Love is Not Ownership – Lessons about Love and Work from Ralph Breaks the Internet


November has been a full, challenging month that has left me depleted, and so this weekend my husband and I saw the Disney film “Ralph Breaks the Internet”  because our time together this month has been limited. From the trailer, the film looked like a great medium for jokes about technology and the way the Internet mediates our lives. And it was. More than a funny film though, the movie was an exploration of love, friendship and work, and felt like part 2 of the Pixar film “Inside Out” because it led to conversations about being aware of our own fears and emotions as we walked home and had a post-date cup of tea. With friends I’ve been thinking and reflecting recently about how love is not ownership, and this movie echoed that theme.

Here are some of my take-aways about attachment styles, work, fulfillment and love, from “Ralph Breaks the Internet”. If you’ve seen the film, please do share yours.

1. Workplace transitions can be the opening to new and more fulfilling work. The premise of the film is that the steering wheel of Sugar Rush, the arcade game in which Ralph’s best friend Vanellope lives breaks, rendering the arcade game useless because the part is too expensive to replace. This change leaves all the game characters including Vanellope homeless and jobless, and turning to their friends for new roles and new places to stay. This change and uncertainty is deeply upsetting to Vanellope and causes her anxiety, and because Ralph can’t bear to see her in pain, he decides they should venture into the Internet in search for a replacement steering wheel on eBay. 

Before the steering wheel breaks however, Vanellope feels bored with Sugar Rush and ready for something new. She knows every path, she knows every level, and there is no longer any challenge in her job. Despite her unhappiness, not having any job causes Vanellope to glitch and panic about the unknown because she cannot see or know that this unexpected event will result in her exploring roles and opportunities that she could never have imagined from her previous vantage point. 

As I watched the film, I kept thinking that the movie was describing the moment of work we are in right now. We simply do not know the jobs and work we will be doing in forty years because many jobs of 2058 have not been invented yet, and over the course of our working lives we may have the same/similar jobs in the same industry we are in now, we may have the same job but move to different industries or our career may unfold through different roles and in different industries. Everything is unknown, and although this is a deeply precarious time that requires careful attention by policymakers and citizens to ensure workers’ rights are protected, this is also a time of deep possibility and the birth of new opportunities and ways of building meaningful work.

2. The source of our attachment styles are deep rooted, and when we don’t feel whole within ourselves, that manifests in how we show up in relationship. The more Vanellope explores and ventures away from the safety of her friendship with Ralph, the more anxious Ralph becomes. In Ralph’s video game he is hated, he is the villain, but he cherishes the fact that he is Vanellope’s best friend and hero. That role and that meaning is something that he relies on because there is so much negativity towards him in his life. He needs validation and reassurance from Vanellope that he matters to her and that he is her hero, but the more he needs that, the more she tries to get away from him to explore and focus on herself. It is a losing battle the whole film and regardless of what your own attachment style is, witnessing the dynamic between these characters causes a moment of self-reflection and recognition.

3. It can be hard to give space for people we love to do what makes them soar. Even though it can be hard to admit it, there may be a part of us that is fearful the person and/or people we love will outgrow us when they do new and unexpected things. Ralph interprets every exploratory move Vanellope makes as a decision to move away from him instead of what it actually is, a move towards herself and seeking what she needs. This film offers that getting over that fear or addressing that fear happens first and foremost through honest and courageous self-work and open conversations with those who we love.

4. A life based on just being with someone you love is not enough. You need meaningful work, other role models and other friends.  Vanellope is frustrated at the beginning of the film because her game isn’t challenging, but when her game disappaears, she panics. For Ralph, this is confusing because he feels like this is not that big of a deal. Ralph believes that Vanellope’s material needs can be easily met, and that Vanellope not having a job means they can spend all day together.  But Vanellope sees things differently. She is anxious about the loss of her game because being Ralph’s friend isn’t enough, it isn’t a life purpose. To be happy she needs to make meaningful contributions, she needs to be doing things in the world and Ralph though is an important person for her,  he can’t  be and he isn’t her entire world.

5.You can still love someone and have different goals and rhythms and energies and ways of being in the world. You don’t have to be the same person to fit together. Ralph wants a life in which everything stays the same, where he can go to a job that he knows well and then spend time with his best friend Vanellope in the evening. He wants routine and safety and having mastered his job, he relishes the fact that he doesn’t need to struggle to do his job. He knows how to do his work. But while Ralph loves the comfort of the familiar, Vanellope loves the thrill and challenge of the unexpected, the joy of learning new things and the joy of new environments. This film asks and explores the question: can you still be with your beloved but want different things? The answer is one that is thoughtful and a wonderful exploration of love and boundaries and self-fulfillment.

One thought on “Love is Not Ownership – Lessons about Love and Work from Ralph Breaks the Internet

  1. Loved this post. Haven’t seen the film (didn’t even know i existed – have been living under a rock recently:/), but its definitely relevant as I navigate around some personal relationships as well as self-reflect.

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