So after having two separate discussions about two different elements in pop culture (and with two different people), where I made the same argument, I decided it might be a good idea to address it here. Yesterday, in my "Who Did It Better?" column, I wrote that I was giving the edge to Brave for not having its main character of Merida settle with some guy at the end of it. That came out sounding harsher than perhaps I planned without going in-depth into the story. It seems a number of you thought what I was saying was that I considered settling just partnering up with someone, but that is not what I intended at all (though I do see why it comes across that way).
I still don't want to spoil too much of either Brave or The Hunger Games, but I'll say this: I am anti Peeta and Katniss as a couple. I believe that he may have really loved her (or at least had a deep crush on her), but I don't think she really loves him. I think being with him was something she ended up having to do because of the situation in the games and the show they ended up putting on for the cameras, and let's face it, a little bit of guilt over what he goes through after the games. They now have to live with that as a reality, but I hold true that it's not something she really wanted, just something she got used to over time. She leaned on him, sure, but that does not equate true love. At the end of the third book, she gives in to something that he wanted but that was something she always specifically said she never wanted. We aren't given a real glimpse as to the life they may have together that would explain or justify a genuine changing of her mind, so it just seems like she is giving in to what he wants. And that is what I am anti; that is what I am against; that is the mixed message I think a character who can be so strong in so many ways but still submissive or deferring to the man gives off. It's a subtle way to swipe at young girls' self-esteem, showing off that it's still better to be with someone (anyone, apparently!) than on their own.
You can absolutely fall in love. You should try to fall in love; the key to life is finding relationships that matter. But you should actually fall in love with someone and not just stay or attach initially because it seems like you may never find what or who you really want. Settling is the act of not going for what you really want, in many parts, because you feel you are not truly worthy of it or for other reasons think you will not receive it.
I haven't seen Brave in full; I don't know how it ends. I don't know if Merida ends up with someone at the end of it. I almost imagine she must because it's still a Disney fairytale, and those heroines always live "happily ever after" with their princes. But the three suitors we see selected for her are very clearly not right for her, and to "have" to pick one of them because tradition or your situation dictates it is an extremely arcane idea.
I have felt this way about characters in pop culture for years, and what spurred this response was actually the fact that I was having this debate with someone just yesterday about another show-- Veronica Mars. I said that I was never a fan of Logan Echolls; he never really wore me down, so to speak, the way he won over Veronica. I was asked, then, who did I want her with, and I said no one-- no one that the show presented. First of all, it was a time in her life where she was still finding out who she was and what she wanted, and though she seemed so mature, and she could handle herself in many aspects of the quote-unquote adult world, relationships are much more complex. I didn't think she had met the person she was meant to be with. I understand the need to "ship" and to want to see a relationship unfold on-screen; I subscribe to it in many shows myself, and in truth I think Veronica and Logan had to be a couple for awhile. I just didn't think he (or Duncan or anyone she dated) was someone she was meant to be with or should be with forever. They were early relationships in her life; they were puppy love, high school crushes that had their time and place, but I like to imagine now she has learned from each of them and moved on and is actually with someone who is right for her, not just because he seems the best option at the time.
I have felt this way about other characters throughout time as television has unfolded, including Rory Gilmore from Gilmore Girls. Though I though Jess was the best match out of the three choices the show presented-- Dean, Jess, and Logan-- I respected the show for taking us on those relationship journeys with her as she explored and matured and found her way. They were each guys she had to "experience," so to speak to help shape her; they were right for certain stages in her life; but they were not soulmates. Jess and Rory were the most alike, right down to the brilliance when it came to literature and other education aspects but the immaturity when it came to love. But sometimes you do need someone who is unlike you to push you and to inspire you to do better and to be better.
And let's face it: in all of these examples, these girls are kids. Yes, in some of them they are living in different times and different worlds, but they are still so young, and part of my biggest objection is the fact that we feel the need to pair them up, and so permanently, at all at that age!
This is an on-going debate. It's something I don't know that I can adequately express on a blog because here it is just me trying to make sense of the mess in my own head, and perhaps this is better served as a dialogue with a back-and-forth and multiple opinions being aired. Perhaps this is fodder for a VODcast down the road. We'll have to see where this crazy career takes me!