Editor's note: Amelia McDonell-Parry is the founding editor of TheFrisky.com. Before founding The Frisky, Parry wrote for a number of pop culture magazines, including Teen Vogue, Marie Claire U.K., and Rolling Stone.
I have "Days of Our Lives"' Bo Brady to thank for my weakness for beards and "General Hospital’s” Sonny Corinthos for my soft spot for bad boys.
But I have soap operas as a whole to thank for over a decade's worth of ridiculously unrealistic beliefs and expectations about relationships. Among them: If you save a man's life (via blood transfusion, for example) or save him from himself (by inspiring him to give up drinking, drugs, the mafia, and any or all other evils), a part of him will love you forever. (That it's even possible to save a man from himself is another one.) The more passionate your fights, the more passionate your love. (But when you just can't get him to listen, do something extreme, like chop all your hair off with a pair of scissors, and the fight will seem silly in comparison.) If he acts like he doesn't want you, it's only because he is scared of his feelings.
One of my very first memories is from a soap opera. Luke Spencer and Laura Webber got married on "General Hospital" on November 16, 1981. It was my second birthday and I was watching it with my grandmother. It was a lovely and exciting ceremony.
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Soaps got their hooks into me early and I began watching them regularly -- most loyally "Days of Our Lives" and "General Hospital" -- at the tender age of 13, when I was just really starting to notice and like boys. But the frequency with which I recorded episodes on our VCR (daily) was matched by the sprouting of teenage acne on my face. Then my eyes worsened and my crooked teeth caught the eye of my dentist, so that first year of puberty came with glasses, braces, and horrific self-esteem. Though I was interested in boys and what it must be like to be in love, I felt shy, ugly, and unworthy of such things, so I explored those curiosities via the sexy, passionate, over-the-top love stories on my soaps. I became so dedicated a fan to one fictional couple in particular -- Sonny and Brenda on "General Hospital" -- that I not only had two letters published in soap opera magazines vehemently defending them (against the tyranny of lesser romantic pairings), but I was a founding member of their largest Internet fan group.
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I was so busy with this early version of Internet activism that I didn't have my first real boyfriend until after I graduated from college. I've often wondered if being a late bloomer is due in part to the expectations set for me by the soap opera super-couples I obsessed over. After all, this is what I expected a real relationship to be like after immersing myself in soap operas for all those years:
1. The second you meet, it'll be fireworks. In fact, it'll be fireworks all the time! All of my early potential dating scenarios lacked that initial spark I assumed should occur the second we locked eyes. If a guy was worth my time, I thought, I would know because there would be a feeling in my gut that wouldn't go away, like when Sonny met Brenda on the docks and they couldn't stop thinking about each other. Also, relationships never got stale and routine in Lanview or Port Charles or Salem. If a man didn't make you want to tear your hair out and clothes off all the time, it wasn't love.
2. Unless, of course, one or both of you is resisting the love you’re destined to share. Okay, so what about those times when I felt a spark but the object of my affection didn't reciprocate? (This happened often, by the way.) Well, soap characters often found themselves falling in love with someone they least expected and/or fighting their feelings until they couldn't resist anymore. While to this day I have yet to meet a man who "fought" his feelings for me, my first -- and most serious -- relationship to date was with someone I wouldn't have expected myself to fall for. In those moments when I questioned whether we were right for each other -- and, spoiler alert, we weren't --you'd better believe I reminded myself of just how perfect oddly-matched couples like, oh, "General Hospital’s” Lois and Ned, or "All My Children’s” Hayley and Mateo, or "Days of Our Lives’” Bo and Billie were in their heydays.
3. All that matters is how he is with you. Soap operas are chock full of bad boy characters, 90% of whom have marshmallow cores that only the most special woman can unearth. And there is nothing more rewarding than being the special woman who gives a bad boy the courage to not be a complete sociopath about 10% of the time. For example, around Brenda, Sonny was so much more than a strip club owning mobster with rage issues. And sure, "One Life to Live’s” Todd Manning could have been remembered for raping Marty Saybrooke, but in Blair Cramer's eyes, he could be anything he wanted to be! These men didn't have to do anything to atone for their sins -- they didn't even have to stop sinning! -- except be big ole softies with the women sharing their beds. The lesson: Who he was with you was worth more than who he was with everyone else.
4. All bad boys have a sob story to blame for the way they act and the shortcut to Special Woman Status lies in being understanding and helping him get over it. (You'll know you've been successful when he gives you a 10 second glimpse of that marshmallow center.) For example, Sonny's exhaustive sob story included 1) a dad who abandoned him, 2) a mom who died when he was young, 3) an abusive step-father, and 4) panic attacks brought on by claustrophobic spaces like jails (which is why it's inconvenient he's a career criminal). In my years as an active member in that Sonny and Brenda Internet fan group, the hallmark of my defense of their relationship was that Brenda was the only one who could calm Sonny when he was freaking out in tightly enclosed spaces (like that time she had sex with him in the cave they were trapped in!) and/or raging at the world for being abused as a kid. Which brings me to…
5. Love = Need! Thanks to the wonderful examples being set on my TV, I firmly believed that the only relationship worth having was one in which I was needed. Whether they were "bad boys" or not, I quickly identified the primary "issue" faced by each dude I dated or was interested in, and intended, through my loving support, to help him release his demons so he could flourish into the healthy, happy man he was meant to be. I never got far enough with any of them to find out what would happen when he didn't need me anymore.
It's been years since I was a regular viewer of any daytime soaps, though I occasionally check in with Sonny to see how he's doing (still avoiding jail time!), and have long stopped fighting my weakness for men with Bo Brady beards. Through experiencing a real life relationship of my very own, I learned a lot about what I want and need in a partnership -- and very little of it can be found in the soap opera love stories I spent years idealizing (and most of the fantasies I had about love have gone the way of the soap opera genre itself -- nearly obsolete). Occasionally, I kind of wish I could get that psyched about a work of fiction again, but everyone has to grow up, I guess. Sonny and Brenda have moved on. And now I have too.