The Truth about Romance and Relationships – Hollywood vs. Reality

Brandon Sanderson is one of the giants of the fantasy world. When the author Robert Jordan was diagnosed with a terminal illness, it was Sanderson who was tapped to complete the epic 15-book Wheel of Time series. This in part because he had already completed an epic series of his own, along with many other great shorter works, and he has since continued writing prolifically. In everything from great epics to short novellas and series for teens, his worlds are fascinating, his characters are deep, and his plots are by turns thought provoking and moving. He also teaches a class on writing at Brigham Young University which is available online in multiple iterations across the years and is, quite simply, fantastic.

Why am I talking about this?

We live in a time in which many of our views or models of romance are based more on Hollywood than on reality. Stories like those Sanderson writes often shape our visions of romance more than we realize. We absorb so many message from pop culture about how relationships should work or what romance is like, and then we measure our lives against these messages.

These stories are not real though. While enjoyable to read, it is important for us to counter the false messages we receive from them in our own thinking. An accurate understanding of the reality is important if we are to have a chance of finding the kind of relationship we really want.

In one class in his course, Sanderson has a discussion about romance that struck me as deeply relevant and useful for this. It is a succinct summary of the difference between the “hollywoodification” of romance and the reality. I read it with a deep sense of relief, and I’ve thought back to many times.

Here is a lightly edited transcript of the most relevant sections:

Romance in reality vs. Hollywood

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Student Question: “What’s the difference between a childish romance vs. a more adult romance?”


A lot of people who are reading for a romantic subplot are not reading for a realistic romance.

Twilight is an example of a very realistic teenage romance. This is how teenagers really do approach romance; everything is the most passionate that has ever existed in the history of mankind…

She wrote Bella like a real teenager. And then the tone of the story is that “this is actually true love”, and that’s where it actually becomes a fantasy… They’re taking the idealized sense of “love at first site, eternal, soulmates, made for each other, that see each other and are passionately, ravenously love in each other, like teenagers” and making that a real basis for a solid relationship.

That is one of the big tropes of the romance genre.

What distinguishes a teen romance? … it’s Romeo and Juliet. If Romeo and Juliet had lived they would have broken up in three or four weeks. That’s what the show doesn’t talk about…That’s how it goes.

What’s a real romance like?

Real romances involve a lot of trying to guess what the other person’s thinking and being wrong. They involve a lot of doing dumb things for what you think are good reasons but really aren’t. They involve a lot of fumbling…

Real romances are more like:

Huh, I could probably go out with her.

Yeah, this is alright.

hmm, maybe she's not interested.

Maybe I'm not interested!


Okay, we'll go out again.

Yeah, I'm interested.

I'm really interested!

Oh, but am I coming on too strong?

Oh, is she coming on too strong?

That’s how it is. We joke about women overthinking things, but men do it too.

Brandon Sanderson BYU Writing Course Lecture 11: Realism vs Hollywoodification

When I first encountered this, I experienced it as a tremendous relief. One of literary giants of our age describing how unrealistic his stories are, and sharing a vision of the reality that looks a lot like my own fumblings in life. That section at the end in particular is such a pleasure to hear.

And it’s one I find worth coming back to now and then. The messaging of pop culture never pauses, and when I get caught up in measuring myself against it, this discussion is a wonderful bulwark against the glittering world of Hollywood.

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