THE EPIC "Titanic" is starting to sail out of movie theaters. But it may have left a wake of devastation in its path in the hearts of teenage girls everywhere. And not just because they can't have Leonardo DiCaprio.

Yes, I thought the movie was wonderful. Part of me wanted to weep at the end when it's clear - I think everyone has seen the movie now, so it's safe to say - that Jack is a goner. Nor is it hard to pull for the beautiful Rose, who knows their hearts "will go on" as the "Titanic" theme song croons.But I was saddened much more thinking of one of "Titanic's" biggest audiences, according to several news reports, the millions of teenage girls, many of whom believe the intense sentiment and easy sex over a few days that formed the romantic centerpiece of "Titanic" is the kind of love they should strive for.

Old Rose herself clings to the memories of the boy she knew for a few days a lifetime ago. How sad - not just that she lost him, but that she held on for a lifetime to this impossibly romanticized version of love.

Imagine if you will that Jack had not gone the way of 1,500 other Ti-tanic passengers that cold April night, that Rose and he had started a life together. Considering they'd only known each other for a few days in the most extraordinary circumstances, the odds would be against them. Their life wouldn't be without its troubles - troubles that would either draw them together or push them apart.

At some point, Jack would surely have forgotten Rose's birthday, and she would be convinced he didn't love her anymore. Or she'd spend too much money they didn't have, or nag him about staying out all night with the boys, and they'd fight.

Then children might come, with all the pressures they bring. She might lecture him to get down off his artist's cloud and start thinking of a practical way to provide for the family. He might think she no longer understood his dreams.

Amid all this, if the foundation of their marriage was strong, they would learn about each other over a period of years. A decade into their marriage, they might laugh at something that would have infuriated one of them early on.

Each would learn to have more patience and understanding when it was needed by the other. They would live through a child's illness or a financial downturn or much worse, and they would come through it together stronger than they ever imagined. Each year would add to their storehouse of shared memories and increase their sense of oneness.

The "feelings" of intense romance might ebb and flow and settle down. If it's a weak marriage, that might frighten one of them into leaving. But if it's a strong marriage, they would understand the depth of love that doesn't always show itself in surface notions of romance. They would be able to say even years later, "I love you more today than yesterday, but not as much as tomorrow," as another song says. And they would laugh together at how very little they really knew each other and how little they knew about love when they first said "I love you."

But of course that's not what millions of teenage girls saw. They in particular are led to believe by this and so many other popular treatments of love that a few days of intense romance should be able to stand the test of time. Then, later, they find themselves unprepared when time does test a love they claim and are stunned when something that looks so beautiful and sturdy on the outside can so easily fall apart. Much like the "Titanic" itself.

It's little wonder our society has so many young people that need so much rescuing.