Love Lessons From The Small Screen: What TV Has Taught Us About Relationships

If there’s one thing most of us can agree on when it comes to love, it’s that it’s a complex, confusing and often strange thing that can lead us down paths we never expected. The nature of a TV series allows us to watch characters pass through the many stages of a relationship over time – from falling in love to the sometimes bitter, sometimes beautiful end. From the big mistakes to the power of fate, here are a few things we’ve learned about love from the small screen.

Love is easy to overlook. How many couples missed the obvious when it was right in front of them? Joey didn’t realize Pacey was where it was at on Dawson’s Creek until she stopped mooning over Dawson. That 70’s Show’s Hyde and Jackie spent so many years hating each other that neither could believe it (nor could we) when they hooked up. Ross and Rachel may have been the focus of Friends on the love front, but it was Chandler and Monica who spent too many years missing what was between them. The lesson: keep your eyes open, love might be closer than you think.

Breaking up is hard to do, but being “on a break” is even harder. If Ross and Rachel have taught us only one truly important lesson, it’s that “on a break” doesn’t mean broken up – in that, you can’t go off and sleep with someone else. In the complex waters of romance, “taking a break” may be one of the most confusing choices a couple can make. It resulted in the end of Brenda and Dylan on Beverly Hills, 90210 when her break from him drove him right to Kelly (something many of us never forgave either of them for). The lesson: Before you do anything with someone else, be sure you’re ready to face the consequences.

Love isn’t always about romance. Plenty of TV couples have given us the eye-rolling romance side (Marshall and Lily, I’m looking at you), but many have also taught us that couples fight, take each other for granted, and that day to day life in a marriage can be downright dull. Roseanne may be the best example of a TV couple who brought to life the reality of marriage, unhappy side and all, without ever losing sight of the fact that love was always there even if it wasn’t obvious. The lesson: Love isn’t always a fairy tale, but it really will keep you together.

Keeping secrets is bad for relationships. Don Draper’s secret life on Mad Men brought his on-the-surface storybook marriage crashing down in a hurry when it was revealed. Breaking Bad’s Walter White hid a secret so huge his wife walked out when she found out. And Dexter, well, his big secret cost his wife a lot more than a divorce attorney. Of course, those are extreme examples but the lesson is clear: if you can’t be honest with the one you love, the relationship doesn’t stand a chance.

Sometimes, it’s just meant to be. Phoebe said it best on Friends when she told Ross and Rachel they were each other’s “lobster”. Sometimes, love is just meant to be, and in the end nothing could keep those two lobsters apart. The same for Sex and the City’s Carrie and Mr. Big, and Daphne and Niles on Frasier. 90210’s Donna and David, Downton Abbey’s Mary and Matthew – there are too many to name. The lesson: The path to love is not smooth, but fate will take you where you’re meant to be. A little cheesy, perhaps, but it is Valentine’s Day after all.