Here’s to the Fools Who Dream: Why I No Longer Hate the Ending of La La Land

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These days I try to avoid Liverpool’s docks. It’s a shame because they’re a beautiful part of a city that’s very dear to me. But that’s what happens when you go through a breakup. In the words of Carrie Bradshaw, “After a break-up, certain streets, locations, even times of day are off-limits. The city becomes a deserted battlefield, loaded with emotional landmines.” The docks are my deserted battlefield. They weren’t just a place where my ex and I hung out. They were the microcosm for our relationship. The docks offered the best view of the glittering skyline mapped out across the water, a skyline that became symbolic of all the prospects ahead of us. He worked there, he lived within a stone’s throw, it became a place we’d go when we wanted seclusion or had important things to discuss. It was a cinematic backdrop for a romantic premise. 

He was a lover of Frank Sinatra, of jazz, of old movies. He drank straight whiskey over ice and wrote me letters. Life became a sweeping tidal wave of romance fit for a movie. If it really was a film, then the docks would be symbolic of something predictable, like the concept that ships can only anchor there for a time before they’re cast out on turbulent seas. It was idyllic, and anything too idyllic is always partnered with pain, because you have this suppressed feeling that it just can’t last.

His favourite film at that time was La La Land (he even learned how to play "City of Stars" on the piano for me - I know, I was doomed!) and this prompted many discussions about the ending. He thought the ending was fantastic because it was realistic. I hated it. It broke my heart every time. I couldn’t understand why Mia didn't do the romantic thing and run away from her married life to elope with Seb. In the wake of my break up, I’ve come to analyze my feelings about this.  

This is a daunting article to write because it involves admitting something that I’ve denied to myself, never mind others, for a long time. However, while reading Bell Hooks' All About Love: New Visions, her reflections on love and the understanding of self resonated with me. “Creating a false self to mask fears and insecurities has become so common that many of us forget who we are and what we feel underneath the pretense.” So this is my feeble attempt to try and tear that mask away.

I have a phobia of rejection. Of course, every person does to an extent, but I have this fear embedded in me so deep that within a couple of weeks of dating someone, I can see that person walking away from me. I push the feeling to the side, of course, because I’m scared of being seen as clingy or needy. But I can’t help it. Every new relationship starts to feel like a trickling sand timer, counting down to the moment when my partner realizes there’s someone much better out there. 

  Growing up, confidence was never an issue for me. I would actively reject fads and listen to my own intuition. Instead of following the crowd, I developed bare-faced individuality, confidence, and trust in myself, until it came to the question of attractiveness. Being attractive had never occurred to this Dr-Marten-clad lover of punk music and Victorian literature, but as soon as dating became a reality, I felt cast adrift. I never really questioned why that was. Now, as soon as I catch feelings I lose my bearings and don’t know who I am or what I’m doing. I start to scroll through social media, comparing myself to other girls. My palms start to sweat. I feel prickles on my skin. I can’t think about things with clarity. I wake up every morning with a tight chest. That strong, unimpressionable woman that my spirited, single, teenage mother raised no longer knows her strength. 

For years I refused to acknowledge that I had a problem with rejection because I knew that if I did, it would stem from issues with my father and I didn't want him to have any ownership over my life. But when I piece it all together, it makes sense. My biological father was never there for me as a kid, but it never really bothered me. I've always relished in the fact that I was raised by a strong, single mother. This is a woman who juggled three jobs to support me, skipped meals to feed me, transformed a house that was rotting and had no central heating into a cozy home through the use of imagination, books and watered-down poster paint. She introduced me to Lauryn Hill, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, all headstrong, soulful women who'd marked their own in the world. When she later got with my step-dad, I, aged seven, hand wrote him an adoption certificate in Crayola and he became my Dad in every sense except biology.

But then he left. Father to my three younger sisters, he walked out on them when I was 17 and showed no interest in my sisters again. The concept of men walking away and looking back on their parental role as a happily discarded chore suddenly felt like a cycle. My little sisters became me as a child and my Mum became me in the future. Abandonment was no longer just a possibility. It became, in my eyes, the truth. I wouldn't admit that to myself, of course. That way of thinking made me a victim in my eyes. I was part of a family of strong, bright females. The boy question shouldn't even be a question. My dating history, however, speaks for itself: a short trail of men who treated me like crap, because somewhere deep down I didn't feel worthy of better. 

