What You Can Learn From (500) Days of Summer

The wife and I saw (500) Days of Summer last night before we caught Inglourious Basterds. Very different movies, with very different messages. But since I’m a dating and relationship coach and not a revenge coach, I’m going to focus on the offbeat romantic comedy just for a moment.

The story recounts the two year on again-off again relationship of Tom and Summer, two twentysomethings who work at the same greeting card company. Although Summer does not believe in relationships or boyfriends, Tom is instantly smitten and knows that Summer is the woman with whom he wants to spend the rest of his life. He wins her over, but she keeps him at arm’s length emotionally for the duration of their time together. Eventually, she leaves him brokenhearted and finds someone else. The end.

None of this a secret; I haven’t spoiled anything. But there were two big things that resonated for me, as I was discussing the movie with my wife afterwards:

1) If the gender roles were reversed, this movie could NOT have been made. It’s kind of fascinating, actually. It’s the story of a man who takes on the stereotypical woman’s role of wanting a relationship, being smitten, being treated poorly, and getting devastated that he invested so much time in someone who never was willing to reciprocate. In other words, it’s painfully sad. The boy doesn’t get the girl of his dreams. If you can tell me a movie where there’s a girl who loves a boy madly, spends 2 years chasing him, and ends up devastated at the end of the movie, you’re a better film aficionado than I am. (My Best Friend’s Wedding doesn’t count, since she wasn’t madly in love with her best friend).

2) The other takeaway was a line that went something like this:

When Tom is talking about Summer and how perfect she is, his best friend describes how he met his wife in 7th grade and has been with her ever since. He’s looked around and found tons of amazing women, but realized that they weren’t perfect either. So he decides to stay with his wife, because “even though she isn’t perfect, she’s real. Which makes her better than perfect,” in his eyes.

This is the way I feel about love. So many of us get smitten with someone, idealize them, and get our hearts broken because we’re blind to their flaws. That’s what’s painful about the movie. True wisdom is in recognizing that there ISN’T a perfect person who meets all our criteria, and that we should be thrilled to have someone who loves us unconditionally, forever.

So don’t be like the character, who thinks they’re meant to be because they both like the Smiths and have a strong physical attraction. Realize that your perfect mate is the one who is real and the one who treats you like gold.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Honey

    I think that Gone With the Wind qualifies as a movie where a woman throws herself at those she loves and is constantly disappointed (whether you’re a fan of Ashley or Rhett).

    However, accepting flaws is probably the most important part of relationships – so I agree that being able to do that and unconditionally love someone (and accept love from them) anyway is probably the single most important thing you can do and be when it comes to finding happiness in love.
    .-= Honey’s last blog ….TGIF In Honey-Land =-.

    1. 1.1
      Antipater

      I sort of agree wth the statement regarding Gone with the Wind. Well. She might. I do not consider it real love, though. Ashley reminds me of the trope Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Actually, while typing this I have come to agree with you. 

  2. 2
    Honey

    Oh, and if you read the sequel to Gone with the Wind, then she gets the guy, anyway :-)

    You know, now that I am thinking about it, that book/movie is like a very very early version of Sex and the City!
    .-= Honey’s last blog ….TGIF In Honey-Land =-.

  3. 3
    Ava

    Letter From An Unknown Woman, an excellent 1940’s melodrama. The female protagonist has an unrequited love for her entire adult life!

    I, too, thought of Carrie and Big in Sex and the City – up until the end, when he decides he does love her.

    I thought 500 Days was a classic “SHE’S just not that into you” tale. Obviously, we’re used to hearing all about “HE’S just not that into you” from real-life women, so having a male protagonist experience that is a bit of a gender/role reversal, plus, men do tend to be the active pursuers (and in control) in relationships. On the other hand, the concept of the ball-busting and elusive femme fatale is a staple of Film Noir. Maybe a woman sitting around waiting for a guy for months would simply seem pathetic, and the man would just seem like a big jerk?

    I do believe that if women made more films, we’d see more of them from the woman’s point of view…

  4. 4
    Ava

    Actually, in Letter From…the unrequited love starts when the woman is a teenager…yes, it’s a devastating film.

  5. 5
    JuJu

    “The Story of Adele H.” (as in, Victor Hugo’s daughter), by Fran ois Truffaut.

    She was so madly in [unrequited] love with someone, that she indeed went insane.

    Very atypical for a woman, though, methinks.

  6. 6
    Joe

    In “500 Days” there’s also the parts where Tom, during the phase where he’s high, he describes various characteristics of Summer’s as endearing/attractive; when he’s low he describes the exact same characteristics in different terms, as flaws.

  7. 7
    Shawna

    I can’t help but to nitpick about something — the use of the term “unconditional love.” I have a real problem with that — I think this is the root of much of our relationship confusion/problems.

    I don’t unconditionally love anyone — there are always conditions. Don’t cheat, don’t lie, don’t mistreat me, don’t disrespect me, etc. for the big ones. Then there are the little ones we live with every day. I think that many people, especially women, misunderstand full and complete love for unconditional love and then let their lover mistreat them because they are loving them unconditionally.

