As I seem to be watching Romantic Comedies with considerably more frequency than normal (not entirely by choice), I’m starting to notice little things that are very dangerous. For instance, the main characters always know how to say exactly the right thing at exactly the right moment to get their lovers back no matter how bad the fight was that made them split in the first place. It gives people who watch these things an unrealistic view of what relationships are supposed to be like. And while I don’t normally watch them often, I’m beginning to think that perhaps my problems in dating stem from some subconscious ideas that have been planted by these dreaded movies.
Romantic Comedies have a formula: Boy meets girl, usually under less than ideal circumstances. They attempt to date. Something breaks them up. There’s usually another man or woman involved. Then one character (or both) decide they can’t live without the other and they get back together. It’s a very old formula, and seems to be spilling over into other movies as more and more film companies try to market movies to both guys and girls. It seems that this blending of genders is happening everywhere. This whole lessening of the Gender Gap thing is confusing life in general, I tell you.
But let’s not dwell on that right now.
This formula for Romantic Comedies has been happening since at least Shaekspeare, if not even before that. I’m thinking a Midsummer’s Night Dream, where there are multiple sets of lovers who fall prey to the formula but none more than these two: Hermia and Lysander.
Hermia’s father won’t let her marry Lysander because he thinks Demetrius (love that name!) is the better option. Helena, Hermia’s best friend, is in love with Demetrius, and it’s even suggested that they had…relations, but he only has eyes for Hermia. So Hermia and Lysander decide to run away, followed, unbeknownst to them, by the other couple. In the woods, some pesky fairies put the men under a spell that was supposed to make Demetrius fall for Helena, but silly ol’ Puck messes up and makes both men fall for her. Shenanigans ensue, and by the end of the night, Puck has set things straight. They all live happily ever after, with both couples getting married along with the royal couple about whom we know very little.
So the formula: Admittedly, Hermia and Lysander met and began dating before the opening of the play/movie, but, they are separated, another man AND woman (and some fairies) are involved, and by the end they do manage to get back together.
So it’s not a perfect fit, but you get the point…
If we look at a more recent example, they’ve made movies so formulaic that it’s almost impossible NOT to notice. Let’s look at How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. It’s not super new, so most of you have probably seen it, and it’s one of my favorites… Probably because I am both Kate Hudson’s character, who is writing an article about how to drive a guy away in 10 days, and her friend who is the inspiration for the article because she does all the wrong things. All. The. Time.
Benjamin Barrie (Matthew McConaughey) makes a deal with his boss that he can make any woman fall in love with him in 10 days, while Andie Anderson (Kate Hudson) is tasked with driving a guy away within the same 10 day time limit. They meet, and two women who know both agreements (and want to sabotage the guy) push things along. The two potential lovebirds begin dating, even though their agendas are at odds, and even though she does all the crazy bad things that women do sometimes (love fern, anyone?), he doesn’t go running. Because he can’t.
After a weekend with his family, she finds she actually likes him and doesn’t want to lose him, but then our saboteurs from the beginning let it slip that he’s only dating her for his bet. BAM! They split. There’s a short montage showing their lives apart while she writes her article, professing her love for him. He reads it and they get back together, presumably to live happily ever after.
So what on earth does this have to do with me?
Well, we all know I’m a bit dramatic. My mother’s been accusing me of it since I was a wee thing, and I was a theater major for a while, and I can swing from happy to “I will kill you,” in a very short span given the right stimuli (not often, but it can happen). What I’ve noticed as I look through some of the things I’ve posted here is that, while I still think my fear is well founded (just look at how people have treated me in the past), I tend to assume that if I apologize, then it will all be fixed, RomCom style.
I’ve even been writing my apologies on here, hoping it will end like How to Lose a Guy…
Then yesterday I was watching Prime, and I was shocked by the dialogue. They were in bed, and as far as I could tell, he was in her, but they were having a conversation. He told her that he wanted to give her a child because that’s what she wanted. She rebutted that she couldn’t do that because she knew he’d regret it, but the fact that he was willing showed his love and that was “the gift [she’d] take from [him].”
Yeah… People don’t talk like that. I think I may have had a conversation while under similar circumstances, but only because he liked to tease me to see if I could do such a thing, but never anything so very serious! And what a way to break up with a person! Yeah, they don’t end up together… sorry for the spoiler.
My point is that we get these weird ideas about how relationships are supposed to be because we see them on movies so frequently. There shouldn’t have to be a competition between two guys for the affection of the girl before she realizes the one she wants, for example, but that is the YA formula. Look at Twilight, and Hunger Games.
And the dreaded break? There’s never any coming back from that, hence the reason why, when Superman suggested that I wasn’t ready for a relationship and perhaps we should take a little break, it nearly sent me into a panic. But if you watch RomComs, you probably think that a “break” is ok.
“Yeah, it totally makes sense to get back with someone you dumped in the first place. It happens all the time in the movies…”
Let me know how that works out for ya.
I find myself walking the fine line there, too. My brain knows on the surface that such things don’t work, but somewhere hidden in the depths of my subconscious I have these notions from RomComs lurking. I’m waiting for my Romantic Comedy moment. I thought I found it because Superman came out of nowhere. We hadn’t seen each other in a month or more, and then all at once, because of New Year’s, it was like an insta-relationship. “Just add water.”
And I liked it! Really, really liked it! But we skipped all the natural steps, and it made it hard to negotiate.
For those of you who don’t want to go back and read the original post I did about the stages of dating, there are 5: Attraction, Uncertainty, Exclusivity, Intimacy, Commitment.
Theoretically, this is what the formula of a RomCom is based on. If we look at our Modern example, all the steps are there. Andie and Benjamin are Attracted, although it is a fake attraction in the beginning (his bet, her article). Her attempts to push him away create the Uncertainty, but they do become Exclusive in spite of it (because he can’t leave). The weekend with his family creates the Intimacy. Now here’s where it gets a little tricky. In RomComs, the “break” is a second stage of Uncertainty. Then the apology is a new level of Intimacy that leads to the reconciliation at the end, which is the final stage: Commitment.
With Superman, I tried to explain that I felt we’d skipped some steps, but I didn’t know how to explain it, and I wasn’t ready to slow it down because I’m used to this speed. I’m used to micro-relationships where we go through all the stages in a couple months or less because that’s all the time it takes for the guy to start treating me like garbage.
So while it wasn’t smart, I was struggling on my own with the Attraction stage, because it felt like we’d jumped to Intimacy. Of course, that’s because we were playing the question game, which does lend itself to that. Remember the study on how to make someone fall in love with you? Shared intimacy and eye contact are key. And he and I have been doing that.
We’re now at that turning point of Uncertainty, which some relationships don’t survive. If my life was a RomCom, he and I would take a break, and in a few weeks or a month or more, we’d run into each other and just pick up where we left off.
But this isn’t a RomCom.
This is real life, and for some reason, I find it mildly comforting that we’ve made it to the stage of Uncertainty because it means there could be something real beneath the surface. This might not be one of my micro-relationships, and that has relaxed me quite a bit. In fact, I’m strangely calm…
In spite of the RomComs I’ve been watching lately.