Forgive me while I climb up on my soapbox for a bit. But I’ve noticed this trend in movies and TV shows, not a pervasive trend, but one that rears its annoying head every now and then. And it’s grating on my nerves. You see, men and women as depicted in film simply cannot achieve a life of fullfillment unless they find their soulmate and have babies. I know, I know… the vast majority of adults want to be married and want to be parents, so this depiction is merely mirroring real life. But what irks me are these characters who at the beginning of the story profess their desire not to settle down and have kids and proceed to undergo some life-altering revelation during which they realize they’ve been lying to themselves all along and really do, like everyone else, just want to be happily married with a kid or two.
Four Christmases is the most recent example of such a scenario. At the start, main characters Kate and Brad want to enjoy their lives without the constraints of parenthood. They travel around the world, excel in their careers and dote on each other. That is, until they get stuck spending time with their families during the holiday season and after seeing their nephews and nieces, realize what they’ve really been wanting the whole time is that which they adamantly insisted was not for them: marriage and babies. Yes, by the film’s end, they pull a complete 180 and confess their deep desires for those very things they originally claimed to abhor. Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight, while not expressly about this subject, also fall victim to its themes. Both sets of couples end up happier than humanly possible at the close of their respective stories because they wind up with something they never thought they wanted (or never gave much thought to at all): marriage and babies. Such stories are less about couples finding happiness and more about conformity and lack of individuality and/or free will and WHAT THE FUCK, HOLLYWOOD??? When will you give it a rest?
Just to be clear, I have no problems with marriage, commitment or parenthood but I don’t understand why any person should be considered in denial or even unstable simply because he/she doesn’t want either one or both of those things. Do we all have to live the same life? Is it such a radical idea to believe that marriage and/or parenthood simply aren’t for everyone? Isn’t the great freedom of America that we have the right to pursue our own happiness, whatever that entails? Does anyone actually believe George Clooney is a repressed wanna-be husband/father who’s been in denial or somehow unaware of his true desires his whole adult life? Bitch, please.
Look, I love a good romantic comedy and I’m certainly not suggesting that all movies in which two people fall in love, marry and copulate are worthless. I, too, swooned when Harry and Sally finally got together and I rooted for Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy to fall in love from the very first scene. “A life without love, that’s terrible!” (To be said like the most swoon-worthy of them all, Ewan McGregor, in pursuit of a certain cortisan.) But do ALL love stories have to end in wedding bells and a bun in the oven? I, for one, feel that each of our lives should be sort of tailor-made. Countless “I’m a single career woman suddenly forced into custody of my sister’s/best friend’s/random relative’s baby” movies the likes of Baby Boom, The Family Man, Raising Helen, No Reservations, Life As We Know It, etc. perpetuate the idea that single/child-free individuals can only know how empty their lives are after being forced into parenthood. Then, it all becomes clear and they can move forward in their new, enriched and superior lives. Frankly, it’s a played out and tired tale.
Occasionally, we do get stories about individuals who truly do not yearn for marriage/parenthood. And those people are portrayed as having a mental illness. Cases in point: Big Fan and Young Adult. While both are excellent flicks in their own right, I would love to watch a film about a character who doesn’t desire to be a parent and is simultaneously a healthy, stable and happy adult. I realize they’re the minority but they do in fact exist. Actually, only once, just ONCE, and very recently, have I seen such a character. In last week’s episode of the superb HBO series, Enlightened, guest star Dermot Mulroney who’s playing an unattached journalist described the reasons for his past divorce and never have I heard someone explain it as simply and succinctly as this: “We just wanted different things. She wanted kids and dogs and Christmas trees. What I want is to live in this world. I’m greedy. I want meaning. I want experience. I want to make a difference… all that bullshit.”
I know that a healthy, committed relationship is deeply satisfying and I don’t doubt that being a parent is a tremendously rewarding experience. But that path is far from the only road to a full and happy life and I’d really love to see the other side get its moment in the sun.