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Unrealistic Relationship Expectations: Learning from Don Jon

Could unrealistic expectations from movies and porn hurt your love life?

In the modern age, we all grow up drowning in a sea of information. Videos, movies, books, television, and the internet all clamor for our attention. From this information, we are educated about love, sex, and relationships. Unfortunately, however, some of this romantic instruction can be biased, incomplete, or just plain wrong. As a result, many people are left with inaccurate, unrealistic sexual and relationship expectations—which lead to future relationship problems.

These media-induced, unrealistic, one-sided expectations of love are part of the theme of the new movie Don Jon. For those who have yet to see Don Jon, here is a plot summary:

Jon Martello is a strong, handsome, good old fashioned guy. His buddies call him Don Jon due to his ability to "pull" a different woman every weekend, but even the finest fling doesn't compare to the bliss he finds alone in front of the computer watching pornography. Barbara Sugarman is a bright, beautiful, good old fashioned girl. Raised on romantic Hollywood movies, she's determined to find her Prince Charming and ride off into the sunset. Wrestling with good old fashioned expectations of the opposite sex, Jon and Barbara struggle against a media culture full of false fantasies to try and find true intimacy.

Unrealistic Expectations in Don Jon

Viewers will be quick to note that Jon sexualizes women. He watches pornographic movies a great deal. He engages in numerous, casual, one-night stands with women. Yet, Jon also loves his family, stands by his friends, attends church regularly, and is generally a decent guy. So, why does he seem to prefer porn to love?

The plot of Don Jon is quick to lead us away from the easy answers of character flaws, pathology, and addiction. Jon is not "sick." Rather, he is a product of media influence. He objectifies women and expects a one-sided, superficial relationship with them because that is what society has taught him to desire. He gets lost in pornography too because it expects nothing of him in return - as opposed to real women, who seem to unrealistically demand he do all of the "work" in bed and in life. Predictably, such self-focused and selfish views make it hard for him to connect and appreciate women.

The mirror image of Jon's one-sided expectations are found in his love interest Barbara. She too is equally misguided, shallow, and selfish. Except, instead of pornography, her false fantasies are born from romantic movies. As a result, Barbara also has problems in love. She expects Don to sacrifice, work, and become the perfect man that SHE wants him to be. She demands romance, perfection, and the characteristics of the romantic hero, while giving nothing of herself in return.

In the end, they are both left dissatisfied. Don does not get the sex vixen he expects from porn, who will service him as he lounges. Barbara does not get the sacrificing romantic hero she expects from movies, while she does nothing more than demand the next task. Neither gets to have it all their own way, without doing any work.

What This Means for You

While there has been a lot of attention about how pornography negatively influences relationships (particularly for men), less attention has been paid to the negative effects of mass media like romantic movies, television shows, and books on relationships (particularly for women). Moreover, when these issues are noted, they are more likely to be blamed on the individual, rather than on the impact of inaccurate media portrayal and social influence. As a result, many individuals are not even aware that they are misguided - while those who are having difficulty may be afraid of being blamed and labeled as pathological.

Thus, the overall take-away message of Don Jon is that you may very well have a skewed perspective about sex and relationships from the constant, biased, media bombardment. Also, if you do, then it does not mean you are truly "sick" or "crazy." You have simply been misinformed and misguided, which has resulted in beliefs that will not help you find love.

So, what is the truth? Men and women are all human beings, with unique needs, wants, and desires. Relationships are about BOTH individuals working to meet the needs of the other, trading and exchanging equally, for mutual balance and satisfaction (for more, see here). Thus, as opposed to media stereotypes, women are more than "sex objects" for men's physical pleasure, and men are more than "success objects" for women's provisioning and validation.

Given that, if you are having difficulties finding or enjoying a romantic relationship, then you might benefit from checking yourself for various unrealistic expectations. For example:

  • Some men internalize an overly-sexual view of women, expecting sexual gratification without meeting a woman's needs in return.
  • In contrast, other men internalize an unrealistic "romantic" notion and come to wrongly believe that they owe women constant, one-sided, self-sacrifice to "earn" women's love.
  • Similarly, some women take on an extreme status-focused view of men, expecting they meet her every demand without satisfying them in return.
  • In contrast, other women internalize a purely sexual view of themselves, providing sexual gratification to men while disregarding their own needs.

If you find parts of your beliefs reflected in any of the "types" above, then your love life might benefit from a change. Again, love and relationships are not that one-sided. Rather, the successful and satisfying relationships are an equal exchange and a trade (again, for more see here). Therefore, rather than simply being focused on one side of the exchange, it can help to see BOTH what you want in the exchange and what you are willing to trade in return. Then, find someone willing to exchange with you. Put simply, it will take equal work on both sides...


Don Jon and Barbara exemplify common misconceptions about love and relationship. These misconceptions are the result of inaccurate, biased, and misleading social information. They can also cause difficulty in later relationships.

Fortunately, if you find yourself with such unrealistic beliefs, it is possible to see things differently. The first step is to understand that all good relationships are equal trades, where each partner's needs are addressed, rather than one-sided, selfish demands. From there, it is possible to build a more accurate perspective, with realistic expectations for yourself and others.

Then you can see media such as pornography and romantic fantasies for what they truly are...potentially entertaining, yet misleading, fiction. Real relationships, while often difficult, are much more satisfying. At least, that is true when you find a partner who works hard, trades equally, and holds realistic expectations too. So, pass the word...

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© 2013 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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