Last spring one of my friend’s teenage sons worked up his courage and asked a girl to the prom. He asked her very much like Harry Potter asking Cho Chang out in the Goblet of Fire, a scene that touches my heart every time I see it. Harry Potter stumbles, he stutters, he barely squeaks out the invitation. When this young man asked a girl to the prom in a similar clumsy way, her response was not the gentle letdown that Cho gives Harry.
This girl said: “Really? That’s how you’re asking me? Ask me again, but do it better next time.”
Of course girls have been swooning over romantic heroes since Heathcliff stalked the moors in Wuthering Heights, but at least these fictional characters were grown men. Our young women’s romantic expectations today are being poisoned by terrible male role models. No, not violent action stars. Not brutes or lawbreaking bad boys. These terrible role models are the impossibly perfect young men of romantic movies, who say the right thing at the right time, always look terrific and never stumble over words or have a single pimple. Today, young men in romantic movies are as suave, charming, and witty as a grown-up, because they are written by grown-ups. Here are three who are terrible role models. Young women who watch these improbably perfect young men and think that they exist are setting themselves up for disappointment.
1.) Augustus Waters
One of the stars of “The Fault in Our Stars” is a remarkable young man, Gus, who falls in love with terminal cancer patient Hazel Grace. The novel by John Green is a smash hit and a weepy favorite for many. Gus is eloquent and fearless. He pursues Hazel Grace with charm and beautiful words and presents her with a confident and dedicated love. As played by Ansel Elgort in the upcoming movie, he’s also, of course, movie-star handsome.
Real young men can manage a greeting card or flowers, if they’re highly motivated, but flowery words and confident pursuit? As a teenage boy? A girl hoping for a Gus Waters to sweep in and knock her off her feet is going to wait a long time, while the stumbling and bespectacled types like Harry Potter get rejected. Watch the trailer for this upcoming movie (to be released June 14th) and ask yourself: Does any boy talk that way? Ever?
2.) Peeta Mellark
The star of The Hunger Games trilogy is devoted and steadfast in his love for Katniss Everdeen. He’s handsome but he’s also tender. He’s strong but he’s funny, capable of cracking witty jokes with master of ceremonies Caesar Flickerman. He loves Katniss so much that he offers to give his life for her in the arena of the Hunger Games. Played by Josh Hutcherson in the movies, he’s a dreamy hero and a terrible role model.
Real young men who are excellent at baking or hunting or painting pictures are typically not socially adept. They’ve poured their energy into learning a craft. They don’t have time to learn the skill of quick-witted conversation. Young men who are quick-witted and funny have spent a lot of time honing those skills. A muscular, superbly fit young man who is both quick-witted and artisticallly talented? He’s out there, in the movies, and that’s about the only place a girl is going to find him. Watch this clip from The Hunger Games and watch Peeta take on the jaded court of the Capitol and make them adore him. Then remember: He can bake, and paint, and lift enormous weights, too.
3.) Edward Cullen
The star of the Twilight series is a strong, intelligent, handsome vampire who falls in love at first sight with Bella Swan. As a vampire, Edward Cullen can’t have sex with Bella. He will kill her if he does, so his love for her (at least in Twilight, the first novel) is as chaste and demure as a Victorian novel. Teenage girls have swooned for years now over his longing glances and beautiful words of love. He is everything a virtuous girl desires in a boyfriend because he must behave like a perfect gentleman at all times. He is intense, smouldering with passion, and yet controls himself around Bella because of his love for her. As played by Robert Pattinson he is, of course, perfect and beautiful as a movie star. That’s because he is a movie star.
Real young men are not eloquent and they don’t have superpowers. They get acne, their clothes don’t always match, their hair is imperfectly cut, they can’t make witty jokes all the time and their not-yet-grown bodies are clumsy. And yet they are more wonderful than any fictional young man because they’re real.
As Valentine’s Day and prom season approach again, our young women should be reminded that just as we don’t expect them to be as thin and beautiful as a Hollywood actress, the boys they date shouldn’t be expected to be as articulate and romantic as these young men on the silver screen.
The girl who demanded that my friend’s son “try again”? She ended up at home on prom night. Let’s make sure she doesn’t end up as an adult woman sitting alone with a cat and a remote control, longing for the fictional instead of reaching for the real.