As a feminist, I always felt embarrassed that relationships and the pressure to be attractive held such weight for me. Surely a strong woman would be too busy being independent to care about all that? Surely, I should be focusing on my education and my career? I'd study the collage of women that bedeck my wall and catch the look of disapproval from Maya Angelou, the head-shakes from Frida Kahlo and Gloria Steinem. I’d think, ‘how far would they have gotten if they'd been worried about what men thought of them?’ 

But what does being a strong woman mean? It means accepting our vulnerabilities. It means identifying our shadows so that they don't overcome us. I’d decided that having no father figure hadn’t affected me at all, because I had strong female role models in my life to counterbalance. However, my internalized phobia of rejection shows otherwise. 

  It makes sense that I have a need for a romantically fulfilling finale. But, surely, I’m not alone. We are a society inundated by images of romantic fulfillment, of movies with happy endings more perfectly tied up than a big red bow. There’s nothing distinctly wrong with a soppy ending. They make you feel all fuzzy inside. But after years of watching these endings, don’t you start to think they’re normal and expected and that they should be happening to you? What if it doesn't all roll out that way, what then? And furthermore, who are the people that these happy endings always happen to?

Romantic movies have always sparked a longing in me for something whimsical to occur in my own life. However, unlike in the movies where fate is the answer to lasting love, I’ve developed a growing realization that I'm not the type of person these things happen to. I'm not the golden girl. I’m not Emma Stone. I can't dance, I can’t sing and I don’t look cute in yellow. I can barely walk in heels. In short, I’m not the star of the show. When I’m goofy, it’s not endearing, it’s embarrassing and I don’t have a witty line for every advance from a cigar-chewing, suited-and-spatted charmer. I'd probably just laugh in his face and run away. 

But perhaps cynicism itself is what destroys things. To return to the incredible Bell Hooks, "Cynicism is the greatest barrier to love. It is rooted in doubt and despair. Fear intensifies our doubt. It paralyzes. Faith and hope allow us to let fear go. Fear stands in the way of love. Perfect love casts out fear." To lose hope of the possibility of the romantically fulfilling ending isn't the answer. The answer is to not buy into the form in which love is presented in the romantic movie. And also, to accept a truth that’s harder to swallow: the truth that love, in the form of a conventional relationship at least, doesn't always last forever. The happily part is fine. It's the ever-after that causes issues. 

Bell Hooks explores the differences between what she calls a heart connection and a soul connection. "We are all continually attracted to folks whom we know, given half a chance, we could love in a heartbeat". This she calls heart love, when two people are drawn to each other and have that surface-level connection, when they love the idea of each other. Soul connection, however, is different. In Hooks’ mind, it is when you see the other person for who they are deep beneath any superficial facade (or romantic gestures). Because of your desire to see them grow more into that true self, you support them and nurture them to thrive - even if this means that they will not be in a committed relationship with you. This she argues is true love, the type of love that Seb and Mia have for each other in La La Land. They never cease to love each other. But in order to let the other one pursue their dreams to the utmost potential, they go their separate ways. Could this be the ultimate rebellion against the Hollywood ending? 

The ending still breaks my heart. I haven't grown enough to be okay with it and I'm not sure I ever will. But learning to look at it from a different, more level-headed perspective has given me a fresh outlook on love itself. In order to reach my full potential, I'm certain that I needed to go through rejection and a broken heart and come out the other endwise enough to say, ‘I've done that now and it was bad, but I managed it.’ I now understand love more as a revolutionary act than a two-dimensional concept pushed by the media. Love is about giving others the space and acceptance to be their true selves around you. It's also about learning to let yourself be honest, regardless of whether you are accepted or rejected for it. Flowers, love letters and serenades are of secondary importance to this, a mere accessory, nice but not the central piece. “To choose growth is to embrace a love that heals."  I have grown and as a result, I choose to love fiercely my family, my friends, my future lover(s)- and most importantly MYSELF! 

And I know that my woman wall will be smiling at me in appreciation because every act of strength or courage they have ever performed has been born from a root of revolutionary love. So here's to the fools who dream. Keep dreaming, but this time dream about yourself, about what you can achieve and most importantly, how you can make people feel. Then love - perhaps many types of love, each with their own lesson- will occur of its own accord and when it does, there will be no need to feel afraid. 

By: Kaya Purchase
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