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Everything young men have been taught about love is wrong

We have to ensure children grow up with healthy ideas about relationships (Picture: Getty)

When you love a woman and she doesn’t love you back, what next?

Noughties rom-coms told young men all would be well, if only they had a boombox to hand for a bedroom-side serenade, or romantically admitted defeat with doorstep placards and a foppish smile. 

Though the Love Actually-esque tropes have long been slated, they pale in comparison to the messaging young men are receiving today about love. 

In a world where many have seen porn before they’ve hit puberty, online ‘manosphere’ and incel forums are growing, and Andrew Tate is parroted in classrooms, today’s teens face a potential diet of misogyny and misinformation that’s hard to ignore.

And let’s face it, it’s not just young men we have to worry about. 

Of course, there are some amazing parents and educators fighting the good fight to debunk misinformation out there.

But we asked experts their thoughts on some of the more pernicious romance myths and stereotypes being peddled today – and why (almost) everything men are taught about love is wrong.

Myth 1: The right woman will make me a better person and teach me about love 

From Garden State to 500 Days of Summer, the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ trope is common throughout traditional media. The idea is this: quirky woman meets lonely man and solely exists to help him grow.

Dr Rebecca Feasey, subject leader of media and critical studies at Bath Spa University, tells ‘This trope is particularly dangerous as it suggests that the woman has no meaning in or of herself, her entire modus operandi is what she can do for the hero.

‘Even if she has screen time and an ostensibly significant part to play, she lacks genuine agency because she is not on her own journey.’ 

The incel community could be accused of a similar thing. By putting the onus for their happiness on romantic relationships, the rhetoric both denies women autonomy and places them on a pedestal – and that’s a turn-off for most, so the cycle of inceldom continues.

‘If people believe this then they will struggle to maintain and form meaningful relationships,’ BACP therapist Nicola Vanlint tells

‘A person should come into our lives to compliment who we already are. The best person to teach us about love is ourselves. Ultimately self-love comes first here, whereas the above statement is actually the opposite and how we love ourselves is how we teach others to love us.’

Teenagers are exposed to all sorts online (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Myth 2: Women only like ‘bad boys’ 

It’s a tale that’s been told countless times, with examples available in pretty much every teen romance in history.

Online, terms like ‘Chad’ (a traditionally attractive but arrogant and unkind Alpha male) and ‘hybristophilia’ (somebody who’s attracted to perpetrators of crime) are used to give credence to the idea that women want men who treat them badly.

The main problem is, it’s just not true. Studies show that both women and men value warmth, confidence, and a laidback attitude in a partner, so gross generalisations will get you nowhere.

If someone is attracted to ‘bad’ people, this may actually be a result of ‘rejecting or emotionally unavailable caregivers’ in childhood.

Nicola explains: ‘We unconsciously do this, hoping to get from this person what we never got from our upbringing. If we can convince someone to commit, it can feel like an accomplishment.’

Myth 3: Jealousy is a sign of love 

In research by Lancaster University, members of the manosphere deemed it ‘strong’ to control a woman’s emotions, while paranoia and clinginess have been described as ‘predictors’ for incel ideology.

‘Considering jealousy as a sign of love is an incredibly worrying trend,’ says Rebecca. ‘We are only just starting to talk seriously about stalking and coercive control, so to try and reframe jealousy as a sign of passionate attachment is something that must be quashed at every stage.’

Nicola adds that jealousy ‘usually says something about a persons previous rejection or abandonment experiences,’ and ‘projecting this into a relationship can cause arguments and restrict the person in the relationship from having healthy friendships outside of it.’

Myth 4: The existence of soulmates and ‘the one that got away’

While a single true love for each of us is wonderful in theory, in practice it can manifest in dangerous ways.

Rebecca says: ‘The idea of soulmates routinely overrides more meaningful questions around trust, loyalty and respect, and romantic comedy narratives that present a couple pre-destined to be together disavows more problematic codes and conventions that expose male needs and wants at the expense of a woman’s agency and desires.’

The manosphere is actually against so-called ‘oneitis’ (pursuing only one partner) but the romanticisation of ‘the one that got away’ is still common throughout popular culture – just look at murderous heartthrob Joe Goldberg in Netflix smash hit, You.

If boys are implicitly told that stalking or harassment are acceptable in the name of love, they’ll spend their lives mistaking obsession for passion – and the consequences could be serious.

Myth 5: Women exchange sex for men’s resources 

Another pseudoscientific term used in men’s online spaces is ‘hypergamy’; an offshoot of Sexual Economics Theory, arguing sex is transactional for women, so men need to be wealthy to attract a partner and may be victims of ‘gold digging’.

