La La Land is the classic love story we all needed this year. From its leading lady’s elegant style to its haunting soundtrack, watching the film feels like whirling through a 1930s Hollywood boulevard in a coral drop-waist dress. (Warning: If you’ve not yet seen La La Land, reading further will expose you to spoilers.)
As I left the theater, I had only one problem with the vintage romance: the end. I don’t mean the end of the movie; I mean the end of the love story. La La Land is the story of a struggling actress and a jazz-loving musician. The two have a few chance encounters that evolve into what feels like an epic love. But when both opportunities and disappointments strain their relationship, it becomes clear that love is not enough to make the relationship work. Until the credits rolled, I hoped the star-crossed lovers played by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling would wind up together through some miraculous plot twist. When they didn’t, I felt almost betrayed. What happened to their adorable love story? Was their relationship worthless? The film is much more Casablanca than Singing in the Rain.
My grandmother, who sat next to me, still seemed to be traipsing down the streets of Tinseltown even after the movie ended, undeterred by the fact that Mia and Sebastian did not have their happily ever after. I couldn’t understand why.
I came to realize that my grandmother’s relationships—good and bad—had taught her not to regret the end of a moment but to appreciate the moment itself. She explained to me that Mia and Sebastian were lucky to have had each other when they did, and that they would each cherish it as a relationship that brought them closer to the kind of people they wanted to be. Coming from a woman who was once divorced and lived out the majority of her life as a happy single woman, her perspective was not one to dismiss. Her failed marriage could have made her a cynic, but instead she saw even lost love as a gift.
Reflecting on her point of view gave me a clearer lens for viewing not only the movie but also my own past relationships. Nothing is wasted that helps you grow, and we can learn more than we expect from our past relationships.
Here are three reasons our failed love stories are not a total loss.
01. You needed each other for a season.
After Sebastian inspires Mia, an aspiring actress and screenwriter, to create a storyline as interesting as she is, she designs her own one-woman show. Without his support and encouragement, she may never have been discovered and had the opportunity to audition for a movie in Paris. Of course, it's possible that she would’ve found success in another way had she not met Sebastian. But sometimes our relationships encourage us to take steps we would be too afraid to take on our own. The encouragement of others can be the only thing that keeps us from quitting.
02. You experienced life in a different way because of them.
Are you a fan of jazz? I wasn’t until I watched the movie, and Mia hated it until she met Sebastian. But once she saw his passion for the dying art, she began to appreciate it. Before Sebastian met Mia, he could be cynical and aloof, but her delight in life showed him how to lighten up. Their relationship gave each of them a new perspective with which to view the world. Maybe you dated a guy who taught you to appreciate a new culture or activity. Even if the relationship doesn’t last, becoming familiar with someone else’s point of view teaches us more about ourselves and the world around us.
03. You were given the freedom to follow your dreams.
Mia and Sebastian went their separate ways because they both pursued what they thought was right for their own lives and each other's. Maybe if they’d stayed together they would’ve been bitter about never having the chance to reach their potential. By pursuing their dreams separately they were able to love themselves and respect each other, something they weren't always succeeding at when they were together. We won’t all be faced with such a drastic choice between a career and love. But it’s important to remember that whether you decide to stay in a relationship or prioritize your dreams, the choice is up to you.
I think we all have a tendency to feel guilty when a relationship ends. We should’ve noticed the red flags; we should’ve predicted the future and seen that this wasn’t going to work out. But that’s just not realistic. La La Land reminds us that even when a good relationship ends, we don’t have to feel bad for letting it go or falling in love again.
Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment