Ladies (and gentlemen), we need to talk about romantic comedies. Honestly, we need to evaluate the romance genre as a whole. Unless you’ve had your head in the sand this past year, one can’t help but hear and read all the disheartening truths being brought to light about sexual harassment and assault. If you’re a woman, this really doesn’t come as a surprise. If you’re a man and this does come as a surprise to you, it’s time to listen. Women and even men have been suffering in silence for years and some have tried to come forward only to be dismissed, their stories swept under the rug (and yes, men can be victims of abuse too; for that matter, so can trans individuals, something many are neglecting to discuss.) While it is upsetting to hear these stories, that is exactly why they need to be told, heard, and validated in the hope that something can be done to affect the serious changes that need to be made. So what does this have to do with rom-coms, do you ask?
Let’s face it, romantic movies are like candy. As a culture, we eat them up even though we know they may not be totally healthy for us, that many lack “nutritional value,” as it were. The fact is, most romantic movies and novels sugar-coat the truth and as adults (myself included), we sometimes watch movies to escape the harsh realities of life and love. My own sister has given me grief over the years for watching romantic comedies because she can’t stand the disingenuous stories and predictable plots. I’ll admit, most of these movies are formulaic and having seen so many of them by now, I can see their flaws even better than she can. So why do I keep watching them?
We all have fantasies of a better life, of finding love, of that perfect moment when all the puzzle pieces of our past and present finally line up to show us a picture of the future. For a lot of us, we hope that picture includes the person we are going to spend the rest of our life with, our happily ever after so to speak. Really though, how often does that actually happen in the real world? I could dredge up the dismal statistics about high divorce rates, about traditional marriage and its shortcomings, but you undoubtedly know about all of that already. My point is, how often do we struggle to find another person to last the month with, to make it through the holidays and maybe even spend Valentine’s Day with, let alone a lifetime together?
You may have noticed that I have more questions than answers about dating and love, which I think is a more honest approach in the long-run. It speaks to where I’m at right now in my life and a lot of you are probably in the same position as I am. We don’t know what we’re doing or who to trust our hearts and bodies with in the age of internet dating and the casual hookup. I’ve experienced it first-hand and while casual dating can be fun and great for some, it’s frankly left me feeling a bit used and disposable. Like the shiny red cellophane that they wrap those heart-shaped boxes of chocolate in, I’ve been tossed aside more than once and I’ve walked away from a few others when my heart just couldn’t take it anymore. Even worse, I look at the list of exes in my address book (the ones I haven’t already deleted in a fit of disappointment and tears) and they look like so many conversation hearts left at the bottom of a box. With so many “Kiss me” and “Be mine” messages staring up at me with the question marks rubbed out, I can’t help but wonder: What was the point of it all?
It’s been clear to me for a while that I need a break from dating and for the last few months, I’ve done just that. I’ve become bitter and jaded in some ways, and I try to check my anger and pain when discussing my dating woes with friends, sometimes without much success. However, maybe there is something to be learned from all of this. For example, I’ve learned to read people’s actions instead of taking them at their word. I’ve learned to speak up for myself and advocate for others who find themselves at the receiving end of abuse. Even more surprising to me personally, I had truly difficult conversations this past year with a few men I considered friends about their unhealthy behavior and actions towards women. It’s not easy confronting a friend like that especially if, like myself, you might be more naturally introverted and anxious about voicing your opinions, preferring to write your thoughts down and process them in private or with someone you really trust. I’ve never raised my voice, but I have made it clear to some of the men around me that I will not stand for such behavior and will do what I can to protect others from the same kind of harm that I and others around me have experienced. I’ve become the sadder but wiser girl, as the old song goes, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Earlier this afternoon I found myself watching yet another rom-com (Definitely, Maybe) to pass the time before I decided to sit down and write this post. This movie has its flaws to be sure, but it also made me laugh, taking my mind off my troubles for a while and even making me tear up a little bit. The movie (spoiler warning ahead) had two conceivable endings, in my mind. The first potential ending takes place in the park after the male lead (Ryan Reynolds) finishes telling his daughter (Abigail Breslin) the story of how he met her mother and how they, ultimately, decided to get a divorce. He is saying goodbye to his daughter before she leaves the park to go home with her mother and tells her, “I didn’t tell you the happy ending[…] You.” This was the point that made me cry because it reminded me of similar statements my mom has made to me and my sister over the years.
My mom raised us on her own, having left my verbally abusive father shortly after my younger sister was born and before things could get even worse. I’m thankful every day that she chose to walk away from him, for her sake and ours. She tells my sister and I that we are the best things to have ever happened to her and I believe that, even though she went through hell to have us. Like the daughter in the movie, I grew up wishing that my parent would find happiness with someone else, but it hasn’t happened for my mom yet. The movie is wrapped with a neat little bow as Abigail Breslin helps her father win back another woman from his past, the one he was always supposed to be with and finally deserves because becoming a father has changed him into a better, more mature man who finally knows what he wants out of life. I have to admit, the movie could have stopped at the first ending for me, since it would have felt more real, but I appreciate the sentiment of the final ending and that desire for something more.
We all hope for a happy ending, but it doesn’t come easy and oftentimes, it doesn’t quite look the way we pictured it. For me, I’m still rearranging the puzzle pieces, trying to figure out my future, but I’m grateful for the love I do have in my life. I’m grateful for my mother and sister, both strong, intelligent, funny, and independent women who lead by example. I’m grateful for my friends, all fierce, creative, and inspiring individuals who remind me of the joy that life can bring if you go out and fight for it. We support one another and pick each other up when we fall, brushing off the dust and urging the other person to keep moving forward. They know and accept me for who I am and encourage my dreams and aspirations, as I do for them. Right now, that is more than enough love for any one person.
So look out for each other, love each other, and strive each day to do better than you did the day before. Look inside yourself and try to see what you can contribute to help make this world a better and safer place for everyone. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, and sometimes it just means actively listening and showing compassion for those around you. If that means that you also need to take a quiet day once in a while, to entertain yourself with a silly rom-com, then by all means, take it. Self-care and self-love are important too, something I am trying to remind myself of these days. The world can wait a day as you quiet your thoughts and center yourself, or simply veg out in front of the television, imagining what a better life might look like. It may not be perfect in the end or match up with the fairytales from the movies, but there is still a lot of love to be found out there if you know where to look for it.
P.S. — While I try to use my own photos for this blog whenever I can, I didn’t have any conversation hearts at hand, so today’s image comes from Wokandapix. Always give credit where credit is due. Love to you all.