Still in my pajamas from the night before, I sat tearfully disillusioned on my therapist’s couch. I had no energy to dress myself that day but somehow mustered just enough strength and courage to drive myself across town to seek answers, gain clarity and figure out the pieces of my life. As I stared out the floor to ceiling window of the office, I could see the Hollywood Hills in the distance. “What are you thinking right now,” my therapist asked. I replied, “I’m thinking I don’t want to live in La La Land anymore.”
That was over 10 years ago, but I remember making that statement with two meanings in mind. On one hand I was thinking I’m tired of living in a town that seems to glorify the fake, make empty promises that builds your hopes then discards you like used tissue. On the other hand I was also thinking I’m tired of being lied to and closing my ears to the truth. You see at that time in my life I was struggling to make sense of life’s disappointments. I was questioning love and my husband’s Hollywood “deferred” dreams that were contributing to stress in our marriage. For me, moving to Hollywood was all about supporting my husband’s screenwriting career. And in the process I began to have some Hollywood dreams of my own. After a lot of rejection and delays, I began to feel a bit like Mia in the movie La La Land when she said “Maybe I’m not good enough! Maybe it’s like a pipe dream.”
Several years ago my husband wrote the national bestseller What I Wish I Knew before I Moved to Hollywood. In it he chronicled his journey in the City of Stars. When I saw the movie La La Land I immediately connected to the story and reflected on our own journey and the things I’ve learned about love and relationships along the way.
Spoiler Alert – if you haven’t yet seen the movie La La Land and plan to see it, you might want to watch it before reading further.
For those of you who have already seen this award winning film, you know that it artfully depicts a love story between jazz musician, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and rising actress Mia (Emma Stone). What you might not realize is that this movie also dispels some myths about romantic relationships and love. Here are five:
- When you’re in love you’ll never be lonely again – In the film Mia and Sebastian each experience times of loneliness when the other is off pursuing their career. The truth is you can feel very lonely even when you are in the company of others. Loneliness is not about being in or out of love. Everyone feels lonely at times. But chronic loneliness is about social and emotional pain that has the potential to spur personal growth or contribute to depression.
- My partner should always make me happy – If you are waiting for someone to make you happy, you’ll never be. Mia and Sebastian both pursued their individual interests that contributed to some shared joyful moments. The truth is there will be good and bad days but general happiness is more dependent on your own thoughts and actions and is within your personal control.
- We will always like the same things – I love the scene in the movie where Mia tells Sabastian she doesn’t like jazz. As important as jazz is to this musician, this difference in musical taste does not stop their love connection. They disagree about many things including the name of Sebastian’s club. Differences can add spice to relationships while contributing to positive growth. In the end Mia came to appreciate jazz and Sebastian finally agreed with Mia about the name of his club. In reality it’s great to have things in common but people change and just because you don’t like the same things doesn’t mean the relationship is doomed.
- Love is an uncontrollable & irrational feeling – This is a common myth that has its roots in infatuation. The truth is love is a choice. In the movie the couple choose to be together and in the end even though they choose to part ways, Mia says “I’m always gonna love you.” And Sebastian replies “I’m always gonna love you too. It’s important to realize we each have the power to choose love over hate.
- Love should be easy – Many people believe that if love is not easy it’s not real. However, common life experiences show us that love can be messy, imperfect, satisfying and very real. In fact this film does a great job of depicting just a peek at how beautifully imperfect love can sometimes be. From Sabastian missing Mia’s important play to arguments about career decisions, personal disappointments and mishaps -through all the conflict and miscommunication, love survives. It even survives their eventual break up and continues into Mia’s new roles as wife and mother. What Sebastian says about jazz is also true of love –it involves “conflict and compromise and it’s very, very exciting.”
Ultimately, I chose to stay in Southern California and work on myself and our marriage. I learned that it’s ok to take risks and it’s even ok to fail. I grew to understand that disappointments are opportunities for growth. And I learned that being good enough is not measured in the eyes of others but in how I view and value myself. I realized that I am strong enough to handle the truth and I can let go of fear. Also more important than where I live is how I live, especially how I live with myself. I’ve learned many invaluable lessons, changed careers and experienced joy I wouldn’t trade for anything. Like the final scene in La La Land so beautifully illustrates, life is about making choices that are often bittersweet and although love stories are not always perfect -as Seb’s final knowing smile indicates – It’s always worth it.
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