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Romantic Comedies Destroy the Best Parts of Being Alive

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Think Pieces | February 20, 2014 | Comments ()


Drinking-Buddies_9.png

Romantic comedies are generally terrible films, not just because they are unentertaining drivel, sentimental hallmark bastardizations of that most beautiful and universal human experience of falling in love, but because they get essentially every part of it completely and utterly wrong.

Falling in love is absurdly easy. Most people can manage it at least three times each day, whether they call it that or not. There’s that frisson, that spark, the shared joke with the goofy guy behind you in line at the coffee shop, the look suddenly smoldering between you and that cute girl who shares an elevator ride with you for two floors before disappearing from your life. Eyes meet, and souls suck together like magnets for fleeting moments of pure energy.

Craigslist has their entire Missed Connections section just for these sorts of things, which I think betrays a complete misunderstanding of what these encounters are, of just what these little slices of falling in love really mean. They are mistaking the destination for the journey. These aren’t missed connections, they are the very connections that matter.

Love at first sight exists. And it exists over and over again. Sparks that don’t light bonfires aren’t failures, because without them we’d be walking eternally in darkness.

It can rumble along for longer than spare moments, when the circumstances fall just right. The conversation struck up on an interstate bus for a couple of hours, when the last seat is next to someone reading your favorite novel. The flight delay of three hours at midnight that feels like ten minutes because of the wonderful bloke who gives you half a power bar and regales you of the time he was arrested in Sweden.

And it doesn’t matter if you’re single or a decade happily married, there’s some part of you that wants to let go and plant a kiss for the ages right on those lips sitting there tempting you. A few centuries of Puritanism tell us that this is wrong, that we’re lousy human beings for making those connections and for a moment forgetting who’s waiting at home. Even when we don’t judge ourselves for it, we still mentally separate the impulses. We like to think that desire is somehow segregated from making social connections. It ever so rarely is.

Those connections we make, those deep swoons into love, can last for years, for decades.

When Harry Met Sally got a lot completely wrong despite what I think was a valiant effort to say something complicated. It was right on some very basic level with the argument that men and women could never be friends the way that two men or two women were, that in an unspoken way sex would always be in the subtext. Because two people with the requisite orientation and parts who also get along the way that friends do? The odds of that spark being there are very high. But it was completely wrong with the conclusion it drew, because it also made the assumption that sex as subtext always led to sex in practice. We’re not animals incapable of not following whatever urge strikes us at a particular moment.

Romantic comedies in particular seem to think that the spark itself is indistinguishable from a lifetime of companionship. That feeling those wonderful moments of absolute connection, and yes desire, with a stranger or even a friend of decades is somehow all it takes to make a relationship. But while that’s short sighted and a fifteen year old’s view of love, this perspective would not be so pernicious if not for the logical conclusion that line of thought leads to. If love is all in the falling in love, then every time you have one of those moments, you are cheating.

Romantic comedies are the vanguard of a line of thought that systematically denies and destroys some of the best parts of being alive, by putting falling in love on such a pedestal that it becomes forbidden except in the confines of either sleeping around or finding a life partner.

Hollywood seems almost completely incapable of understanding this, of getting an angle on the complexity of emotion that goes beyond sorting people into the two bins of never fucking and eventually fucking. One of the only films I’ve ever seen that really gets this is Drinking Buddies, with that deep consciousness of the way that we can truly love more than one person without going down some road of open relationships, that such a reality is essentially the normal human condition.

So go out, fall in love three times before lunch, but whatever you do, don’t watch any more romantic comedies.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.


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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • loveluna

    Can I just say I freaken hated that movie "Drinking Buddies" it was the worst movie EVER. It felt like the dam writer just got bored in the middle of the movie (like anyone who watched it) threw his hands in the air and just said 'fuck it". I love Jake Johnson and Ron Livingston but not even their hotness could save this piece of shit movie.

  • GrungellaCronk

    Romantic comedies have made real life pretty corny. It makes me feel like every romantic move I made or will make is so cheesy. Well, maybe I'm too self-conscious like that.

  • Kate at June

    Yes! but....

    Why is that movie the header photo? It's not a romantic comedy at all. And I loved it so hush!

  • TheOriginalMRod

    I love you. Don't tell my boyfriend.

  • Florence A.

    Ok I agree with most of this, but three times a day? Either I'm unlucky or you're love's bitch, Steven.

  • Sarah Weissman

    This is really beautiful. Infatuation can happen anywhere.

