Home > Relationships > Revolutionary Road Vs. He’s Just Not That Into You

Revolutionary Road Vs. He’s Just Not That Into You


I saw both of these movies and found each one amazing. One I found amazingly insightful and hopeful, the other I found amazingly depressing and toxic – it’s probably not what you think.  Both of these movies teach excellent lessons (though I suspect it wasn’t intentional at least on the part of one of them) on what happens when we don’t live our authentic lives . . .

I loved Revolutionary Road .  This is an intense film and it certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  If I had seen this movie a couple of years ago, it would have scared me to death because at that time, I knew I wasn’t living my authentic life (though I wasn’t quite sure what that could possibly mean for me at the time).  On its surface this movie is about a young upper middle class couple settling in the suburbs and falling into a life that can best be described as what Henry David Thoreau calls  “a life of quiet desperation”.  I suspect for many, the focus of the movie is the relationship between the main characters – the focus for me were the individual choices the main characters were faced with: the well-worn path that, for them, spelled an unfulfilled life and  the road less travelled, but, authentic,  that proved to liberate them even when they were merely thinking about their new choice.   Of course, the relationship, being comprised of the two featured individuals, is severely affected by these choices.

As for He’s Just Not That Into You (HJNTIY), this movie epitomizes the well-worn path that lead people (like the main characters in Revolutionary Road in the end) into the “quiet desperation” quandry they can sometimes find themselves in.  The basic assumption of HJNTIY is that everyone (especially women) needs to find a romantic partner and get (and stay) married in order to find and/or experience happiness.  It also assumes that most women are psychotic, or at least neurotic, individuals (and the movie makes women look like gross caricatures of actual women) who justifiably spend the better part of their waking hours searching for someone who will consent to marrying them and if they are “fortunate” enough to capture a spouse, they then reallocate their time to clinging to/saving a marriage that one or both parties felt coerced into.  Yikes!

