I don’t remember the first fight I had with my boyfriend. It was probably petty and unremarkable. But I do remember all of the words to Noah and Allie’s climactic blow-up fight in The Notebook. The fighting, the screaming, the…romance? Somehow the fight between the two seems romantic and engaging. Like people who are this passionate about each other should love and fight with the same passion. Pre-teen me thought that their chaotic relationship was the way love worked. And that’s when the rom-com conditioning began.
Romantic comedies have been distorting our view of love and relationship for years. Most rational people are smart enough to know that movie romance, condensed into 120-minutes, is not real life. But it’s hard not to get caught up in the on-screen bruhaha and find yourself pining for that kind of passion. We walk away with unjust expectations despite our better instincts as our sense of what love should be becomes even more tainted. You can think all you want that you’re smarter than the herd and know rom-coms are phony AF. But you’d be lying. Because even the best of us have found ourselves pining for our partner to read our minds, bring us flowers, or be more like Matthew McConaughey in everything ever.
In her first memoir, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?”, TV rom-com aficionado Mindy Kaling admits that despite her show, The Mindy Project, being a “rom-com” sitcom the genre is mere fantasy. She says:
I simply regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world created therein has different rules than my regular human world.
Films and TV shows that fall under the “romantic comedy” moniker perpetuate a completely different world. One that’s not only unrealistic but increasingly problematic. We’ll come back to the more problematic implications of rom-coms and start with the ways they’re bending our perception of what love truly is. How many times have you watched a movie or a TV show and the girl begs the guy to watch The Notebook with her? SO MANY TIMES. Usually, it’s a burden, though sometimes the guys love it (lookin’ at you Skills from One Tree Hill). But the endgame is the same: they want the guy to watch that fictionalized version of how a man should act and emulate it. I’m here to exclusively reveal that this does not work. Shocker, right? It does one thing though: disappoint women or men when their partner doesn’t deliver.
Romantic comedies are heightening expectations in relationships which, in turn, only heighten disappointment. One of the biggest reasons people get divorced is due to unmet expectations. Aside from the actions, rom-coms have also taught us that someone who may appear to be all wrong for you on the outside will really be your perfect match. But that’s not life! You can’t force a relationship due to happenstance and the idea of ~fate~ for miscellaneous reasons. Because when they turn out to be what they presented themselves as all along you’ll inevitably be disappointed.
This all leads to the idea of “the one.” It’s an idea that’s really been created by the entertainment industry and blown up into a legitimate ideal people have about love. I’m going to be super honest here: there is no “the one.” It’s a sham. Sorry, not sorry. It may seem crazy and fated when you meet someone who seems absolutely perfect for you. You think you’ll live happily ever after and never have a problem again. But love is work. And many people don’t want to hear that, making it easy to believe you’re a failure when a relationship you’ve invested so much into falls apart. Sadly, it’s easy to think that your entire life should revolve around the idea of true love and not your own personal satisfaction.
And that brings us to the very scary truth of romantic comedies: they’re not just influencing us, they’re damaging us. Romantic comedies are incredibly problematic in ways that we, as a society, are just starting to come to terms with. They perpetuate a dynamic between men and woman that’s downright scary.
Let’s take rom-com fights, for example. Men and women go toe-to-toe in heated arguments and nine times out of ten it ends in the man grabbing the woman and planting a kiss on her. It’s easy to watch this and think it’s romantic. But, uh, did that woman want to be kissed? Because if we’re being honest, I’d slap a man who thought shutting me up via kiss was the way to win an argument. But there is still that part of me that sees the gesture as quasi-romantic. Despite your differences, he has to kiss you because he doesn’t want to fight anymore. How sexy and fun! Except when you really think about it, it’s pretty damaging to a woman to make her believe that a man overtaking her during a fight is the “best” way to settle things.
Then there’s the “chase her and barrage her with romantic gestures until she has to date you” route. I sometimes feel that rom-coms have no perception of “the friend zone” or opposite-sex friendships at all! Take the movie Hitch. Great romantic comedy, right? Well, yeah, it’s excellent. But there are some ridiculous ideas in there that perpetuate toxic misogyny. Will Smith’s most memorable speech in the film goes like this:
Basic principles: no woman wakes up saying, “God, I hope I don’t get swept off my feet today!” Now, she might say, “This is a really bad time for me,” or something like, “I just need some space,” or my personal favorite, “I’m really into my career right now.” You believe that? Neither does she. You know why? Because she’s lying to you, that’s why. You understand me? Lying! It’s not a bad time for her. She doesn’t need any space. And she may be into her career, but what she’s really saying is, “Uh, get away from me now,” or possibly, “Try harder, stupid.” But which one is it? Sixty percent of all human communication is nonverbal, body language; thirty percent is your tone. So that means that ninety percent of what you’re saying ain’t coming out of your mouth. Of course, she’s going to lie to you! She’s a nice person. She doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. What else is she going to say? She doesn’t even know you… yet. Luckily, the fact is that just like the rest of us, even a beautiful woman doesn’t know what she wants until she sees it, and that’s where I come in. My job is to open her eyes. Basic principles: no matter what, no matter when no matter who… any man has a chance to sweep any woman off her feet. He just needs the right broom.
Guess it doesn’t matter what we think right? Any woman can be convinced by any man to love them? Yikes.
It’s a narrative I have seen time and time again: men are owed women for their actions. If they’re sweet and kind and put in the work they can get any woman they want. Let’s just ignore that women have their own autonomy and right to refuse any guy no matter how ~dreamy~ he is. It’s hard not to watch a rom-com and walk away thinking that belonging to a man is somehow satisfying. As if being in a relationship is the only thing that can truly bring happiness to someone. It’s the big message of every single romantic comedy. And it’s the biggest thing wrong with the genre.
Romantic comedies are fun — and easy to make fun of — but they’re not perfect. While every man and woman is responsible for their own actions, it’s hard to deny the conditioning rom-coms have put suggestible teens and young adults through. I spent my awkward teen years thinking something was wrong with me because I wasn’t in a life-defining relationship at 17. Now, in my 20s and in a long-term relationship, it’s still sometimes hard to think about how I’d see myself if I was suddenly single again. But remember this: it doesn’t take another person to complete you. You’re complete all on your own. Man or woman, remember your worth and try to take rom-coms with a real hefty grain of salt!