  • Beth Ellen

    SLW I first fell in love with you almost two years ago. You wrote some think piece or other about books, and at one point noted that all the books within a series must be the same edition in order to be the same height and therefore preserve the order of the universe. And in that moment I knew.

  • LK16

    I think you make a really great point here about falling in love, but I think you're maybe missing the point about what romantic comedies are? Saying that romantic comedies get real love wrong is like saying that action movies get 'being a cop' wrong or that fantasy movies get the complex nature of medieval monarchy wrong. Um...of course they do? I think you might be underestimating people's intelligence by assuming they watch romantic comedies and think, 'yes, that's what love is!' Whole groups of people can enjoy romantic comedies -- which are really just high fantasy of a particular type -- without modeling their notions of love or reality on them. And romantic comedies don't have to be 'realistic' in order to be good -- in fact, if they're realistic, they might be classified in a different category of movie altogether. If you don't like romantic comedies, that's fine (and I'll admit, I find some horrible, some okay, some pretty enjoyable), but that doesn't mean they're all inherently bad. They're just not the type of fantasy that you enjoy watching. And that's okay. I do enjoy watching them - and that's okay, too.

  • Berry

    Yes, thank you. This was a beautifully written piece, and mostly completely right. But I still find myself unable to agree with the conclusion. Romantic comedies get love wrong. Okay. Well, Rambo gets war wrong. And you can criticize Rambo for how and why it gets things "wrong" and why that matters. Of course you can. And you can criticize romantic comedies for any number of reasons as well. And you should. But let's not pretend that just because a genre doesn't follow the rules of realism it can never have any value ever. The are other modes of story-telling.

    Which again isn't to defend some specific examples of romantic comedies, because most of them are complete and utter shit. But what was the law again? About shit and how 99 % of everything is it? Yeah, that.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    See, now this to me is an interesting comment. If we're told that the movies aren't going to influence us to violent acts, why should we believe they're going to incite misplaced acts of love either?

  • Colleen Dente

    "If love is all in the falling in love, then every time you have one of those moments, you are cheating."

    I know so many people who believe this and feel betrayed by their partner when it inevitably happens. Maybe it's because there's an underlying fear that the spark always leads to action -- that it must be explored or followed, because FEELINGS! -- because that's what we've been collectively taught to chase, to cherish. I wholeheartedly agree that "we're not animals incapable of not following whatever urge strikes us at a particular moment." But we seem to sell ourselves short in the decency/impulse-control department.

    I could never quite put my finger on why it bothered me to draw negative conclusions about a person's character based on their potential to make small, intense connections. Is this what we call "charisma" -- having that special something that draws others in? Perhaps some people simply posses a greater so-called magnetic capacity. As someone who's more the strong, silent type, I think jealously reacting to others' personality traits simply because we do not understand them -- and then judging intention based on assumption -- is definitely part of the problem. And you're 100% right that romantic comedies often encourage us to treat that jealous voice as the rational one.

    Thanks for this lovely post.

  • BWeaves

    Love at first sight does NOT exist. It's lust at first sight.

    Love only happens after you've gotten to know someone over a period of time, and it is built on trust and respect.

    You can fall in love with someone you didn't initially want to bang. You can be friends with someone you are lusting after (although it helps if they're really not into you). But I agree that most movies get it horribly wrong.

  • Protoguy

    I have fallen in love at first sight and the thoughts going through my mind at the time had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with life and companionship and simply wanting to be with the person. "Lust at first sight" happens, but no, everyone isn't the same. If I'm with someone and in love and we have sex, it's called making love, not making lust. If the argument is that eventually I would want to get some sexy time - that's the point of love. Sexytime comes after love. Unfortunately, and maybe I'm showing my age here, but the idea that lust leads to love and not the other way around is just sad.

    True, it might not last or still be love after you've gotten past that initial spark, but simply because it happened seemingly unrealistically fast doesn't relegate it to "lust". I don't know about you, but I can look at a girl and be knocked off my heels without "Sex" being the culprit. We are more than animals.

    Also: I've felt both and there's a difference.

  • GrungellaCronk

    "Lust at first sight" is a pretty accurate observation. Anyone who says they fell in love with someone by just the mere act of seeing them (just that, it means no talking or whatsoever) probably thinks with their genitals.
    Love is like an ignited friendship that is, as you said, "built on trust and respect".

  • Mrs. Julien

    You are no fun whatsoever.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Good job. Now I'm sad.

