London: Sage.

Fiori, Pamela. (1996, February). "Is it or isn’t it romantic." Town & Country Monthly, 65.

Hoffman, Ivan. (1996, September 18) "The reasons why we cry in romantic movies." The Column, 17.

McQuail, Denis (1994). Mass communication theory: An introduction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. 3rd edition.

Modleski, Tania. (1982). Loving with a vengeance. New York: Methuen.

Press, Andrea Lee. (1991). Women watching television. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Sikov, Ed. (1989). Screwball. New York: Crown.

Souder, William. (1996, May). "True romance: Movies that remind us why we are hopelessly, head-over-heels in love with love." MPLS- St.Paul Magazine, 26.

Whipp, Glenn. (2000, February 10) "Cinema: All about love." Los Angeles Daily News, 11.

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