    There should always be conditions.

  8. 8
    Lorihaah4

    Your thoughts and theories are profoud, as always. However, there is one problem inherrent in your words – take it from someone who is on the other side of the situation. I have been with a man who loves me, and has love me, as close as one can get to unconditionally for over 13 yrs. I married him for EXACTLY the reasons you describe, Evan, and, well, its been..hmmm… marginal at best. I was never totally madly in love with him, but he knew he wanted to marry me the minute he met me. I married him – BECAUSE he was a great guy in so many ways, minus the sky illuminating fireworks. Dont get me wrong, intimate momebts were always adequate..even pretty damn good at times. But never, well, you know…crazy great. Almost fourteen years later, i remain married and faithful, but with an empty space in my heart. And wondering if i aspired to mediocrity and lost out on the amazing feeling most of us have felt at some time, of true selfless love. I love him….but im not ‘in love’ with him. And that is what has happened to EACH AND EVERY married friend i have, (male and female) that married simply because of the reasons you mention.. many have strayed, the others are simply living there..yet nobodys home.

  9. 10
    starthrower68

    Lori, true love is not always some sort of earth-shattering emotion. Often, it’s more of a choice. Even the most passionate relationships have days when partners don’t like each other very much or don’t feel particularly romantic. Nobody can contain that sort of intense emotion for long periods of time.

  10. 11
    JuJu

    In response to post 8:

    that’s precisely the problem with this wise approach to picking a life partner. It *is* a great method in theory, but in reality we (most of us) are not as enlightened as not to keep wondering throughout such a relationship if we made the right choice. The only factor that is capable of ever removing such doubts is being truly in love with the person at the time of making this decision (however unpredictably it turns out later on).

    I would say, it’s more important to know yourself. If you are a self-aware individual and realize that you do need these “butterflies” to be happy / fulfilled, well, then, there is your answer.

  11. 12
    JuJu

    post 7:

    I think the bigger point is to love yourself unconditionally. Then you won’t take all this crap from others.

    Enabling and accepting abuse is not the same as unconditional love – it’s pathological dependence on your partner.

  12. 13
    Evan Marc Katz

    I hear you, Lori. But this is a classic case of the grass being greener.

    You’ve been in a healthy, solid, fireworks-less relationship for 13 years. Let’s say you leave him because of the emptiness and the desire for a “crazy great” relationship.

    Wanna know what you’re gonna find? A lot of players, a lot of losers, a lot of liars, a lot of frustration and heartbreak and disillusionment and loneliness.

    Every once in awhile, you’ll feel that divine spark – and get your hopes up – only to learn that Mr. Chemistry is not necessarily Mr. Right, and, in fact, usually treats you a lot worse than the guy you just passed up. Go read “The Post-Birthday World” and let me know your thoughts.

    I’m not saying you should stay in an unhappy marriage, Lori. I would say that what you gain from intense passion might not be as great as what you’re losing…

  13. 14
    JuJu

    One more thing, Lori: does your adoring husband know that you think of the marriage as “marginal at best”?

  14. 15
    Lorihaah4

    thank you for your thots – very thot provoking. JuJu – yes, he is aware i am not in love w him…known for years. Ive told him he deserves deep reciprocated love, but as far as living together we do get along quite well, have children, and he feels intense attraction and love for me,so he is willing to accept me in whatever capacity. Intimacy is the most difficult part for me, but we make it work as best i am able. I have told him everything,literally everything that i feel. And as Evan similarly stated, i also understand no man will ever love me and kids as he does. I have 3 best friends now divorced – same situation – ALL going thru EXACTLY what Evan describes – dating players, etc.. and i am very aware of realities of life and relationships. I do send my divorcee friends links to many of your articles and dating programs and continue to (as relative). Basically, I just wanted to put it out there from the womans side of marrrying “mr. close to perfect” – it doesnt come without its pitfalls… as i told my husband, he lived his life able to feel what it feels like to feel intense passion for a woman , i will probably never feel the same for a man.

  15. 16
    starthrower68

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the grass is always greener on the other side, but you’re gonna have to mow that grass too.

  16. 17
    JuJu

    I have to say, I don’t know about this “greener grass” bit.

    If you have to somehow overcome yourself in order to have sex with a person – hmm, let’s just say, that’s not the kind of relationship I would ever want for myself.

  17. 18
    Ava

    And why must it be so black and white? Stability = boring? Passion and fireworks = player/loser? Can’t there ever be a happy medium? Why marry someone you’re not in love with?

  18. 19
    A-L

    Ava wrote, “And why must it be so black and white? Stability = boring? Passion and fireworks = player/loser? Can’t there ever be a happy medium? Why marry someone you’re not in love with?”