  • bleujayone

    I don't know about an entire movie, but Orson Welles did get it right for one set of lines from Citizen Kane where Mr. Bernstein reminisces about seeing a girl in a white dress coming in on the opposite ferry as he was pulling away in the other. He only saw her for a second, and she didn't see him at all. Just like that she was gone. And yet he claims there isn't a month in the next 50 years that he doesn't stop recall that one moment in time. And that's part of what falling in love is. It's often not the person themselves one feels for but rather this image they present that someone romanticizes. A fantasy. A possibility. An unattainable standard. The likely reality probably would not hold to the fantasy's standards that Bernstein made for himself. It is that unspoken and unrealized fiction that often fills a hole one might feel in their own life. Still, the very timing of this image made for a fleeting moment for which he revisited for the rest of his days, sustained by the nostalgia of what might have been and what never was.

  • rio

    wonderful piece and all, but damn it, people fall in love constantly? Cause I have none of that, like ever, which explains my desperate state of permanent solitude.

  • emilya

    it's not necessarily always with other people. i tend to fall in love with moments, sights, and words, words words. I remember the first time i came home to my house with my boyfriend and i thrust open the door dramatically and said "I AM IN LOVE" and his answer was "well i hope it's with me, a book, or a band". it was a band, the lone bellow to be specific, and being the lucky girl i am, the bf got me tickets to see them for christmas.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    No, not all of us do. And I see thousands of people every day in this city of mine. But I'm very picky.

  • Anna von Beav

    ...aaaaaand I just fell in love with you, SLW. Again. For like the forty-second time.

  • LaineyBobainey

    I fall in love with him every day.

    I also fall out of love with him every day, because I'm a fickle floozy like that, but he pulls me right back in.

  • Protoguy

    Romantic comedies and romances in general perpetuate the myth that there is one true love out there for everyone. Yeah, it's a nice romantic notion and works in fiction and such, but there are far too many people out there throwing life away waiting for that 'super spark', that bullshit ability we think we have to recognize "the one". Divorce rates indicate the depth of this cultural delusion, though I'm certain that those who glom onto this desperate viewpoint would insist that those people were just poor choosers and that they missed their 'true love' - an attitude that really only supports the selfish notion that dumping your spouse and/or children after encountering problems that one should not even encounter in a 'true love' situation (right?), to find your true love somewhere else. In that universe, the path to 'true love' means horrible pain for the rest of your family but all's good because you found 'the one"? As for singles? Good luck finding "the one" in St Louis. Sorry, God plopped him in Dubai. What? Your supertruelovefinding abilities didn't clue you in on the fact that your one twu wuv didn't magically get borned in the same town you ended up living in?

    The other, less dramatic side of it is simply the stupid lessons they offer: That if you lie to her, she'll find out and dump you. Because almost all romantic comedies employ this formula. Then it's just a matter of stalking her for whatever montagian time period the film's running time requires in order to "prove" your true love to her and she'll dump the insufferable asshole she left you for because you trying to destroy her new relationship isn't horrible at all, because really, she really loved you, not him really. She just didn't know it until you committed several felonies in order to prove it to her blind fool ass.

  • Mrs. Julien

    I would like to officially request that my life be measured in "montagian time periods".

  • rio

    Or maybe people don't wait for the one true love, they simply don't feel the need to be with someone just because society dictates so. Maybe they aren't waiting for the one, they are just waiting for someone for whom making the sacrifices a relationship requires is worth it.
    Maybe the divorce aren't considered moron because they got the one true love wrong, maybe a lot of them got with someone and marry that someone because that's what is expected of them and they should have just be by themselves for a little while longer.

  • Protoguy

    People get married for a lot of stupid reasons, societal expectations being among the stupidest. Romantic comedies and other cultural influences inform those societal expectations.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    This is a True Story from last night. It's about a non-missed connection.

    Rehearsal ended at 10. I went to Herald Sq for my subway. Not one, but TWO trains were there waiting for me, so I got on one and waited for it to go. The MTA (very cleverly, in overlapping announcements from both within and without the train so you couldn't understand either of them) told us that the train wouldn't go to Queens because of an investigation. That meant instead of one train home, it would be three. I took the N. I got on the 7. I waited at Queensboro Plaza, an elevated station. It was already 11. Restless from caffeine, I wandered to the far end of the platform. I looked out and saw the moon - a low, huge orange moon. Over a water tank. And subways passing in front of it. I watched the moon, clouds passing in front of it, slowly rising. I even checked with my brother via text if there was an eclipse. I had my camera, so I grabbed a few shots. I saw others doing so. Finally the train arrived. A 15 minute wait for a 7 minute train ride, but at least the moon was beautiful. My reward for having to deal with an extra long commute.

