Not So Happily Ever After: Predicting the Post-Credits Fate of 10 Romantic-Comedy Couples
A few years back, some good Canadian folks filming a documentary on romantic comedies asked me to participate in their fine project. The subject of the doc was about how romantic comedies have a tendency to create, in real life, expectations that most men are unable to meet. In Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman, takes that notion a step further, blaming his inability to satisfy women on John Cusack, reasoning that Lloyd Dobler has set an example that neither he, nor any other man, can ever reasonably duplicate. He writes:
It appears that countless women born between the years of 1965 and 1978 are in love with John Cusack. I cannot fathom how he isn’t the number one box-office star in America, because every straight girl I know would sell her soul to share a milkshake with that motherfucker … But here’s the thing that these … women don’t seem to realize. They don’t love John Cusack. They love Lloyd Dobler. When they see Mr. Cusack, they are still seeing the optimistic, charmingly loquacious teenager he played in Say Anything.
And what these women also fail to understand, at least in my opinion, is that many of these lofty expectations are built around a myth that Lloyd Dobler and Diane Court — after the ding of the seat belt light, and after they safely landed in London — managed to stay together and live happily ever after, populating the world with ‘Lil Doblers and spending their golden years in a rocking chair sipping on Country Time Lemonade. Well, here’s a reality check, Captain Stupendously Obvious: Over half of all marriages end in divorce and, I suspect, that number is even higher when the two spouses are high-school sweethearts. Of course, it’s no secret that marriages don’t always last, but even when they do, arguments and lifestyle compromises are inevitable. If Lloyd Dobler and Diane Court were still together today (they are not, I conjecture), you can bet your ass that Lloyd is selling or processing something sold or processed to take care of Lloyd, Jr. and provide Diane with the sort of comforts she was accustomed to when her father was bilking the nursing home. You don’t give up a house in the ‘burbs with a jukebox in it to live off the fat of the land and watch your husband toil away with a failed kickboxing career (“sport of the future?” Ha!), now do you? Not even for the freakin’ Ice Man.
So, I’m here to provide a public service to men everywhere by lowering those expectations, and — in the process — hopefully dispel any beliefs that your favorite romantic-comedy heroes and heroines always managed to stay together through thick and thin, through sickness and in health, and after the credits have rolled. What I intend to do is not just pull something out of my ass, but to look at the characters and — taking into account my assumptions about human nature — project what happened to these couples based upon their personality types and tendencies. And be warned: There are cinematic and real-life spoilers ahead, so if you’d like to keep your fond memories intact, you best skedaddle.
Westley and Buttercup, The Princess Bride: As it turns out, “true love” can only get you so far in the end. Buttercup, as you may recall, fell in love with a poor farm boy, but you could tell it was solely a physical attraction; after all, before carrying Buttercup through the fire swamp, Westley had never exchanged anything more than the occasional “as you wish” with her. She wanted him for his chiseled abs and his ability to fetch her pails of water. The truth is, Buttercup really didn’t know that much about Westley. Though his stint as the Dread Pirate Roberts made him more appealing on a purely thrill-of-the-adventure sexual level, it was yet another mask for his true personality: An undereducated, slightly brutish, peasant. Sure, sure — saving Buttercup from an Evil Prince bought him a few years of unconditional affection, years in which she tolerated Westley’s loutish ways (he never lifted the seat in the outhouse, for instance). But she always wanted to read or talk about her feelings, while all Westley wanted to do was appreciate her “perfect breasts” and swashbuckle. Moreover, as you may recall from their initial courtship, “nothing gave Buttercup as much pleasure as ordering Westley around,” and after the luster of their new relationship began to fade a little, Buttercup fell into old habits. Westley, however, stopped finding her incessant demands endearing; he just thought she was a nag (through the years, his “as you wish” grew more and more sarcastic).
Still, divorce being out of fashion during that era, Buttercup and Westley did remain married. Nevertheless, Westley — who missed sailing and swording with his pals — would often leave for weeks or months at a time, filling in for Inigo Montoya when his old friend wanted to take a vacation from being the current Dread Pirate Roberts. It was during one of those stints — on Westley’s 39th birthday — when he was finally killed. It was friendly fire, unfortunately; during a sword battle, he was gutted by the backswing of one of his compatriots. During his last few seconds of life, however, all his affection for Buttercup came flooding back, and his last words, naturally, were simply “as you …(*gurgle*).” Buttercup, forgetting the bickering and animosity of the last few years, lived as a widow for another three decades, during which time she wrote romance novels based upon their adventures.