What Revolutionary Road shows us is that we decide what makes us happy.  This is fabulously illustrated when the main character’s – who at the beginning of the movie feel distraught, depressed and troubled – decide to take the road less travelled: they decide to break from the pack and leave the comforts and perceived certainty of their suburban existence to follow their passions and whatever adventures they experience in that pursuit (much to the horror and consternation of their disapproving peers).  The crucial element here is that once they made the decision to move toward their happiness, THEY became happier – nothing changed on the outside (they still lived in suburbia, the husband still worked at the job he loathed and the wife continued performing the domestic duties she hated – except, now, these things no longer bothered them).  The only difference is that they had changed their thinking: they no longer thought of themselves as trapped individuals in a helpless and hopeless situation, they now thought of themselves as the individuals capable of living a more authentic lives and that made living the life they had not only bearable, but satisfying (incidentally, this improved their relationship exponentially).  They, of course, don’t recognize the real reason for their happiness – their ability to control their thoughts and feelings (I guess they didn’t have life coaches back in the 60’s? lol) – and so were susceptible to slipping back to their old feelings of helplessness and hopelessness as their situation changed and this is exactly what happens.
The husband gets an unexpected promotion after he flippantly proposes a carelessly conceived idea to the corporate offices while in his newfound “I don’t give a shit, I’m moving to Paris, baby!” attitude (he finds this ironic) and starts getting cold feet about Paris.  He is once again seduced by the elusive promise of happiness coming from material success and its trappings – the very things he was so eager to get away from.  Then the wife gets pregnant, unexpectedly, and this increases the husband’s “evidence” for needing to stay in suburbia in a job he loathes and forfeiting their dream to move to Paris.  The wife lobbies hard to honor their Paris plans, but submits and resigns herself to staying after they have an ugly knock-down-drag-out fight.  During this fight (or was it before?) the husband says “we don’t have to move to Paris to be happy, we can be happy here.” And he’s right, BUT, unfortunately, they choose to believe their circumstances dictate their level of happiness.  It’s important to reiterate that nothing in their life had changed when they were blissfully happy for a few months, only that their thinking caused them to experience a better feeling state which then translated into a perceived better life and happiness.  The converse is true as well, nothing changes, in fact something considered positive by most people happens (the husband gets a raise and promotion), but they choose to believe that now they have chosen to abandon their dream of moving to Paris, and so they must also abandon the positive feelings that went along with the thought and anticipation of moving to Paris.  They erroneously believe their circumstances dictate their happiness, they erroneously believed it was Paris they wanted, but what they really wanted is the feeling state they created when they thought about Paris.  This movie could just as easily have ended in an authentic (not hollywood style) happily ever after instead of ending as tragically as it did.  This is what I love about the movie – the choices and their potential consequences (positive and negative) are illustrated so clearly and beautifully.
It is for this reason, by the way, why I love coaching people – I want everyone to know that we can  control our level of happiness through our thoughts and feelings. Specifically, we can control up to 40% of the happiness we experience, but we have 100% control over the thoughts and feelings that comprise that portion (I’ll blog about this 40% separately – complete with scientific data – it deserves it’s own post!) – this is fantastic news!!!
Okay, back to HJNTIY . . . this movie basically suggests that the character’s happiness is almost entirely dependent on outside circumstance and people (when really, only 10% of our happiness is attributed to external circumstances – more on that in the separate post).  In the case of the movie, the romantic partner is the external thing that is supposed to ignite the happy feelings within us.  Here’s what I know for sure: you cannot get happy from outside yourself, happy resides within us always and must be tapped before we can genuinely experience happy outside ourselves.
Even if someone thinks a person, place, situation or thing makes them happy – it’s really the thought about the person, place or thing that created the feeling state they generated for themselves.  For example,  there are auto aficionados who believe owning a (or several) vintage car makes them happy – they may cite the mechanical or aesthetic merits of the car as giving them a sense of appreciation and wonder, driving the car may trigger the feeling state of freedom or exhilaration. These feelings are not triggered in someone who knows jack about cars (like me), but the same feeling states are triggered by other things (for me, this would be dancing!).  These feelings states can also be triggered by just thinking thoughts that turn your crank (and, really, you should engage in this activity frequently!).
In a romantic relationship, some people may want to feel understood, connected and passionate.  Romantic relationships can certainly trigger these feelings, but they originate in the person feeling them. An example: We may believe a certain guy/gal makes us feel these fab feelings – for a while and then not so much after another while.  What changed?  the guy/gal?  Nope, probably your thoughts about that guy/gal.  Speaking from personal experience, I find the less I know about a charming man the more intrigued I am (the more positive thoughts I can fill in the mystery places with that cause me happy thoughts about the guy – all created by myself thanks, very much – the more fascinated I become with him) – the better I get to know him and he slowly doesn’t fit my ideal thoughts about him (so not his fault), the less interested I may become in him.  Not that he isn’t necessarily a swell guy, but my thoughts about what I expected and what actually IS mesh less and less and I lose interest.  Of course, I’m talking about a superficial initial attraction sort of thing, I do believe that we are all capable of making far deeper connections than what is on the surface, but it takes courage to be authentic enough to connect with people on a deeper level and it’s impossible to do when there is a lot of game playing and such going on – thoughts about what one person thinks another will respond to – do not create fertile grounds for authentic relationships of any kind, romantic or otherwise.
HJNTIY feeds the idea that we need to act a certain way to attract a certain someone to be in a certain relationship and, ultimately, become happy – and it’s not genuine.  There’s no acting in being genuine.  HJNTIY and movies like it (and even some well-intentioned advice-givers, i.e. friends and family) suggest silly little rules to follow like, “wait x many days to call or she’ll think you’re desperate” “don’t get too friendly with a guy on the first date or he’ll think you’re a whore” “the ultimate goal in life is to get married and then cling to your spouse as if your life depends on it” (although I did like the advice dispensed by the bartender guy, like “if he hasn’t called in month, he’s not into you”,  “don’t go out with guys who don’t like you” and, my favorite, “don’t stalk people . . .” the most useful things said in the movie!).  The truth is you either feel desperate or not, you either feel like you’re trading your body for monetary (or other) compensation or not, you either feel you need someone else to make you happy and feel complete or you realize that that is an impossible task for anyone but you to do for yourself. If whatever someone says or does gets a negative rise out of you, you probably believe it and that’s what is really causing you to suffer.  The truth is you are none of these things, but if you feel it’s true then I wholeheartedly suggest you find the thought making you feel that way and dissolve it.
One more note on HJNTIY, even though all of the married couples portrayed in the film appeared miserable with or, at best, uninterested in their spouses – the movie ends with a marriage proposal (I actually said “oh gross” aloud – it was stomach-churning, really) and shows couple hook-ups as it fades out with a “mission accomplished” swagger.  And I’m thinking, to what end?  This formula clearly bred the unhappy couples already portrayed in the movie.   Apparently, this incongruity in logic was lost on the group of girls sitting behind me who were moved to tears when Jennifer Aniston’s character found the jewel box/holy grail hiding in the pocket of Ben Affleck’s cargo pants .  Or maybe they were just experiencing the same nauseated feelings I was . . .

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  1. May 14, 2009 at 11:17 pm

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