Soap operas are my big guilty pleasure. Yes, the acting is melodramatic and the storylines are sometimes so over the top they make the plot twists on Lost look logical, but still, there’s a lot you can learn from these daytime dramas. Whether it’s General Hospital, Days of Our Lives, As the World Turns, or One Life to Live, I find them absolutely addictive because they reflect (and magnify) our own real-life relationship dramas so perfectly. I record my favorite—All My Children—every day and watch it in the evening after I get home from work. Even my husband has (reluctantly) gotten sucked in, sheepishly asking about the doings of one character or another. And why not? They’ve got it all—looks, wealth, power, romance. And yet, no one in real life could ever be as miserable as these folks.
What have these fictional characters taught me? Well, there are several secrets to relationship happiness I’ve gleaned from watching daytime TV dramas. Check them out …
1. Don’t Keep Secrets
It’s never a good idea to withhold information from your loved ones, even with the purest of motives. As we see in soaps, people often think they’re doing someone else a favor by going it alone, or protecting them from unpleasant truths, but it always blows up in their faces. In real life, secrets isolate us, make us miserable, and sometimes ruin relationships completely. Besides, isn’t it more respectful to allow your loved one to decide what to do with the facts, rather than taking away their power?
2. It’s OK to Take a Chance on Love
One trait soap characters have that I really admire is an almost infinite capacity to fall in love, and to risk everything to keep that love. It may seem reckless, but what’s really nice about this attitude is the emphasis on feeling something as you go through life, not simply plodding along. After all, love is the foundation of all human kindness, perhaps the greatest purpose of our lives. Why not live passionately when there’s so much happiness potentially waiting in the wings?
3. Respect Others’ Personal Boundaries
With nearly every episode, I marvel at how little respect for personal space exists in the soap opera landscape. Just recently, I watched with disbelief as a standoff unfolded between two lovers (Ryan Lavery and Greenlee Smythe), Ryan begging Greenlee to listen to his impassioned pleas, while Greenlee demanded he get out and leave her alone—to no avail. He. Simply. Would. Not. Leave. (In fact, he drugged and kidnapped her, then took her to a “romantic hideaway” where he could spend more time convincing her of his love.) In real life, if we don’t like what our loved ones tell us, there comes a time when we need to accept their wishes and not keep pushing until they give us what we want. Otherwise, it’s time for a restraining order.
4. Don’t Make the Same Mistake Twice (or Ten Times)
Ever notice how soap characters continually get stuck in the same rut? It’s so frustrating, I sometimes want to yell at the TV, “Wait! Don’t you remember the last time you walked down the aisle with that creep?” (Yes, I’m talking to you, Erica Kane!) Their oblivious behavior reminds me to question the daily decisions I make in my own life and make sure I’m learning from past experiences. Thank goodness in the real world we have the option to change our behavior by adapting and growing after making mistakes—it makes successful relationships that much easier.
5. Don’t Lie
Even worse than keeping secrets is to bald-face lie to someone in your life. On the soap opera I watch, the characters feel no shame telling whoppers to each other to get what they want. The lies build one on top of the next, until the next thing you know, someone’s faking their own death to get out of a risky situation. Who wants a situation to come to that? It’s better to tell the truth and take your lumps, right from the start. If your loved one doesn’t like what you have to say, well … they’d like it less finding out about it six months from now from someone else.
6. Don’t Assume the Worst of Others (but Don’t Turn Your Back on an Enemy Either)
Suspicions and feuds run rampant in soap opera storylines. The level of sheer animosity that seethes beneath—and sometimes right on—the surface of these characters’ relationships is enough to fulfill anyone’s quota of drama for the year. A lot of that has to do with a lack of trust. Though there’s no shortage of passion, there’s a huge deficit of faith in their otherwise glamorous lives. In the real world, we just can’t get along being so cynical with those who share our lives. Yet, on the other hand, as Maya Angelou once said, “When people show you who they are…believe them.” The lesson here is to give people a chance, but not to let them walk all over you.
7. Don’t Stray
Fidelity doesn’t seem to be a big concern for soap characters. For all the passion, the protestations of undying love, these characters simply can’t keep their eyes from wandering. The way they hop from bed to bed on the flimsiest excuse—it’s like a form of relationship ADD! Their casual neglect of morality means they never experience the joy of a lasting, harmonious relationship. In our real lives, such drama and conflict are exhausting and cheating can ruin relationships. But of course, happy, successful marriages on soaps wouldn’t be all that entertaining for us in the audience to watch!
8. Let Calmer Heads Prevail
So much misery could be avoided on soaps if only they stopped themselves for a moment, took a breath, and counted to ten before taking action, good or bad. Likewise, when someone in our own lives sets us off, it can be tempting to blow up and behave rashly—whether it’s declaring undying love or throwing down the gauntlet with an enemy. Yet if we just press the “pause” button on our emotions, taking time to mull over our choices, many crises can be defused.
9. Be Discreet
In soaps, people are always stumbling upon one another, accidentally overhearing, or deliberately eavesdropping on private conversations. When was the last time anyone bothered to close a door or lower their voice before announcing the existence of their newest love child on a soap opera? The lesson is simple: If you have sensitive news, be careful that it lands in the right ears—and no one else’s.
10. Talk Is Great, But It’s No Substitute for Action
Have you ever noticed just how much time soap opera characters waste hashing out their issues endlessly with one another? Sure, it fills time between commercials, but does it really help solve any problems? I’m all for therapy, but there comes a time when the best course of action is to take action. Think it through, get some advice, but then move on to the implementation stage.
11. Wear Elegant Clothing—To Everything
This may sound like a joke, but there’s seriously something to be said for dressing for the occasion. One of the reasons I keep tuning in to my soap is for the lovely little outfits my favorite gal characters get to wear as they sashay their way through their dramatic and colorful lives. And you know what? We don’t have to be brimming with intrigues and scandals to enjoy a little bit of that flair in our own lives. An elegant scarf or a classy pair of earrings; a new pair of heels or a sassy little dress … and voila! We’ve got our own daytime drama going on.
Hillary Fields is a New York-based writer, editor, and blogger. She’s authored three romance novels published by St. Martin’s Press and has contributed to Cosmopolitan magazine, the Huffington Post, DoubleX.com and Jewcy.com.
By Hillary Fields for Beliefnet