The movie “Knocked Up”: How realistic and how recommended is this relationship?

No surprise that the 2007 movie “Knocked Up” is a hit. The women of Generations X and Y especially recognize this increasingly familiar kind of relationship—the educated, successful and professional woman who chooses a slacker (a relatively recent male type.)

In the movie, Katherine Heigl plays Alison, the professionally restless television interviewer, who finds herself knocked up from a fuzzy-headed one-night stand with Seth Rogen’s character Ben. Her career ambitions more than make up for the lack in Ben’s. As David Denby points out in his fine article, “A Fine Romance” in July 07 “The New Yorker Magazine,” Ben belongs in the club of delayed men, searching for an easy path to adulthood—but not searching too hard. Boys’ bonding is just too much fun.

Ben is a little chubby, not handsome in a “GQ Magazine” way and certainly not smooth in a rich and important man about town way. He is naïve, crude and relationship-impaired. Now this lack of sophistication has not hurt the male romantic lead in past movies. Think of Jimmy Stewart’s charm as a social and political innocent, Billy Crystal’s long road to emotional maturity in “When Harry Met Sally,” Nicholas Cage’s mommy-obsessed and marriage-traumatized character in the movie “Honeymoon in Vegas” or Vince Vaughn’s relationship-avoider in “The Wedding Crashers.”

The difference between the male characters above and Seth Rogen’s Ben is that these men all “had something on the ball.” Character-wise, they were not all-out losers. Instead, they were the innocents, the socially and materially unaffected ones or the diamonds in the rough who nonetheless had already chosen to join society by claiming the adult tasks of careers and/or the possibility of love. But “Knocked Up’s” Ben has not yet applied for membership in adulthood.

Usually, in romantic comedies, each partner helps the other meet in the middle. Famously, Katherine Hepburn helps Spencer Tracy smooth out his edges, and he helps her put down her shoulders, airs and guard. In “The Family Stone,” Luke Wilson’s uninhibited character is able to loosen the muscles of Sarah Jessica Parker’s uptight character and help her “freak flag fly.”

Eventually, in “Knocked Up,” after Heigl’s Alison decides to keep the baby, Rogen’s Ben matures enough to be considered at least entry level relationship and work material. He may not fully ever break from boyhood, and he may never risk serious career ambitions, but he is willing, in his own way, of at least adding a woman and work to his life.

But wait a minute—entry level? Is that really good enough for women today—especially the women of Generations and X and Y? What’s wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong is taking the movie as a support and role model for today’s strong women to pass over the capable and successful man in favor of—yes, a slacker. And what is the appeal of the slacker? It’s simple—his charm lies in his ability to let today’s woman remain in charge.

In my current research for my next book on strong, no-nonsense women and their love problems, I found that many of these women, in an attempt to prevent getting hurt, choose men whom they can control. Many of these women find themselves drawn to men who seem to have easy-going natures, non-competitiveness, low career goals—yet are sweet, cuddly, warm and boyishly fun.

Historically, in the arts, the “He-She” male has always been a desirable love partner for women. Jimmy Stewart, Billy Crystal, Nicholas Cage, John Cusack and the Wilson brothers are appealing because they offer kindness, sensitivity and a social defiance that many of today’s strong, able and successful women don’t dare to embrace. It’s no wonder that the “He-She” looks of film stars such as James Dean or Brad Pitt captivate audiences. After all, it’s the tenor who gets the girl in operas—not the bass or the baritone.

But Rogen’s Ben is a newer type of “He-She.” He, well, he seems to be at the end of the line in what these kind of men have traditionally offered. And just what’s wrong with slacker as leading man? Doesn’t he have the power, just like the others, to pull the harder-edged woman closer to the middle?

Not exactly. He does have the power, however, to fool many of today’s no-nonsense women into thinking that this choice of man will guarantee that he is not the kind of man who would hurt or abandon them.

And why would so many of today’s women of Generations X and Y choose this kind of man? The secret is in their past. These women are the product of parents with the highest divorce rate in history. Other researchers have shown that the fall-out from divorce often leaves these women overly fearful of abandonment, betrayal and hurt.

These women also belong to the most professionally educated and successful generation of women. They not only can afford to “bring home the bacon” and “rule the roost,” they seem to want to have this power. Choosing a less powerful and lovable slacker seems to allow them to maintain that sense of control that they over-value.

But, as my research has shown, these relationships backfire. They create the very things that these women hoped to avoid—being abandoned, disappointed and hurt. Why? Their relationship happiness with these men teaches them that control is not the way to happiness. These men disappoint because they are not the co-equal partners that these women often unknowingly want. Even worse, in an attempt to never choose a disappointing slacker again, many of these women “over-correct” and find themselves choosing a career-oriented, financial winner--who is also cruel.

So, if you are one of today’s no-nonsense women, watch the movie as fun, as a departure from more appropriate romantic choices, but don’t take even a grain of its salt as a guide to love.

*** For Women Only: If you would like to be part of Dr. Wish’s research for her next book on women’s love relationships and get one hour of FREE counseling, go to her website and click in the Research box in the upper right and take the online research survey. Be sure to include you contact information and the word SELFGROWTH so that Dr. Wish can contact you.

Author's Bio: 

LeslieBeth Wish is a Psychologist, Clinical Social Worker and author who is nationally recognized for her contributions to women, love, relationships, family, career, workplace, and organizations.

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