Romantic comedies, or rom-coms, are a widely loved genre of movies. I, for one, will never turn down a feel-good story and a chance to indulge in a cheesy romance. While we watch, we have the ability to look at love from an objective point of view by rooting for the protagonists, judging their choices in romantic interests, and screaming at the TV when we notice a red flag that the main character blatantly ignores.
Aside from a good time, rom-coms tend to mold our expectations of love and life. Many of us end up building our standards based on what we see on the screen. We pick and choose what we like and dislike— the ways that we want to be romanced, the types of friendship we need in our lives, and the connections we want to have with our significant others. Then, those chosen ideals become what we search for in our lives.
As an avid rom-com lover myself, I admit that I am guilty of envisioning my life as if I’m Kate Hudson in “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” or Jennifer Lopez in “Monster-in-Law.” It is just so easy to get swept up in the whimsy of rom-coms. While my love for the genre stems from the temporary escape from reality that it provides, I do believe that there is more to rom-coms than just a cute story. Some of the most important lessons I have learned have come from my favorite rom-coms, and they are lessons I still carry with me to this day. With that, here are ten lessons I have learned and the respective rom-coms I learned from.
1. Sometimes the best relationships grow out of friendships. (“Just Go With It”)
Katherine and Danny make love look easy. The two long-time friends spend the duration of the movie trying to play Cupid for one another, but the closer they get to their respective relationships, we see how well they actually know each other to their core. It isn’t until they see each other in a relationship that they realize how much love they have for one another. Moral of the story: friendship can be a strong foundation for love.
2. Live your life and be a girlboss. You don’t have to sacrifice success for a relationship. A true partner will support your hustle. (“How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”)
Andie and Ben are one of my all-time favorite rom-com couples. The funniest part? They weren’t even looking for love. They were both hyper-focused on their jobs. Andie was working hard to pursue her dreams of writing pieces about topics that are important to her. Throughout the entire course of the movie, even when feelings do bubble to the surface, she does not let Ben get in the way of what she wants and Ben learns to support her because he cares for her. Andie showed me that you shouldn’t sacrifice your dreams for love.
3. Familiarity doesn’t equate to love. Don’t welcome toxicity because you’re mistaking it for connection. (“The Notebook”)
Noah and Allie are in many ways the original rom-com couple. While they are often a fan-favorite, I always heard alarm bells. They loved each other, but that doesn’t mean that their relationship wasn’t toxic. No relationship goes without disagreements and the occasional argument, but Noah and Allie spent too much of their time on screen in heated arguments. Noah even convinced Allie to go on a date with him by threatening to hurt himself. I call that manipulation. While they ended up together, the lesson I took away is that you shouldn’t welcome toxic relationships because you’re blinded by the familiarity of the connection.
4. The harder you try to control the relationship, the less enjoyable it becomes. Let your love grow naturally and learn to grow with it. (“The Proposal”)
Margaret and Andrew are the common rom-com trope of fake dating and forced proximity wrapped into one movie. Once they realize there are feelings involved, Margaret and Andrew, respectively, try to maintain their control of the relationship. All it does is hurt people’s feelings and create more drama. It eventually becomes self-sabotage. The fear of wanting everything to go a certain way clouds Margaret and Andrew’s judgment until their entire relationship goes up in smoke. When they finally get back together, it’s because they’re willing to let things happen and see where it leads them. This lesson hit the worrier in me hard— learn to accept that you can’t control everything and grow with change.
5. Partners will come and go, but true friends will always have your back. Even in the craziest of situations. (“Crazy Rich Asians”)
Rachel had to navigate Nick’s mother, Eleanor, and the rest of his family plotting against her, being in another country without the guidance of her mother, and going through a breakup after Nick’s family pushed them apart. Through all of the chaos, Rachel had Peik Lin, her best friend from college, by her side. Peik Lin was always in Rachel’s corner and wouldn’t let her back down from Eleanor’s game of chicken. Who needs a man when you have a best friend who’s always willing to go on crazy adventures with you? In the wise words of Peik Lin, “Bak-Bak B*tch!”
6. Love can come into your life when you’re least expecting it. The most unexpected situations can sometimes lead to something great. (“To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before”)
Lara Jean is the queen of romance. She spent her time writing love letters and dreaming of what could be. Let’s be honest though: without her sister, Kitty, stepping in and mailing her love letters, Peter Kavinsky would not have come into her life. Our takeaway here is that sometimes, love will stumble into your life when you’re least expecting it. Spontaneity can blossom into something beautiful, romantic or not.
7. You don’t need to change who you are or what you look like. The right one will appreciate you for who you are on the inside. (“She’s All That”)
Laney had a total makeover moment that left us all speechless. Yet, what I learned from Laney and Zack was how Zack loved her, even before her makeup and her popularity. It started as a bet, but once he actually got to know her, he realized how great she was. The point is, you shouldn’t have to change yourself for people to like you. The right one will come along and love you just the way you are.
8. Knowing what you want in life doesn’t make you difficult or weird. (“10 Things I Hate About You”)
Kat’s strong-willed, fiery personality was such a refreshing change to a typical damsel-in-distress protagonist. She didn’t need everyone to coddle her; she knew exactly what she wanted out of life, which college she wanted to go to, and her opinions were strong. Everyone else called her weird, but I call her powerful, assertive, and bold.
9. Make decisions for yourself, not for others. Putting yourself first isn’t selfish. (“Legally Blonde”)
Who hasn’t dreamed of absolutely dominating like Elle Woods? She sent an entire generation of women walking into situations telling themselves, “What, like it’s hard?” While I love her girlboss energy, Elle taught me the importance of prioritizing myself. Yes, she was successful in law, but she also picked her college, her major, and her potential career in an instant, not because she wanted to study law, but because she wanted to be enough for a man. I am taking Elle’s energy and putting it towards making choices because they make me happy.
10. no relationship is perfect. don’t try to force it to be. the imperfections make it unique. (“La La Land”)
Sebastian and Mia are the classic cases of what could have been. While they end up living separate lives by the end of the movie, we see real love within their relationship. Mia and Sebastian get so caught up in the whimsy of romance though, that they forget that it’s okay for them to experience some bumps in the road. They end up going their separate ways to avoid giving up on their dreams, but what I took away from their relationship was that imperfections are normal, so why pretend as if they’re not?
While we tune into romantic comedies for the whirlwind romance, they can teach us plenty of lessons about love and life. Our favorite on-screen couples can become a guide for our own love stories, helping us to discover what we truly want in our lives.