Lloyd Dobler has been blamed for ruining romance for 24 years, but in all that time, not one girl I know has had a guy post up underneath her window with a boombox. (Mariachis, yes—Peter Gabriel and trenchcoat, no.) Far more destructive than John Cusack's unrealistic sap are these six classic swooners that subliminally push warped messages about what true love is—or should—be. If one of these flicks is your Valentine's favorite romance, it's time to reconsider that box of chocolate.
The Lesson: Love is violence
“They didn't agree on much,” drawls James Garner over The Notebook's falling-in-love montage. Clearly. In their heart-warming happy courtship, Allie and Noah scream at each other while driving, then get into a street fight where he grabs her by the ears, she slaps him across the face, and he lunges in to force a kiss. Romance! And when they break up, Allie slams Noah into a car 10 times and smacks him so silly that he starts hitting himself as a distraction. Like a Rihanna ballad, The Notebook continually conflates affection with abuse—even in the climax, Noah wins back his lady by shouting, “That's what we do! We fight!”
The Twilight Saga: New Moon
The Lesson: Love is passion, not communication
The Twilight franchise is a rotten role model. Bella is pro-teen pregnancy and anti-college, even though her eventual husband Edward graduated high school so many times that the Cullens' house is wallpapered in diplomas. But its poorest and most pivotal choice happens in the second film, New Moon, aka OMG, That Werewolf Is Also Hot. After Edward abruptly ditches Bella in the woods and glowers, “You're just not good for me,” hot-blooded werewolf Jacob slowly rebuilds her trust by, you know, being nice and honest and communicative and caring about her feelings. Yet Bella dumps him for a guy who would rather commit suicide than have an open conversation with her about his fears. Dear teen girls: avoid the strong but silent schtick. Date Jacobs.
The Lesson: Love is more important than helping your family
Leaving aside the great death debate (yes, Rose totally could have fit Jack on the raft), the stupidest thing the Titanic heroine does is pitch the Heart of the Ocean into the deep. The antique necklace was so valuable that Bill Paxton willingly sank his reputation to find it. Want an exact price tag? The Harry Winston replica that Gloria Stuart wore to the 1998 Academy Awards boasted a 15-carat blue diamond and cost $20 million. For that, Rose could have sprung to send every kid in her family to college for the next two generations. It's no wonder old Rose conveniently died after flinging the necklace into the frigid Atlantic—imagine telling your self-sacrificing caretaker granddaughter that you spent her inheritance memorializing a two-day boyfriend.
The Lesson: Love means never having to say you're sorry
It's lucky that Ali MacGraw succumbed to leukemia (or what Roger Ebert aptly called, “a movie illness in which the only symptom is that the sufferer grows more beautiful”) before she and her newlywed husband Ryan O'Neal had to test her boneheaded slogan. Forgot to call about being late for dinner for the 12th time? Having an affair with your secretary? Telling your wife of 20 years to lose a few pounds? No apology necessary. Even O'Neal knew his big catchphrase was baloney. Two years later, Barbra Streisand purred it in What's Up, Doc? making O'Neal groan, “That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.”
The Lesson: Love means losing your identity
Danny Zucco and Sandy Olsen are a terrible fit—he's a lying lech, she's an insecure waif—but according to Grease, that's nothing a new wardrobe can't fix. To charm his summer fling after sexually harassing her at the drive-in and flaunting his chemistry with his ex during a dance competition, Danny decides to clean up his act by running track so he can wear a goody-two-shoes Letterman sweater. And to impress him, Sandy takes up smoking, sensual innuendos and spandex. Worse, in the final dance number, he gets to strip off his white cardigan and reclaim his real self while she's stuck in her slithery spandex pants. There's a reason the flick cuts off five minutes after Sandy's makeover—any longer and they'd be back to hating each other's guts.
The Lesson: Love is destroying your girlfriend's life
In 1981, most guys would have done anything for Brooke Shields. This was, after all, the same year that John Hinkley Jr. shot Reagan for Jodie Foster. Endless Love isn't that insane, but it's close: when a high school senior is banned from sleeping with his 15-year-old girlfriend (Shields), he burns down her parents' house, gets sent to a mental asylum, uproots her family, almost has sex with her mother, brawls with her brother, and then gets her father killed. And she still considers taking him back, sighing that no one will ever love her the way he does. Couples who karaoke the Lionel Richie/Diana Ross theme song—this is the dark meaning of the lyric, “I'll be a fool for you.”