This isn’t a diatribe against rom-coms and all the fun, sweet, heartwarming, nonsensical, and insane stories they tell. I still sit down with girlfriends—or alone—to enjoy a good romantic movie. The change in my love of rom-coms has come from me, and finding the difference between real life and the screen. There is a fundamental problem in believing that rom-coms are truly what love looks like, and not taking them for what they are at face value: entertaining and fun. Romantic movies in themselves aren’t harmful, but when you forget that life out here isn’t so smooth, you can get hurt. I understand life doesn’t happen in movie moments, but that doesn’t lessen the possibility for real-life romantic moments. In fact, recognizing that no one wrote your words, dressed you perfectly, or staged the scene can help you appreciate everyday romances.
There is a long list of reasons why rom-coms are problematic, and it starts with relationships. Rom-coms like some Disney movies give us unrealistic expectations when it comes to relationships. Most of these stories focus on the romantic relationships and that’s fair, because they are romance movies, but what about the relationships outside of romance. The best friend (most often played by Judy Greer) is there only for snark and to listen to you whine. In reality there is a place for that in friendships, but as a woman I hate having to put myself in either the “heroine” or “friend” category. If you’re the friend, good things rarely happen for you, and you only exist to serve the heroine’s story. Friendships can and are more than the whiny moments, and exist even when you aren’t having boy drama.
Most rom-com relationships start with a lie: either you were paid to date her, or it was a bet or you struck a deal to back at your exes. It’s the lying stories I have a fundamental problem with (although I don’t approve of bets or being paid to date someone either). Without the lie, the conflict, and therefore the movie, wouldn’t exist. How can you build a relationship on a lie? Why would you want to? If you have to lie to get him, maybe he’s not worth having, and if you have to lie to keep him, it’s never gonna work out.
So many movie circumstances that lead to someone falling in love also never have any real-life consequences (you blew off work for that moment in the airport and got fired). This brings us to The Grand Gesture. I genuinely love the grand gesture, but it doesn’t erase the past. You can’t start your relationship from zero or reintroduce yourself hoping that will wipe the slate clean. I think so much of the problem with rom-coms are that many (if not all) the characters have selective memory. One kind moment and characters forget all the problems someone caused them before. Contrary to popular belief, “I love you” doesn’t fix everything. It is essential and important to healthy relationships, but there is more to an apology than an “I love you.”
When I was growing up, I liked rom-coms. I liked the predictability, and generally I liked that it was the guy’s job to go after the girl. I liked the fact that oftentimes the characters were thrown into circumstances that made them realize they were in love. I enjoyed the argument-turned-passionate-embrace trope and found the wacky tales of any Drew Barrymore character cringe-worthy—but I also loved them. In high school, I fully expected to fall in love with my biology lab partner (and I was distraught when I realized we didn’t get lab partners). I had crushes on the popular boys—not because I’d talked to them and realized we had so much in common—but because I thought I was supposed to like them. I truly believed that I would end up with the popular guy, and that the bad boys were mean because they liked me (spoiler: not true)… but sometimes they are just mean. I thought this was how love worked, because in the movies the outsider always finds out she fits in somewhere and ends up with a cute boy along the way. This happens most often after a montage of makeovers, singing, and shopping scenes.
It’s taken a long time for me to realize that rom-coms are not remotely accurate in their portrayal of relationships. Somewhere along the way I realized that liking those sweet, if slightly predictable, movie moments wasn’t healthy. Those quick and easy solutions I longed for weren’t real and continuing to watch and pine after those stories wasn’t making anyone’s life better. In fact, they might be detrimental to any relationships, past or present, and might be somewhat to blame for my lack of romantic successes.
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