Fictional first crushes and literary love stories
Does life imitate art? We investigate how literary love stories and fictional first crushes influence our real-life love stories
You never forget your first love – even if it’s fictional! Whether you fell for the Pink Power Ranger or found the Thunderbirds’ Scott swoon-worthy, our first crushes can shape our romantic expectations well into adulthood. The lasting impressions they leave can be positive and negative. Are we destined to always be attracted to bad boys if Danny Zuko is our childhood crush? Do we expect our partners to be helpless damsels-in-distress if we grew up staring at Snow White?
With a recent study by the experts at eharmony, we set out to identify the fictional first crushes that have had the greatest impact on Brits. The findings revealed that the objects of our affection are not always the healthiest choices.
Tortured heroes and damsels-in-distress
Pride and Prejudice’s Mr Darcy took the top spot as women’s most popular fictional first crush, closely followed by Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights) and Christian Grey (50 Shades of Grey). In contrast, men chose Princess Leia as their top pick, alongside Cinderella and Snow White.
While no-one would dispute that Colin Firth emerging from a lake was anything other than irresistible, women’s choice of first crush tends to be emotionally unavailable. Heathcliff and Christian Grey in particular, are wounded men who are more likely to brood than be open about their emotions. Fiction teaches us that these men are worthy romantic heroes, that their unpredictable temperaments and sometimes violent characters make them passionate. It’s not implausible to draw connections between these fictional first crushes and women pursuing emotionally distant men in adulthood.
Men, on the other hand, are drawn to quintessentially feminine characters. Both Cinderella and Snow White are classic Disney Princesses, victims of other women (seen as less feminine due to their pursuit of power) and comfortable in the domestic sphere. While Princess Leia has more agency, she is still often fetishised for her gold bikini while enslaved by Jabba the Hutt.
Fairy tale influences
When you consider the great literary romances, it’s little wonder that many of us grow up with an unrealistic view of love. Romeo and Juliet were deemed the most influential romantic couple in our study. Theirs was a relationship that Shakespeare described as ‘star-cross’d lovers’. We are told that, despite all the obstacles in their way, the lovers are destined to be together.
Objectively, we can see that Romeo and Juliet are flawed. Romeo is on the rebound from Rosaline, Juliet is protesting her parents and the marriage they envisage for her. These are teenagers rebelling, not pre-destined soulmates. And, let’s not forget, the story has a tragic end.
It’s a similar story with other ‘fairy tale’ couples. Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett – regarded as the second most influential couple in our study – are united by money and circumstance as much as love. Cathy and Heathcliff have a dysfunctional, passion-fuelled relationship with dangerously controlling behaviour on both sides. And would Beauty and the Beast have found love if the Beast hadn’t kidnapped her, separated her from her friends and family, and forced her to keep him company?
Suddenly, fairy tale romances don’t look so romantic after all. In fact, a third of Brits agree that fairy tales are in dire need of a modern update and a quarter believe they’re intrinsically sexist.
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