Learning how to live happily ever after

Posted 6 October 2022

Amanda Edwards, CEO of Explore, examines the influence the media has on young people's perception of relationships.

A rare trip to the cinema to catch Jennifer Lopez’s latest rom-com, Marry Me, made me think about how the media portrays relationships. We know it’s all made-up, and any real-life relationship doesn’t have a destination. Or do we? 

Marry Me is a light-hearted film which sees Lopez’s international pop star character marrying a random stranger from the audience at one of her concerts. The twist… she’s just discovered her groom, whom she was due to marry live on stage, was having an affair. Heart-warmingly though perhaps predictably, the two now married strangers fall in love and have their happily ever after. 

I often reflect on how the media influence how young people view relationships. We have been contending with this for many years at Explore, and increasingly so with the rapid growth of reality television and social media. 

Relationships depicted in the media seem to be at two extremes. Either fairy tale romances that are completely unattainable for most of us (think Prince Harry and Meghan marrying at stunning Windsor Castle), or relationships rarely reaching more than a day or two (think Love Island). 

Young people sat in a circle in a classroom, taking part in an Explore session.

Explore sessions with young people

After every Explore session, we ask young people whether they feel the relationships they see on social media, television, or media are a true reflection of genuine relationships. In the last academic year, 94.7% [1] said no. Conversely, when asked whether they feel most people can have a happy and healthy long-term relationship or marriage, 89% said yes. 

Young people do feel positive about relationships but don’t necessarily know what good looks like. 

So, does it matter how relationships are depicted in the media? 

The fact that young people tell us their most significant takeaway from our sessions is that couples can face challenges yet stay together [1] is a bit of a clue that it does matter. 

Polling by relationship charity Fastn found that nearly two-thirds [2] of young people felt the media influences their peers’ expectations of relationships. 

Getting to a healthy and dependable place in your relationship takes a lot of time, and you often don’t see that in how relationships are represented in the media

Huma from Bradford, a member of a follow up roundtable run by Fastn and Media Trust [3]

Jennifer Lopez picks a stranger out of the audience, marries him and then falls in love in a back-to-front way. I guess this is possible for some but for most of us, working at our relationships every day, consistently putting in time and effort, figuring out how to communicate with each other, even when we disagree, setting healthy boundaries, and experiencing joy together, is the reality – and this is what we need the media to represent more. 

Indeed, the guidance that came out of the Fastn and Media Trust roundtable showed that young people want the media to: 

  1. Show relationships’ ups and downs 
  2. Platform platonic relationships 
  3. Amplify positive and relatable relationship role models 
  4. Celebrate differences and combat stereotypes in relationships 
  5. Let young people tell their own stories 
  6. Show relationships at different life stages 

Unhealthy relationships exist. Not all relationships work out. Couples do argue and are unable to move forward together. But we need our media to represent a more balanced view and help young people see what genuine relationships are like. 

ext reads: - Show both the ups and downs - Platform platonic relationships - Amplify positive and relatable role models - Celebrate difference and combat stereotypes - Let young people tell their own stories - Show how relationships take time to build and matter at different life stages (All points have a matching cartoon) Young people's challenges to the media: help us form and sustain healthy dependable relationships The Media Trust and Fastn logos are in the bottom right corner

Reframing Relationships guide

Explore is a relationships education charity with 22 years of experience facilitating student-led healthy relationships sessions in schools, youth organisations and with alternative learning settings. Amanda Edwards joined Explore in the summer of 2019 as Chief Executive following several years as Chief Operating Officer at the mentoring charity Mowgli. Amanda experienced family separation (both through bereavement and divorce) in childhood and believes passionately in providing young people with the opportunity to consider why relationships matter to our health, wellbeing and happiness, and what it takes to sustain healthy, positive relationships. 

Explore partners with Family Links, a charity dedicated to the promotion of emotional health for all. Alongside 17 other organisations, they developed The Principles of excellence in relationships education, a tool for schools to embed healthy relationships in their settings. 


[1] 2,125 respondents to the Explore “after your session” survey during the 2021-22 academic year 

[2] Fastn/Survation polling of 1024 young people 16-25 years old, September 2021 

[3] Reframing Relationships: How the media can support young people to form and sustain healthy and dependable relationships 

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