'Once Upon a Time' and the Pitfalls of Dating


Earlier this month, the popular ABC series Once Upon a Time ended its third season with the protagonist Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) finally getting together with the once-villain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue). I have to admit, since the show first introduced the character Hook, I rooted for these two characters to get together. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on why I enjoyed this pair so much. Was it the fact that he was a shameless womanizer and flirt who finally met the girl who resisted his charm? Was it that she was a typical modern jaded woman who slowly put down her walls down for her relentless pursuer? I’m sure those were factors.

Yet, looking back, I realized what made this budding romance so unique: Hook and Emma’s love story had elements of a courtship, not simply a dating relationship.

Most mainstream Hollywood movies and primetime television shows portray the common practices of casual, recreational dating. The music swells as the two individuals share their first kiss. The climax of the plot comes with the couple’s first sexual encounter, with little or no reasons for compatibility beyond romantic feelings and sexual tension. Watching those same movies as a married woman in my mid-twenties,I now find those love stories one-dimensional and lackluster. Filmmakers rarely show us the negative consequences of dating. Here are some pitfalls of casual dating, and how Hook and Emma avoided them. Hopefully, we can all glean some valuable relationship advice from these two.

(WARNING: The following will have plenty of spoilers. Be sure to get caught up on the series before reading on!)

1. Dating focuses on one-on-one interactions, stunting the get-to-know-you process.

In a dating relationship, it is all too easy to put up a façade. After all, it’s all about presenting the best version of yourself. On a typical date, a couple is completely absorbed in each other; rarely do they interact with each others’ families. Hook and Emma went on exactly zero dates–count ‘em, zero–yet somehow, they were successfully able to get to know each other. How? They learned each others’ character traits while spending time with their family and friends. By the Season 3 Finale, Hook has become a part of Emma’s trusted community: Emma allows Hook to babysit her son Henry, and in turn, Henry enjoys Hook’s company. Several times, Emma runs away from family discussions upset, and her parents allow Hook to run after her. Contrast this with Emma’s relationship during the year she was away from her parents (and away from their better judgment). SPOILER ALERT: It ended with an almost-engagement to a flying monkey.

In his book, Choosing God’s Best, psychoanalyst and Christian Author Dr. Don Raunikar writes of the benefits of including one’s community in the dating process: “What people are like within their own families before marriage can be a reliable indicator of how they will act after marriage[…] How people treat others is a good barometer of how they will treat you when the honeymoon is over.”

Keep in mind, Hook and Emma are not officially a couple when Hook starts spending time with her community. This makes it easier to be friends, without the potential temptations to be overly romantic and infatuated, which brings me to my next point.

2. Dating fuels intense romantic attraction at the beginning of the relationship at the expense of a stable foundation of a slowly built-up friendship.

Ask any long-time married couple what has kept their marriage strong and they’ll tell you: it’s not the big romantic gestures or the “butterflies.” It’s the friendship. It’s easy to overlook this important pillar of a successful relationship. But when infatuation and fleeting romantic feelings run their course, what remains is a friendship…or lack of one.

According to Dr. Raunikar, there are four levels of friendship involvement in the courtship process, each leading to the next:

1. Acquaintance

2. Casual friendship

3. Close friendship

4. Intimate friendship

As acquaintances, two individuals discover they have mutual interests. Soon, the relationship grows and they begin to build trust and understanding. Finally, they become friends.

“A solid friendship will be the springboard for beginning a healthy courtship,“ says Dr. Raunikar.

We witness Emma’s emotional wall finally crumble right before their first real kiss in the Season 3 Finale. (Sure, they kissed in Season 2, but Emma recoiled, claiming it was a “mistake” and a “one-time thing”). Hook had just revealed that he gave up his most prized possession, his pirate ship, in exchange for a rare chance to cross realms and get to Emma. According to the Bible, "Greater love has no one than this: that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). READ: friendship equals sacrifice. And our dear Hook clearly demonstrates his ultimate sacrifice for Emma.

I love how the producers withheld the big kiss until after a two-season long courtship. This brings me to my next and final point.

3. Dating encourages premature sexual interaction before trust and commitment are established.

Alas, in direct contrast to most movie and television couples, Hook and Emma have never gone further sexually than kissing (GASP!), yet their love story is so likeable.

In most mainstream films and television, the sexual encounter comes before the couple gets a chance to develop trust and establish a commitment to each other. Therefore, we viewers are supposed to come to the conclusion that a relationship is never official until two lovers seal the deal with sex.

In an earlier post I wrote:

Sex without love and commitment is like the life-sucking hell of chemotherapy. Dose after dose, one hookup after another, casual sex seems to be the best antidote for the unbearable cancer of loneliness. But under the surface, the chemo is indiscriminate: healthy cells are destroyed right alongside cancer cells. One’s ability to connect and relate well with others weakens with each “score” divorced from emotional intimacy and commitment. (Source)

Generally speaking, Dr. Raunikar explains, dating “disproportionately exalts physical and romantic attraction” and “emphasizes emotions, lust, and sexual desire–all of which demand a sexual response.“

Therefore, he says, it’s no surprise when singles fall prey to sexual intimacy without commitment. “One-on-one dating is designed specifically for sexuality and physical attraction.”

Hook and Emma have shown us that a simple kiss bears much more weight and significance (1) in the context of a relationship vouched for by one’s community and (2) with the foundation of an unyielding friendship.

For the benefit of those who may not follow Once Upon a Time (but more for the benefit of my fellow #TeamHookandEmma members), I’ll leave you with this gem: a fan-made montage of their love story.

QUESTION: Which aspect of the Hook and Emma courtship did you enjoy the most?

Resources:Choosing God’s Best by Dr. Don Raunikar