In reality, the men who have most success on dating apps score highly in athleticism, agreeableness and altruism – not financial status.

‘It is worth noting that girls and women out-perform men and boys at every level of education in the UK,’ adds Rebecca.

‘The suggestion that women seek wealthy male partners is likely less a desire than a lived experience of a patriarchal society whereby, irrespective of the education attainment and success, men continue to outnumber women in senior positions.’

Myth 6: Men can attract women purely by being ‘nice’ 

On the flip side of the bad boy stereotype, there’s the theory that being friendly with women and showing them basic human decency should be enough to attract them romantically.

The niceguys subreddit, which has over 1.5million members, is testament to how prevalent this mindset is. Self-professed nice guys use the persona to demean others while simultaneously expressing a favourable view of themselves.

Yes, the science does show women like nice men, but that’s not the whole story.

Rebecca references Hugh Grant’s ‘foppish, stammering, blundering’ rom com roles as an example of a nice guy who manages to do well romantically. However, these characters are also funny, passionate, good looking, and well rounded.

Being polite isn’t what gets him the girl at the end of the movie; that’s the bare minimum.

Nicola advises: ‘You shouldn’t put on a persona in order to facilitate a relationship with someone. If that’s not part of your nature, it will be exposed down the line.’

The ‘nice guy’ myth suggests it’s going above and beyond to treat women as people (Picture: Getty Images/Maskot)

Myth 7: Physical intimacy is the most important part of relationships 

Pick-up artists and male dating coaches often use sales terms like ‘kiss-closed’ and ‘number-closed’ in their materials, and sex is considered the ultimate goal in relationships with women.

Again, this attitude is nothing new (who remembers American Pie?) but it doesn’t bode well when we consider the sexual imagery and intrinsic misogyny young men are now regularly exposed to.

There’s nothing wrong with experiencing desire, but potential partners shouldn’t be treated as objects.

‘While physical intimacy is an important part of a relationship, emotional intimacy often times is more important to people,’ says Nicola.

‘Clarification between the couple is important and explaining expectations around sex or physical intimacy helps to reconnect couples sexually.’

Myth 8: Women are either innocent and boring or sexual and exciting 

Freud called it the Madonna/Whore complex, where modern media analysis refers to the Betty and Veronica trope. If you’re a Dr Dre fan, you may recognise the phrase ‘you can’t make a ho a housewife,’ which is pretty much the gist.

Rebecca explains: ‘At the height of the Hollywood Studio system Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe were referred to as the ideal mate and ideal playmate respectively, and numerous feminist waves and gender equality rulings have done little to challenge these damning stereotypes.’

If a young man buys into this, he limits his dating pool and risks hurting those around him by putting them into restrictive boxes

‘We’re all unique and complexed individuals,’ adds Nicola. ‘What one person sees as boring, another person may see as exciting, and sex is not that binary. People can change their sexual preferences or behaviours, likes and dislikes over time.’

Myth 9: Even if a woman expresses something clearly, her ‘true feelings’ may be different 

We’ve all seen films where mortal enemies somehow become lovers, but what about the characters who make big romantic gestures and push a love interest after being rebuffed?

They both feed into the idea that ‘no’ doesn’t always mean no, and that a man knows a woman’s intentions better than she does.

‘Romantic comedies have a habit of showing women as being too foolish to understand what the rest of the cast and the audience are asked to read from the outset of the text, that the hero and heroine are destined to be together,’ says Rebecca.

‘In this narrative, it is not just the hero who ignores her rebuttals, so too, an entire audience are willing her to realise her mistake and succumb to her suitor.

‘To be clear, this is not about soul mates, this is about male power and a lack of female voice or agency, irrespective of the warm and fuzzy genre codes.’

As adults we’re better equipped to understand the difference between fiction and reality, but that’s not always the case for young people. Debunking these tropes ensures unhealthy patterns of behaviour are nipped in the bud.

Nicola offers the following advice: ‘Be aware of people’s boundaries and understanding of the fact that “no means no”.

‘Do not be intrusive or persistent as this could cause upset and always remember to respect other people’s wishes.’

Leave the boombox at home and read the room. And if in doubt, ask a woman what she wants – not men on the internet.


You’re reading Unrequited,‘s week-long series exploring the confusing, exhilarating, heart-breaking realities of one-sided love. For more love stories, visit our dedicated Unrequited page.

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You’re reading Unrequited,‘s week-long series exploring the confusing, exhilarating, heart-breaking realities of one-sided love. For more love stories, visit our dedicated Unrequited page.

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