Whenever people talk about porn they are at pains to point out how it is not a reflection of real life: porn stars’ behaviours are modified to be camera friendly, their positions and moves are tricks finely honed after years of practice, they are not mirrors to our own experiences and feelings. It would be hard to disagree with any of this, but I don’t see that as a bad thing. Porn is an alternate fantasy land where things almost totally out of our comprehension happen for our amusement. In fact I see very little difference between rom coms and pornography. Instead of the fade to black and cut to ‘next morning’ porn fills in the gaps, figuratively and literally.
Anti porn activists claim that porn gives us unrealistic expectations for sex. That watching these films makes us think that every man can bang for 45 minutes straight, then pulls out to come on his partner’s face. They say it creates unattainable beauty standards and fetishises women and their desires. But surely the same things can be said about romantic movies? The meet cute has inspired people all over the world to think that love happens on a crowded train carriage, or after accidentally head butting someone in the face. They tell us that marriage is a single golden day in a shady grotto, followed by twenty years of bickering. Are they not to blame for our unrealistic expectations when it comes to relationships?
Last week I found myself near an ex’s workplace dying to talk to him. We broke up on bad terms and I had tried hard to reconcile with him but he had made it clear that wasn’t what he wanted. In a moment of foolish lust and unrequited love I told myself I would go in, while it was quiet, and demand he spoke to me. This would show how committed to him I was: it would be a grand gesture of pure romance that couldn’t fail to win him over. Strings would swell, the people around us would go quiet, and his face would soften as I, straggly from the wind and rain outside told him I wanted him back.
Or would it?
Walking into his workplace, when he’d made it clear to me that he wanted nothing to do with me was such an act of aggression. It was ignoring his feelings, the fact that his life had moved on, the idea that he knew what was best for himself. My grand romantic gesture was actually a selfish moment where I wanted the spotlight on me and my supposed heroism. Demanding he listen to my apologies and care for me again was the vainest thing I could do. There would be no strings or quiet bystanders, just my ex imploring me to leave.
Later the same week I was the recipient of a long emotional text from someone else in my past, saying they were near my birthday drinks and if I wanted them to come, despite not talking to them for months, and making it clear I was not likely to forgive them any time soon, that they would be there in a heartbeat. I thought about my intention to turn up at the ex’s work and have that dashing moment of forgiveness and realised how it felt on the other foot: horrible.
It was hard to look beyond the soft focus ending rom coms had promised me, but by doing it I avoided a terrible emotional scene that would only upset me and my ex, as well as humiliating us both. The person who texted me bought in too hard to the idea that grand gestures mean more than actions, and pushed me further away from them than ever.
Real life isn’t as pat as the movies: there isn’t always a reconciliation, you don’t always manage to come directly onto her tongue without hitting her in the eye; but once you accept the fantasy for what it is, an alternate reality, you can look back at your real life and enjoy it.
Do I want my ex back? Possibly, I think I want the romantic movie idea of it more than the reality. But I understand that if there is even a 1% chance of us ever being on speaking terms again it is predicated on my respecting their feelings and allowing them to be their own person. Even if it means no tearful dramatic moments soundtracked by Berlioz.