When real-world relationships get confusing, we grasp for the closest romantic trope that helps everything make sense: Love at First Sight. Always a Bridesmaid. The One That Got Away. The Love of My Life. At best, these stories make imperfect fits for our big, complicated lives. At worst, they force us into ways of thinking that make us miserable and set us up for failure. That’s why it’s so important for us to build alternative romantic narratives for ourselves, ones that conform more closely to our lives as we want to live them. We need our own tropes to fall back on, our own arcs to lean on in times of stress and doubt and confusion.
I’ve had enough experience with the traditional romantic narrative to know that the husband, kids, and picket fence scenario is not for me. But I still carry around this confusing emotional investment in these big romantic stories that have seemingly little application to how I actually want to live my life. Then, I read a study about , and everything started to make a lot more sense. The study found that the higher a person’s blood alcohol level, the more conservative their thinking became—it didn’t matter whether the drinker identified as liberal or conservative while sober. When drunk, their thought processes became streamlined—they reached for the simpler narrative, not the nuanced one. Related research has found that liberals start to think more like conservatives at times when they’re particularly distracted or overwhelmed. The same can be said for our romantic thinking. These big universal tropes catch hold of us when we get stressed, tired, sick, older.