Sam Baldwin and Annie Reed, Sleepless in Seattle: Anybody who has tried to survive a long-distance relationship knows exactly how Sam and Annie’s relationship ultimately ended. After they took the elevator down from the Empire State building, went back to a hotel, and put little Jonah to bed, Sam and Annie stayed awake all that night sipping wine and chatting. For Sam, it was the best night he’d had since his wife died; for Annie, it may have been the best night of her entire life. Feeling slightly guilty about enjoying himself as much as he had so soon after his wife had died, Sam slept on the pull-out bed that morning, not wanting to move the relationship too far too fast. Buoyed by their perfect night, however, Sam took the week off and traveled to Baltimore to spend more time with Annie (there, he met Annie’s best friend Becky and was not impressed). It was a great week, but Sam couldn’t quite shake the feeling that Annie wasn’t as perfect for him as his late wife; when he touched Annie, it wasn’t like “coming home” as he’d described to the radio-show host, it was more like spending the summer in the family beach house. Great, but not perfect. Nevertheless, after he returned to Seattle, Sam and Annie spoke on the phone every night for the first few weeks; they even made plans to see each other every other month, but neither was willing to sacrifice their careers and make the move cross country permanent. So, after a couple of years, the phone calls began to trail off, and the visits became less and less frequent. It was just too big a hassle. They did attempt to make one last ditch effort to salvage the relationship; Annie secured a temporarily one-month assignment in Seattle, where she gave a trial effort to living with Sam. Unfortunately, they never could quite recapture the magic they felt that first night in New York and, ultimately, they allowed the relationship to fizzle. The next year, Annie married her editor at the paper, while Sam remained single. He dates occasionally, but he’s not that interested in a long-term relationship. He and Annie, however, remain good friends.
Harry Burns and Sally Albright, When Harry Met Sally: Three months after the New Year’s eve in which Harry and Sally ultimately reunite at the end of When Harry Met Sally, they were married. The marriage wouldn’t last. Harry and Sally soon realized that the only time there was any real passion in their relationship was when they were bickering. Sadly, in an effort to keep the fire in their relationship stoked, their fights increased both in frequency and intensity. On two occasions, in fact, their arguments got so heated that they were arrested for disturbing the peace. Marie bailed them out both times. Because their squabbles often took place in public, or in front of guests, their humiliated friends eventually stopped inviting them out, which led to increased isolation, which, in turn, led to even more arguments. What’s more, the break-up sex began to suffer because the increasingly insecure Harry (whose self-esteem had taken quite a beating after scores of insulting arguments) began to suspect that Sally was faking her orgasms, and afterwards, he refused to hold her for more than the 30 seconds he’d allotted for cuddling. Finally, one morning, after four years of marriage, Harry declined to take Sally to the airport, and she recognized that the relationship had run its course. They had one last massive blowout, and then the best break-up sex of their lives. The next morning, however, Sally called the legal firm of “That’s Mine, This is Yours,” and they were divorced six months later. They never talked again.
Lloyd Dobler and Diane Court, Say Anything: The end of Lloyd and Diane’s relationship was a hard pill to swallow. There were no pens exchanged; their relationship just ended slowly, painfully, and irrevocably. Things were swell for a few months after they arrived in England, where she began studying at the university. But, Lloyd — who was unable to secure a work visa — spent all of his time following around Diane like a lost puppy dog, hanging around outside her classes and making himself a general nuisance during her study sessions. When her grades began to falter, she began to resent Lloyd. Moreover, because Lloyd had absolutely nothing going on in his life, he spent all his time overthinking their relationship— he grew increasingly paranoid that Diane would leave him for a classmate, and his passive-aggressive confrontations only made that notion all the more likely. Diane, for her part, began to realize that she had more in common with Spence, a PhD student in Literature with a charming British accent, than she did with Lloyd, who continued to insist that he had a future in kickboxing, a belief that increasingly annoyed Diane, who was busting her ass to make a real life for herself. After the year term ended, she decided to stay on and pursue a four-year degree in England, in part because of Spence and, in part, in the simple hope that Lloyd would take the hint and leave. Lloyd saw the writing on the wall and — not wanting to spend another year loitering around London — decided to go back to Seattle and help his sister take care of her kid. After a few months, he did the inevitable and followed in his parents’ footsteps, joining the army, where he was stationed at a base outside of Boulder, Colorado. There, he met someone more his speed, a girl named Sarah who smoked copious amounts of pot and played bass in an all grrrrl band. After fulfilling his commitment to the military, Lloyd opened a small kickboxing studio, where you can still find him today, teaching preteens the sport of the future. Diane ran through a series of men in college, had year-long lesbian fling in grad school, and ultimately wound up at the University of Chicago, where she’s a tenured professor who teaches feminist theory. She thinks about Lloyd often.
