A Therapist Looks at Hallmark

Posted on April 27, 2020


My wife is a big fan of Hallmark movies.  I like them well enough as long as the leads are likeable enough and behave in ways that make sense.  The plot lines are similar enough you could write them by doing mad-libs to fill in the few blanks that change from one film to the next.  Amazon and Netflix originals may tell some more compelling stories, but they would all be R rated if they were theatrical releases.  Sometimes it is nice to watch some harmless content in which you know the leads are going to fall in love at the end.  Having said that, in Hallmark, there are few recurring themes that are open for some critique.  If I may, let me offer some thoughts on these.

  1. The hostile first encounter.  This does not happen in every film, but it is frequent enough to head the list.  What often happens if that the two leads will bump into each other before they have actually met.  One or both will be rude and hostile to the other.  An hour and a half from now they will be in love, but for now, they don’t like each other.


If you will allow me my soapbox for a moment, how you treat strangers matters.  One of the things that will tell you the most about someone is how they treat people who either 1) are not in position to help them or 2) are not in position to fight back.  When someone is nasty to a stranger, that is a big red flag.  If you marry this person, don’t be surprised when the gloves come off the first time you have a fight.


  1. The obligatory misunderstanding. This one happens in virtually every one of the romance films.  Ten minutes before the film ends, one of the leads will see the other hug a member of the opposite sex and assume that the other’s heart belongs to someone else.  This other person could be a sibling, a cousin, a friend needing comfort, or a break-up hug with their ex.

It is a normal thing for us to try to make sense of what is happening with someone else as we observe what they do and say.  The problem is that our perceptions are not always accurate[1].  Our judgment is further clouded when our hearts are feeling vulnerable.  There is a simple solution to this problem (and it doesn’t involve leaving town without saying “goodbye”).  Go ask.  You can reality test your hypothesis by talking with your love interest.  It’s less dramatic, but who really wants drama in their lives?

  1. Kiss Interrupted. This is another one that happens in nearly every film, usually with 20 minutes to go.  Our leads are sharing a moment and lean in for the first kiss.  Just before their lips touch, someone will walk into the room and interrupt (usually oblivious to what was going on).  Our heroes realize they were just caught up in the moment and go back to what they were working on before.

Take some agency.  If you want to pursue a relationship with this person, don’t let the interruption derail it.  If you don’t, don’t get caught up in the moment.

  1. He did it for her. This probably happens in half the films.  Our leads were high school sweethearts.  He broke her heart in some fashion.  Now they are both back in their hometown.  They are feeling some of the old spark, but she has never forgiven him.  At the climax we find out that he did what he did for her (e.g. not to hold her back, get in her way).

Granted, teenagers are not known for being great at relationships.  Having said that, this could have been resolved a decade earlier with some honest communication.  As an aside, if you are in a relationship, reconnecting with your high school or college sweetheart is always a bad idea.  It is not innocent.  If you are keeping it secret from your significant other, you are already being unfaithful.

  1. Jumping to Conclusions. This is usually done by our leading lady.  Her judgment of him is colored by an assumption of ill-intent.  There is no benefit of the doubt.  By the third time it is happening in the same film, I am thinking, “He could do better.”  In Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown talked about extending “the most generous interpretation possible to that intentions, words, and actions of others.”  When your new romantic interest does just the opposite, it should raise some concern.


  1. Life Changing Decisions. One or both of our leads gives up their promotion or opportunity to work abroad or some other aspect of their lives to stay and pursue this relationship.  New romantic relationships are exciting.  Early in relationship, you are hearing “the song of the pearl that might be.”[2]  There’s nothing wrong with that.  It seems like a bad idea to be making life changing decisions based upon a two week old relationship.  Slow down.


  1. Murder per Capita. If you watch the Hallmark mysteries, they usually take place in small towns.  Let’s say one of these towns have a population of 10,000 and life expectancy in the US is about 80.  That would mean that there would be about 125 deaths per year in that town.  That works out to around 2.5 per week.  In the week to which we have a view, two of those this week were homicides.  The leading cause of death in small town America appears to be homicide.


  1. Widowers per Capita. I get that a devoted father, who has a successful business, and is close to his very functional family of origin is an attractive potential partner.  Also, blended families are messy.  This is an easy problem to solve, his wife died of cancer two to four years ago.  No ex to deal with.  No history of a failed marriage.  I suspect there are substantially fewer widowers in their late 30’s in the general population than in Hallmark.


  1. Getting your kids attached to a new romantic partner too early in relationship. This is an adjunct to the “widowers per capita.”  Our widowed dad allows his daughter to get really attached to our leading lady as a sort of surrogate mother knowing she is planning on only being in town for a few weeks.  The daughter has already suffered a major attachment injury with mom’ death.  Let’s not put her through another big loss if this doesn’t work out.


  1. The Weenie Mama’s Boy. This is the subset of films in which the American woman discovers that her boyfriend (who speaks with a British accent) is actually a prince of a small European country.  His widowed mother is ruling the country.  He brings his girlfriend home for Christmas.  Mom is rude to the commoner American girlfriend.  Eventually spunky American girlfriend wins over mom and we live happily ever after.[3]


What’s wrong with this picture?  1) The prince knows mom and should know what girlfriend is walking into.  She should have that data before agreeing to go with him for this visit.  2) Mom being rude to your guest is not okay.  Prince Charming needs to set some boundaries with mom.  “If you have concerns about my choice of partners, we can discuss it privately.  Whoever I bring home I expect you to treat with respect.”  3) It’s not the girlfriend’s job to stand up to mom, it’s sonny’s.  4) If there is a problem between your mom and your partner, you back your partner.  Mom being the queen doesn’t change this.  If he can’t do this, run.  You don’t want to find yourself married to a weenie mama’s boy.


  1. Let the police handle it. How many times do you have to almost get killed before you let the police handle the murder investigations and you stick with baking, library science, archaeology, your TV program, your matchmaking service, or running a thrift store?  If your real passion is to investigate murders, change careers.  At least then you will be armed when confronting the murderer.

I realize if all of the characters in these programs were straightforward in their relationships, we wouldn’t have a story to tell.  As much as it depends on you, be kind, honest, and direct in your relationships.  It might be good to choose a mate who can do the same (at least most of the time).


Here’s one I forgot.

The Snowball Fight.  All year round, many of the Hallmark movies take place at Christmas time in someplace that gets snow.  In such circumstances, there is virtually always a snowball fight between the leads which begins when one of them hits the other in the face with a snowball in a surprise attack.  From their they have a snowball fight with lots of laughter and playfulness.  Ever been hit in the face with a snowball?  It hurts.

[1] If you want a read an entire book about how bad human beings are a this, check out Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers.

[2] With a nod to John Steinbeck.  If you haven’t read The Pearl, don’t.  It’s a wretched book.

[3] This is basically the plot to Crazy Rich Asians.  Don’t get me started.  Nick is not a good catch.  He does not protect Rachel.