Dirty Dancing made me believe too much in fairytale romance.
I was 10 years old when my mother took me to the movies to see Dirty Dancing. I, like so many women, fell head over heels in love — with the movie, with the soundtrack, and most definitely with Patrick Swayze. I loved that movie so much that when I couldn't sleep at night I used to recite the movie in my head line by line.
That was the summer of 1963, when everybody called me Baby, and it didn't occur to me to mind. That was before President Kennedy was shot, before the Beatles came, when I couldn't wait to join the Peace Corps, and I thought I'd never find a guy as great as my dad. That was the summer we went to Kellerman's.
When the 20th anniversary of the film rolled around in 2007, it was finally time to admit what I had long known —Dirty Dancing ruined my love life. I'm not sure how one movie could so deeply affect me.
Maybe it was because I saw the movie when I was young and impressionable, or maybe it's just that I watched the film so often that my VHS copy actually broke in the VCR.
The lessons I learned about love in the summer of 1987 set me up for some massive disappointments later in life. Happily, as a single, thirty-something woman, I've learned not to believe the romantic myths of my youth.
1. You can't change a "bad boy."
It doesn't matter how many articles we read or quizzes we take, women always seem to fall for the bad boy. More often than not they break our hearts, except in Dirty Dancing. In this case, Johnny Castle acts tough because no one has ever really loved him.
He's had to fight for everything he has, until Baby trips into his life. She respects him and believes in him, and he pays her back by giving her the best summer of her life. Before the film is over, we find out that he's honest, loyal and a hopeless romantic.
Truth Time: This never happens. Men don't change who they are just to be with you. I know, I know, the film's message was that people are more than outside appearances, and Johnny Castle was never really a bad boy.
But this subtlety was lost on my decade-old mind. I thought that I could bring out my bad boy crushes' soft, vulnerable inner self. The truth is, your love can't change him. You know all of this and, thanks to some ex-boyfriends, I know this.
2. Men usually prefer beauty over brains.
Little sister Baby may be smart, but what she really wants is to be pretty like her big sister Lisa. Of course she's surprised that Johnny even notices her—no one ever does. Everyone wants Johnny, but in the end all he wants is Baby. He could have the rich cougar or any of the staff, but he chooses the ugly duckling and his love transforms her into a swan.
Truth Time: Um, have you ever tried online dating? Don't tell me that looks aren't important. I've actually seeing a profile that proudly announced that "If you are a fat chick or wear glasses don't bother leaving a message." It's lovely to think that love is blind, but it rarely works out that way.
3. Becoming a woman takes time ... and a decade of awkwardness.
Feeling awkward and unsure of yourself? Just sign up for the intensive dance training at Kellerman's! With each lesson your confidence will grow and your outfits will become skimpier.
Once you're self-assured and sexy, you'll be able to stand up to your overprotective parents. They'll be mad at first, but ultimately they'll respect you. More importantly they'll realize you're a woman now and they'll totally stop bothering you about your curfew.
Truth Time: Remember puberty? It was terrible. Bad skin, bad hair, growth spurts, incredibly awkward first kisses and crying at the school dance. We all went through that period where, to paraphrase the insightful Britney Spears, we weren't girls but we were not yet women.
It took time to find out how to flirt, what we liked and how to be sexy. Sometimes we had help (thank you Judy Blume's Forever) and sometimes we had to figure it out for ourselves. Even if our breasts could suddenly appear over the summer, it certainly took longer than 3 months to become a sexy, confident woman.
4. Losing your virginity is FAR from perfect.
Baby truly leads a charmed life. She's daddy's little girl, her family appears to have money, and she's going to college in the fall. Why shouldn't her luck extend to losing her virginity to a summer romance?
Baby barges into Johnny's house declaring her feelings. Naturally, Johnny finds this incredibly sexy and puts on some steamy music. They dance, they kiss, and she wakes up smiling from ear-to-ear in the morning.
Truth Time: Did this happen to anyone? Man or woman. If your first time was even remotely like the one in the movie then please leave a comment and let us know about it. For the most part, the first time you had sex was probably painful, awkward and over really quickly.
I could keep going: Opposites attract, love conquers all, your family will accept your boyfriend. Sometimes I wish I had never seen Dirty Dancing. I wish my mother had realized that the movie was way too mature for a 10-year-old. Or maybe it could have been animated, at least then I would have known that none of it was real. Instead I fell under the movie's spell and all its clichéd glory.
But that's the secret of the movie. It's the ultimate in wish fulfillment. Nothing in that movie happens in real life, but for two hours we can escape to a world where anything is possible: You can be smart and sexy. You can be tough and sensitive.
The same lies about love that messed me up as a kid provide escape for me as an adult. In that way, Dirty Dancing is just like a bad boy. No matter how imperfect it is, or how many lies it tells me, I stop flipping channels whenever I see Patrick Swayze dance across the screen. I always fall for the film.