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Reality TV influences happy relationships, sitcoms poison them

I used to have a friend who refused to watch romantic comedies.

She said she packed up all of her DVDs and would be avoiding most sitcoms and dramas, too. According to her, she felt like these shows and their depicted relationships were messing with her head and her expectations for dating and love.

I remember thinking, “That’s probably really smart,” before returning home and turning on Grey’s Anatomy.

It makes sense that what we watch on television has off-screen implications, but how serious are they and what should this mean about our habits?

My friend may have been wrong, or half-wrong, at least according to a new study by the Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Their study boiled down to this: You’re better off watching romantic comedies and reality TV shows like The Bachelor than you are romance-heavy sitcoms.

The University of Michigan researchers discovered that people who watched rom-coms and romantic reality shows believed strongly in the idea of romance, while people who watched sitcoms almost experienced the opposite. “The more sitcoms participants watched, the weaker their belief in romance tended to be, including the idea of soul mates, love at first sight or the idea of a ‘perfect’ true love.”


Furthermore, according to New York Magazine (who published the study,) believing in romance has real-world implications as well, including happier love lives and being more content with your partner.

Part of the reason can be boiled down to formatting, meaning that in romantic comedies you usually see a happy ending after only 90 minutes of turmoil. Similarly, reality show watchers apparently buy into the fairytale ending offered by romantic reality shows. But for many long-running sitcoms, like, for example, the hotly debated How I Met Your Mother, a viewer has to go through many ups and downs, breakups and hiccups, often causing more cynicism on the part of the viewer.

Conversely, studies from 2012 and 2006 offered the idea that reality TV romance impacts real-life relationships and marriage negatively. Meaning that those who perceive television romance as reality are more likely to have misconceptions and unhealthy expectations of their in-real-life relationships.

This is surely what my rom-com-cleansing friend was afraid of, and what actually makes more sense to me. But hey, science is science and if researchers are telling me that my Monday night fix of The Bachelorette will indeed help my love life in the long haul, by golly I will pour myself a glass of wine and oblige.

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