Edward Lewis and Vivian Ward, Pretty Woman: Well, this one is obvious. A wealthy businessman and a prostitute? Yeah, that’ll work. Granted, there’s not a single heterosexual guy under 25 who doesn’t want to “save” the prostitute or the stripper, but it’s all sexual fantasy. Everyone, except for Frank Marshall, understands that this relationship will never work in reality, and if you’ve seen Clerks, you know exactly why. Every guy that Vivian has ever slept with will weigh upon Edward, will screw with his head, and haunt his nightmares. Late at night, unable to fight off the demons in his mind, he’ll badger her about all the men she’s been with, he’ll ask her to tally them up, and she’ll initially refuse. Edward will persist, however, and just so she can get some sleep, she’ll tell him what he wants to hear. Turns out, he really didn’t want to hear it.
Over the first few weeks of their relationship, she’ll be forced to divulge more and more details. He’ll freak out; he’ll ask her to duplicate the more raunchy sex acts with him, thinking it will remove the bad taste from his mouth if he could mark his territory, so to speak (Edward, if anything, was a narcissist). It won’t; it will only make him feel worse — knowing she’s done those things with other men — and she’ll feel used and violated in the process. Her past will eat him alive — his business will suffer, he’ll lose sleep, and he’ll fly into disquisitive rages for little reason. He’ll blame his surliness, his moodiness, and his wild temper on little matters, inconsequential things like the way she holds her fork. He’ll find reasons, other than her past sex life, to start arguments, which will become more and more petty, until — eventually — they’ll fight over dinner plans. He’ll insist on a four-star restaurant with a strict dress code, while she’ll demand they stay in, watch old movies and eat pizza. Edward will lose his shit. “Typical,” he’ll say. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Vivian will respond. “What do you think it means?” Edward will ask sarcastically. “Go the hell,” she’ll yell. “Fuck you,” he’ll say, before throwing a wad of $100 bills on the bed. “Here,” he’ll say. “Go buy yourself a Pizza Hut, you whore.” She’ll cry. He’ll walk out. And the next day, the deed to the penthouse they’re staying in will arrive, signed over to Vivian. Underneath Edward’s transfer of ownership signature, it will read, “Services rendered.” And that, folks, will be the end of that.
Sam and Joon, Benny and Joon: The Buster-Keatonesque Sam and the mentally-ill Joon, after finally extricating themselves from Joon’s overprotective brother, Benny, move in together in an apartment in Ruthie’s building, which is where Benny and Joon ends. After the credits roll, the quirky couple actually does manage to have a very loving relationship for several months, though Joon grows slightly irritated with Sam’s refusal to talk about his feelings, as he chooses to act them out as a mime, instead. Nevertheless, the two eventually get engaged and decide to have a small rehearsal dinner in their apartment the day before the ceremony. However, the afternoon before the dinner, while Sam is preparing a feast of grilled-cheese sandwiches that he makes with an iron, Joon has a violent freak-out while watching a Fruit of the Loom commercial featuring a raisin (or “humiliated grape”). Sam quickly runs to her aid and attempts to console her; unfortunately, he leaves the iron on (on the rayon setting, of course) and accidentally sets fire to the apartment, a fire that quickly grows out of control after the flames lick Sam’s numerous cleaning products. Sam is able to save Joon, but sacrifices his own life to the fire in the process. After the fire and Sam’s tragic death, Joon is forced to be permanently institutionalized. For the rest of her life, she becomes completely inconsolable whenever someone flips past a silent film in the institution’s common room.
