Rom-coms have it all. Meet-cutes, dramatic airport chases, over-the-top gestures with a boombox and big, fat, unrealistic expectations. The nature of a romantic comedy is to make you desperately want a relationship, but at the price of having assumptions about love that frankly are not as attainable as the big picture makes them seem. Does this make rom-coms problematic, or is this the blessing of a romantic comedy, to make unlikely scenarios a genuine possibility in real life?
Tropes dominate every romantic comedy. Truth be told, you’ll probably never passionately kiss in the rain or chase someone through an airport just to say three small words. Yet, even when nothing about the film feels tangible, we still swoon. We can’t help it! In “You’ve Got Mail” (1998), the uninteresting Frank asks Kathleen Kelly during their breakup, “What about you? Is there someone else?” to which Kelly replies, “No, no, but there’s the dream of someone else.” Even cheese has its appeal every once in a while. If not to keep us believing in movie-like romance, the tacky parts of rom-coms keep us hoping.
This genre of film is far from perfect beyond its tropes, as romantic comedies also typically glorify toxic relationships. Hugh Grant in “Bridget Jones’s Diary” (2001) plays a certified asshole, but watchers of the film still can’t help having a sort of attraction towards him. When toxicity is praised in films as hot and charming, it’s no wonder women get unrealistic ideas about how they should be treated (but, that’s an issue for another day). Enemies to lovers may not be the norm, but it still is a beloved theme, and that likely will never change.
Romantic comedies are not the only films that have a hold of us; it’s straight sappy romance, as well. Take period pieces like “Pride and Prejudice” (2005) where the characters are so formal and polite in their manners, the romance that ensues is much more subtle. In works like this, the sentiment of a well-timed glance across the ballroom or the electricity that arises from a single exchange is all someone needs to know they’ve found “the one.”
Every little thing becomes romantic in period pieces, and they especially make us yearn for the simplicity of courtesy and manners from the people we date. Watching Austen films leaves us wanting the bare minimum, which is a human encounter. And yes, that is the bare minimum these days. Sometimes all we really want is a nice conversation, but even that can feel far from reach when people constantly communicate online.
Navigating dating in the technological age is not only frustrating, it’s draining. In 2009, 22% of people said they found their partners online, and just 10 years later in 2019, that statistic had risen to 39%. Tinder, Bumble and Hinge are the equivalent of a twenty-first century not-always-so-cute-meet-cute. There are success stories, of course, but not for everyone, especially when 71% of online daters are likely to lie in order to make themselves more appealing. It’s statistics like this that make people think it may be wiser to return to the old ways: plain ole conversation. Unfortunately, even conversation has changed.
Communicating online has become not only the norm but what we are most comfortable with. As younger people get phones earlier, a necessary human skill is lost: the art of conversation. These days, it’s easier to be “alone together” online and add a classmate on Snapchat than it is to walk up and introduce yourself. In this new and complicated dating scene, a majority of women believe that dating has become significantly more difficult in the last 10 years. People who crave the classic boy-meets-girl are bound to be disappointed, especially if they believe their chances of finding a suitable partner are gone for good if they don’t play by the online rules.
Plus, the online dating scene goes beyond the initial encounter. Naturally with online dating comes the chance of an online break-up as well. Ghosting, or abruptly cutting contact with someone online, is something people now can expect to dread when it comes to an online encounter. Luckily, 97% of people still believe a break-up online is a no-go, and doing it in person, face-to-face is always the respectable thing to do. More people believe in at least breaking up on a phone call, deeming breakup by messaging or email to be the worst options. These modern ways feel detached from the classic storylines that have dictated society’s view on love. Where it’s stressful in real life, it’s simple in rom-coms.
There’s pressure on people, too. 53% of 18-29 year olds feel pressured to find a partner by friends and family, but mostly, from society. It can feel overwhelming. Throw in the comparison to your favorite Kate Hudson movie, and you’ll feel absolutely defeated!
But, there’s no reason to completely panic because despite this, people are marrying later in life — so even with societal pressure, people are choosing to be single longer. People have called this phenomenon “the marriage crisis,” but actually, what society is seeing more frequently is people embracing singleness… and what’s wrong with that? After all, another prominent feature of romantic-comedies is the girl squad, the lead’s trusty BFFs. Newer rom-coms like “Someone Great” (2019) have put a larger emphasis on the friendship that remains when relationships go sour. Media today is not only addressing the pressure young people feel, but teaching people that to be single is completely normal, and there’s no rush, especially if you’re looking for something movie-worthy.
The reigning theme in all rom-coms is fate, or as Dean Kansky in “Serendipity” (2001) puts it, “Life is not merely a series of meaningless accidents, or coincidences, but rather, it’s a tapestry of events that culminate in an exquisite, sublime plan.” Characters in romantic comedies meet their partners by chance, or by fate, in the most perfect, yet unexpected circumstances. It’s safe to say, this is not typical in real life. However, if rom-com characters and stories can be driven by the happenchance of passion beyond their wildest dreams, why shouldn’t ours?
One could argue that rom-coms make women’s standards far too high and unrealistic, but I disagree. It’s better to go big than go home, and in pursuit of a lifelong partner, choose to expect more than less any day. If you’re going to go for it, why not reach for the extraordinary? What’s the worst that can happen? It crashes and burns horribly? Well, at least you have a Nora Ephron movie waiting for you back home. There’s a reason romantic comedies are commonly people’s comfort movies; they take us out of this messy world and into something ordinary, but wonderful.
There’s no guarantee it will turn out picture-perfect, but that’s no reason to not try in the first place. After all, why do we search, knowing the romance we find in real life may never measure up to the beloved stories in film? I suppose it’s like what Cary Grant says in “North by Northwest” (1959): “Togetherness, you know what I mean?”