Much to the chagrin of ladies everywhere, romantic comedies are not documentaries. But, like many adult women in the dating world, it has taken quite a bit of trial-and-error for me to realize this truth.
For a long time I believed each pristine couple on the silver screen—that kissed under the stars to a swelling soundtrack—was a promised future. A romance that blossoms in under a week? Yes, please! A relationship where I could be totally uncommunicative and my man would run after me in an airport because he somehow intuited all my feelings? Be still my heart!
My steady diet of rom-coms built up some rather unrealistic expectations that ruined more than one of my relationships in the real-life dating world. Luckily, when I finally met someone I really wanted to hang onto, I had discerned which rom-com messages were myth and which were fact. To save others from my own tribulations, I’ve identified a few key deceptions I had to acknowledge before I could make a real life relationship work.
Myth #1: It’s up to him, and him alone, to spark romance.
Case in point: 50 First Dates
In this rom-com, Henry falls for Lucy, who suffered a traumatic brain injury several years ago. As such, her memory resets every night to the day before the accident, erasing anything new that has happened and any new people she’s met. So, hopelessly in love, Henry must woo her daily for the rest of their lives.
This is the dream, right, folks? I mean, minus the major brain damage, who wouldn’t love to be romanced every single day? The problem is, most relationships consist of more than one person with feelings. I’m a pretty traditional gal, and I love to be taken on dates. But I also had to recognize that I have to pull my weight now and again. Sometimes I have to put my plans on hold. Sometimes I have to arrange the romantic picnic. And that doesn’t mean my partner doesn’t care. It means we’re both human beings, and we happen to need each other. Besides, you care a lot more about something you actually put work into, right?
Myth #2: Falling in love takes no time at all.
Case in point: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
In this never-gets-old chick flick, hotshot New York journalist Andie starts dating playboy Ben. For her latest “how to” article, she tries to get him to break up with her in, you guessed it, ten days. Ben, however, has a big business deal riding on the claim that he can get any woman to fall in love with him in the same amount of time. Andie treats Ben like garbage, Ben doggedly sticks around, and eventually all the lies come to a head. But not before they fall hard for each other during a getaway to Ben’s family home!
Holy goodness, this movie is fun. It's also completely false. These two don’t even take the entire titular ten days to fall in love—it takes about forty-eight hours of family card games and boardwalk bike rides. But while it makes a good movie (the characters have to go from strangers to soulmates in about two hours, remember), it’s not how real people fall in love. Some people do fall hard and fast, but for most of us, deep love takes time to build. What's great about that is getting to know someone is fun. Those first dates, all the first experiences together—that's the good stuff! Don't rush a relationship because of some cinematic notion.
Myth #3: Jump from relationship to relationship! It’ll totally work out.
Case in point: The Holiday
This is the story of Amanda who has just broken up with her cheating boyfriend in Los Angeles. Through an online home-exchange program, she finds Iris, who lives in England and has also just been rejected by a man she loves. The two switch homes for two weeks and find true love!
This movie, filled with gorgeous people and beautiful accents, is essentially one big endorsement for rebounds. Kicked to the curb? No problem! You’ll find your true love in no time! Who cares if he’s got two kids? Who cares if he just got out of a bad relationship himself and is still hung up on the ex? Sure, sometimes rebounds work. But sometimes (read: most of the time) they don’t. It's good to be single for a while after a big break. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t scoop up lasting love with Jude Law a week after you’ve had your heart shattered. It's best to move slowly into the next phase rather than attempt to mask your pain with the excitement of a new guy.
Myth #4: The man of your dreams will always show up right when you need him.
Case in point: Bridget Jones’ Diary
This is a quirky, British romance about Bridget Jones who has to choose between Daniel, her handsome boss, and Mark, who seems like a jerk but totally warms up the more you get to know him. When Mark shows up unannounced one evening just in time to help Bridget save a dinner party, their romance seems sealed. But then there’s a pretty sweet fight between Mark (Colin Firth) and Daniel (Hugh Grant), which alone is worth the price of admission.
I watch this Jane Austen take-off at least five times a year. But no woman in the real world has time to hold her breath until Colin Firth arrives at her door just in time to solve everything. This is a problem rampant in rom-coms— the male lead knows exactly what to do (and when) to make his lady friend happy. Who wouldn’t fall for that guy? Except, that guy doesn’t exist. Not all the time, anyway. If you need your partner to show up or pay you a compliment or do you a favor, you might have to ask him. There’s nothing wrong with asking for what you need! So if he spontaneously makes you dinner one night, that’s awesome. But if you ask him if he could make dinner, and then he does it, that’s pretty great, too.
I ended up cutting myself off from rom-coms when I was dating the man who is now my husband. It wasn’t fair to keep comparing this actual human to the amalgam of fictional characters I’d created in my over-movie'd mind. Your love life isn't fiction. And really, who wants that? It’s so much better to be with someone who knows what it’s like to say the wrong thing, forget a dinner date, and be in a bad mood. It’s fun to hold each other up and work hard together, and I’m glad it took us longer than a month to fall in love. Although if he ever wanted to fight Hugh Grant in the street for my affections, I can’t say I’d object.
Photo Credit: Screenshot, Sony Pictures