Stendhal's seven stages of love have been studied and adapted over the years because they offer a more realistic approach to this emotion. See how these movies explain each stage.
It’s time to get cheesy, my friends, because no matter how much we love to complain about how shitty life, love, and people are, deep down we’re all hopeless romantics longing for that special someone to come and bring light to our soul. You know it's true. I mean, I don't have enough fingers on my hands to count how many times I’ve shouted to the world how I don't believe in love only to find myself wrapped in a blanket watching a Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy. I wish I were kidding, but I’m being completely honest.
Now, in those vulnerable moments, I like to think and overanalyze everything: Why am I still single? What went wrong? Was it something I did, or maybe I’m just not destined to be loved? We've all asked ourselves these dramatic questions at least once because we have extremely high expectations about love. We’ll probably never know for sure what love is. But I did some research to try to understand it and came across Stendhal, a French author who had a very clear and straight-forward way of understanding the most complex feeling of all. Based on his famous Stages of Love, I’ve selected seven movies that explain this process.
Shakespeare in Love (1998) Dir. John Madden
According to Stendhal, the first stage of love is admiration. It’s the moment when you start to realize that there’s something special about this person, and every little thing they do becomes the cause of admiration in you. You're amazed by their qualities, and even if you don’t feel strongly about them, some of their traits appeal to you.
Loved by the Academy, yet not so much by literature lovers, Shakespeare in Love asks the question of what it would be like if the most important author in the English language had actually been inspired by his infatuation with Viola, a wealthy woman with a passion for the theater at a time where women were banned from acting. Now, this is a story of an impossible love, but Shakespeare’s love for Viola starts as innocent admiration, fitting perfectly with the first stage of Stendhal's proposes.
Brokeback Mountain (2005) Dir. Ang Lee
At some point, that admiration you feel for that person starts to evolve into a kind of infatuation. You start fantasizing about them, and you can’t stop picturing both of you exploring your bodies in a passionate moment. You feel like you can't think about anything else but being with that person.
This isn't just about sexual relationships. Any kind of physical fantasy follows this love structure. If you saw the acclaimed Brokeback Mountain, you’ll know that what sparked the relationship between Ennis and Jack was an unexpected attraction both felt after a night of drinking. As you know, what started as a physical relationship, soon turned into romance and love.
The F Word (2013) Dir. Michael Dowse
Once the relationship is going somewhere (and you’ve passed the physical stage), you start wondering if it's possible for this relationship to go further. This is when you realize that it's more than just an infatuation, and it's something more profound and serious. Now, you start hoping for something else to happen: you stop fantasizing only about physical contact and start wanting something else, maybe even a future with that person.
For this stage, I selected this movie starring Daniel Radcliffe, miles away from the character who made him famous as a child. Here, he plays Wallace, a young man who decides to drop out of med school after finding his girlfriend cheating on him with the anatomy professor. He soon meets a girl called Chantry and they become friends. Of course, he likes her as more than a friend. As their relationship becomes closer, he can’t help but hope for something to happen with this girl.
The Notebook (2004) Dir. Nick Cassavetes
This is it. You’re absolutely in love with this person, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re finally in a relationship with them and you couldn’t be happier. The sun is finally shining on you. But there’s a downside, as there always is with everything that seems perfect. You’re so happy and so in love that you start idealizing that person and everything related to your relationship. This is a crucial point in the relationship, and if you base everything on how you’re feeling now, the relationship can crumble once it evolves.
I had to include this movie because, although it’s the cheesiest movie ever, it’s become a classic in the romantic film genre. Noah and Allie meet one night at a carnival. At first, she's reluctant to go out with him, but then she agrees and starts having feelings for Noah. What starts out as the typical summer fling soon turns into an intense relationship that, despite the obstacles, lives on forever.
Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) Dir. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Crystallization is basically the realization of love. By this point, you’re absolutely sure about your feelings for this person and where you want your relationship to go. Everything is better than you imagined, and nothing that can ruin it.
Crazy, Stupid, Love is one of my favorite rom coms from the last few years, not only because it has Steve Carell in it, but because it shows, in my opinion, a more realistic side of love. Of course, it still has that Hollywood take on relationships, but it's not as unattainable as in most films. Now, let’s focus on the relationship between Jacob, a professional womanizer, and Hannah, a girl in a long-term relationship with a guy who doesn’t really love her. When he meets Hannah and sees that she’s completely different from the kind of woman he hooks up with most of the time, he can’t help but feel he’s thrown away the possibility of love.
He’s Not That Into You (2009) Dir. Ken Kwapis
The thing is that love never stops evolving, and after that period where you’re on cloud nine, comes a time of doubts and reservations. You start doubting whether such a perfect emotion is real, or you’ve just been blinded by love. This is the turning point where you have to analyze your emotions and see how you really feel.
I used to hate this movie because my sister would watch it all the time, but it's the perfect example of this stage. The movie follows different people experiencing love, but for now, we'll focus on the relationship between Beth and Neil (played by Jennifer Aniston and Ben Affleck). After years of being in a relationship and living together, Beth starts asking herself where their relationship is going. She wants to marry him, but he’s been clear about how he feels about marriage, so they end up breaking up. After some time, they realize they really love each other and want to be together no matter what, which could be the next stage.
Friends With Benefits (2011) Dir. Will Gluck
Finally, the last stage. After you’ve figured everything out and you’ve realized you really want to be with this person comes the second crystallization. You are completely reassured of your relationship, and you discover that this is what makes you happy.
A movie that captures this stage perfectly is Friends With Benefits. After fooling themselves thinking that they can really have a sexual relationship without catching any feelings, they discover that it’s way harder than they thought. Both start developing feelings for each other, but they don’t really want to let the other person know, so that they don't ruin the relationship. In the end, of course, they both realize they really love each other and start a romantic relationship.
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