    Think about your best friend. You two have a solid relationship, you love hanging out together, you two know each other’s whole histories. It’s great. But (assuming the two of you are in the same town) you’re not going to get super-excited when you’re planning to hang out together. You just know you’re going to have a good time, but are not crazy excited. This is because you and your best friend have a stable relationship without all the drama of jealousy, catfighting, etc.

    The same thing tends to hold true for romantic relationships (perhaps even more so). The drama is created by having tension in the relationship, but not because either person is necessarily bad. It might be arguments over money, or how to raise the children, or spending too many hours at work, or being emotionally withdrawn, or whatever. So for a period of time you and your partner are having this total disconnect and you’re not happy. But then something improves (usually temporarily) and you’re ecstatic, over-the-moon, and crazy in love again. And then things go back to the way they before and things yo-yo in between.

    So it’s sort of a choice. Would you rather have a lifetime of A-/B+ all of the time or a lifetime of A+/D all of the time? If you can’t live without those extreme highs and are willing to take the lows along with it, that’s perfectly okay. If you want the stability of being consistently happy, then you’re probably not going to get the extreme highs, and that’s okay too. But it’s very rare (perhaps even impossible) to have the wild, extreme high and have that be consistent all of the time.

  19. 20
    starthrower68

    That’s true; why marry someone you’re not in love with? See, we do things without thinking them through or being honest with ourselves and each other and later wonder how we end up in these situations.

  20. 21
    Joe

    “The light that burns brightest, burns the shortest.”

  21. 22
    Jennifer

    To Lori- Thank you for sharing your situation and I understand what you are saying. I agree with Juju that it’s not really a case of the grass is greener. You made an informed choice at the time, what many would’ve said was a smart choice, and now you have some regrets. Perfectly understandable.

    It’s easier for people who have never had fireworks to talk about how unnecessary they are but I believe what gets you through a lot of tougher times in your relatinoship when your spouse is getting on your nerves etc. is the common history of the ‘fireworks’ that you had for each other. Even if you no longer get butterflies with the same intensity you did at one time and that counts for a lot. Without that, i imagine lots of things would seem more like a chore than anything else.

    As for the questions about ‘why marry someone you don’t love’- it sounds like Lori did exactly what a lot of people advocate for people to do when choosing a relationship- someone you care about, get along with, stable, etc. Fireworks don’t last so don’t worry about them at all (If you can’t already tell, i really disagree with that last statement)

    I feel for you Lori and I don’t know what the answer to your situation is but thank you for sharing.

  22. 23
    lorihaah4

    in re post 21: “it is better to burn out than to fade away.” Neil Young

  23. 24
    lorihaah4

    thank you Jennifer – after 5 yrs of dissecting the issue, aspiring to self awareness w logical choices, there is no perfect answer. Its a choice. Ive chosen a life (truth be told) of acquiescing, w the tradeoff of stability for my children. If it makes any difference to even one young passionate reader, think carefully… forever is a really long time to love someone. To live safely, without love and passion, is.. in my experience..a life unlived. I go forward..one baby step at a time,not sad or regretful, just aware, making choices for the present, being sure i have conviction before i make any final decisions..and never ever losing hope.

  24. 25
    AJ

    I think it is good to feel the fireworks in your life and then make a decision to except less. I know fireworks fade but I agree with an earlier comment. I need to start out with fireworks but I want my fireworks to be based not just on looks but a connection. I believe these are the fireworks that can be reunited at times throughtout the relationship. Smouldering on!!!

  25. 26
    AJ

    accept less

  26. 27
    mic

    It’s not uncommon for a woman to marry a man she’s not in love with, but the increasing emphasis on looks is making it less common. Lori, are you going to explain why it happened? Is it like what the movie seems to be, where the man thinks he has a chance with a woman who clearly is ranked higher than him and tries very hard to charm her?

    By the way, for all the advantages the beautiful people have in life, higher marital satisfaction is not one of them, according to research. A contributing factor might be the scenario in which the less attractive partner treats the other as an object (maybe as a cherished object), while the objectified person feels emotionally lonely and wonders why she (or she) isn’t with someone more desirable.

  27. 28
    mic

    rather “she (or he),” though “she (or she)” is closer to the reality

  28. 29
    Ava

    A-L #19

    I’m not talking about extreme highs or lows. I’m talking about having a stable, but passionate love, not a crazy roller-coaster ride with someone who is volatile. I do have friends who have this, so I don’t think it’s impossible.

  29. 30
    lorihaah4

    Mic – i knew i was not crazy in love w/him, but loved him enough, knew he’d be a great dad, handsome etc. never felt intense chemistry, my friends think he’s great, ask jokingly if they can have him if i ever divorced. Before marriage I dated lots, had great boyfriends. At some point, I felt time was right to ‘settle down’. wanted kids & he was a good ‘choice’. I had no idea of the capacity to love/be loved at that time. If i had a magic wand, id wish to fall in love with him, rather than leave and make him sad. Ive tried everything short of the wand. Without that indescribable passion for another person that little something missing becomes a very big something.

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