    On the train, a man about my age was peering through the windows of the train door. "That is the moon, right?" he said. "I'm not crazy?"

    Sure, I said. It was less orange now; I showed him some of my pictures. The doors opened again, and he got off. Seats were open on the train now, I sat down. Near another man about my age. Actually, I'd briefly made eye contact with him a moment ago. He quoted an Arthur C. Clarke notion of the moon. I mentioned if you hold up a coin at the length of your arm, you'll see the moon takes up the same space at the horizon as it does in the sky; it's just the perspective of being near buildings that makes it look larger. He got off at my stop. I introduced myself. An erstwhile actor like myself, with a "real" job. We chatted. I'm from Jersey. He's from a midwest state. Oh, I say, I was in that state on my first tour - these random little cities. He's from one, so the conversation goes on a few more minutes. "Are you on Facebook?" No. "Twitter?" No. But I have a phone. Numbers exchanged, more chatting, finally, it's cold good night. Some fairly inconsequential but friendly texting before bed.

    It feels so good to NOT miss a connection. Or rather, to make it a real connection instead of an imagined one. Those imagined connections are fun, the stories we tell ourselves about our alternate futures, but really, they are all about us, about our potential as it exists in another human being.

  • Mrs. Julien

    This story is so fabulous, you don't even need to find $5.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Aw, thanks. I only wish I'd brought my camera in today so that I could post one of the pictures of the moon. (it was so cool! sidebar: next lunar eclipse will be full, the Tuesday before Easter)

  • you don't even really have to see the other person to fall in love with them.

    case in point, Mr. WIlson: I always fall a little bit in love with you after reading your articles.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Every time you write for the site it is so very, very good and I always want to say something complimentary, but it always feels trite or awkward when I try so I give up. So, Steven, just know that every time you post an article people are thinking that because if the internet has taught me anything, it's that just because I am the only one who might be saying something, it is extremely unlikely that I am the only one thinking it.

  • emmalita

    You are not the only one.

  • Scooter

    This is so beautiful and perfect and true! I am happily married...for nearly 14 years, but I fall in love on a regular basis with people. Luckily my husband seems to understand this about me. Falling in love gives me that high, that euphoric feeling and I crave it sometimes.

  • I'm speechless. The title promised everything, and then the piece went and fucking delivered. Why don't you leave some talent for the rest of us, Steve, you selfish bastard.

  • kinoumenthe

    The other big thing they get wrong is that detesting someone is not equal to feverishly desiring them.
    Often, loathsome people are just that and the only thing you want to plant on them is a resounding slap.

  • Modernlove

    In case the name didn't give it away, I am a HUGE Matt Nathanson fan and I favorited this tweet of his almost a year ago, and it's something I keep going back to. "I fall in love hourly" (https://twitter.com/mattnathan.... There's something about that idea that you can see someone on the street and have a short exchange, or read an interview with a celebrity (case in point, I'm in love with Joel Kinnaman after hearing his Nerdist podcast this morning), just anything. Hell, I refall in love with my husband several times a week. This whole piece just resonated with me in a way I don't think I can put into words, so instead I'm just going to sit here, fall a little in love with your words, and be thankful you write for this site.

  • TK

    Congratulations. As a reward for this brilliant piece, I'm pretty sure your dumb ass just got assigned to the next Garry Marshall movie.

  • There's only one Garry Marshall movie. It's unending and bottomless and it hums forever in the background of another dimension, churning out Sisyphean misery. Occasionally a bit of it leaks into our universe and people pay money to see it. Let Steve review that.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Garry Marshall movies aren't sisyphean, they're promethean.

  • The possible ramifications of that are making my pig head go all sorts of funny.

  • Mrs. Julien

    I'm pretty sure it may well be one of the cleverest things I've ever said and I'm not entirely sure what it means.

  • Welldressed

    I'd watch Steven's version of Arbor Day, or whatever random holiday themed star-studded cash-grab was coming out next.

  • John G.

    In case there was any doubt, Steven LLoyd Wilson is the best thing this site has going for it.

    Just beautiful and perfect, Steven. It makes me want to share a silent moment in an elevator with you.

  • Guest

    Falling in love is absurdly easy. Most people can manage it at least three times each day, whether they call it that or not.

    I just fell in love with this post.

    *P.S. This post reminds me a lot of this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?...

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