Melvin Udall and Carol Connelly As Good As It Gets: During the last few minutes of As Good As it Gets Melvin delivers his now ridiculously overused “You make me want to be a better man,” speech, which is enough to convince Carol to at least have coffee at the local bakery with him. Later that night, they go on a date and Melvin — incapable of speaking without tripping over his prickish tongue — buys her a new dress, and when Carol asks, “What’s this for?” he says that her waitress outfit makes her ass look big before trying to take it back. “I didn’t mean it that way,” he pleads. “I just mean, this dress makes your ass look smaller.” Carol, exasperated with yet another unintended slight, snaps, and that is final nail in the coffin of their relationship. They barely acknowledge one another for the next few months. However, very soon thereafter, Melvin keels over. Forced to go to another diner for meals, he chokes on a piece of steak. Instead of trying to help him, the wait staff — all of whom loathe Melvin — applauds when he finally buckles over and lets go of the ghost. However, in his will, he leaves his house to his gay roommate, Simon, and his substantial fortune, as well as a recently completed manuscript about his relationship with Carol, to her and her son, Spencer. A week later, she buys the diner she works at and calls it “Melvins.”
Loretta Castorini and Ronny Cammareri, Moonstruck: Fans of the film Moonstruck probably are aware that La Boheme plays central to the plotline, and anyone familiar with La Boheme should know how it ends for Loretta and Ronny. Yes, after Ronny proposes, Loretta accepts, and the entire family toasts “Alla famiglia,” the couple do manage to have a few passionate weeks together. Like any authentic Italian-American couple, they bicker lovingly all day long, get drunk on wine at night, and spend the evening in the throes of mad lovemaking. Unfortunately, Loretta — whose first husband was hit by a bus — was right all along in her assumptions that she was cursed. A few weeks before she and Ronny are set to marry, Ronny contracts drug-resistant tuberculosis. Because Ronny has so little time left to live, Loretta decides to go back on an earlier promise, and the two quickly get married at city hall. Two weeks later, like La Boheme’s Mimi, Ronny succumbs to his illness, and Loretta is left, once again, a widow. She decides never to marry again. Loretta now lives with her mother, who nags her daily to go out and find a new husband, a good man she doesn’t necessarily love, but whom she could live her remaining years with in contentment. She adopts stray cats, instead.
Jerry Maguire and Dorothy Boyd Jerry Maguire: When we last saw Jerry Maguire and Dorothy Boyd, Jerry had won over Dorothy with a simple “hello,” before rambling on about how much Dorothy completed him. Sadly, that whole speech was just another symptom of his fear-of-loneliness disease; after that big Monday night game, when he realized that Rod Tidwell was more interested in his talking to his wife than he was in hanging out with Jerry, he sought out Dorothy, figuring he had at least a 50/50 shot at convincing her to take him back. And, of course, she did because — after all — she wanted so badly for the relationship to work that she’d intuited a marriage proposal months before when there wasn’t one. Naturally, when football season started up again the next year, the cycle began anew. Now with six clients, Jerry found even more reasons to stay away from their marital home, though at the end of each football season — seeing six months of loneliness ahead of him — Jerry returned home with another impassioned speech. Dorothy bought it every goddamn time. She remained convinced that they were meant to be, while Jerry stayed in a relationship with a woman he didn’t love out of fear and because of his affection for Ray. The cycle thus continued for seven years, until a now teenage Ray wizened up and, though it hurt him to do so, pleaded with his mother not to take Jerry back. “It’s an emotionally abusive relationship, Mom,” he’d said. “And did you know that the human head weighs 8 pounds?”
Dorothy, knowing she couldn’t resist the wily charms of her husband, instead packed up Ray and their belongings and simply left, mailing divorce papers a year later, after Jerry refused to track her down. Jerry, crushed and depressed, spent several nights drinking at the local tavern before finally realizing, during a drunken conversation with one of his chiseled clients, that he’d been fighting his true self all his life. Jerry was gay, of course. Subconsciously, that’s why he’d gone into the sports agent profession, why he’d spent so much time in locker rooms with his clients, why he’d spent countless hours on his hair, and why he couldn’t commit to a woman. Once this became clear to Jerry, and after he’d become involved with a retired baseball player, he and Dorothy reconciled. Moreover, Ray and Jerry are still very close; in fact, Ray often babysits for Jerry’s two adopted children. Meanwhile, after two years of therapy, Dorothy worked through her abandonment issues and is now in a stable relationship with a gentle, though somewhat weak-willed, co-worker at a small accounting firm.
Andrew and Sam, Garden State: Here’s a glimpse into Andrew and Sam’s final break-up fight, a typically one-sided argument they have six-months after they kiss at the airport, and after Andrew decides to stay in Jersey. It occurs in the living room of Andrew’s house, where he still lives with his father; they are sitting next to one another on the couch listening to music. Sam: “Oh, for fuck’s sake, Andrew. Enough with the goddamn Shins already. Yes. Yes. The Shins are great. But, for criminy’s sake, if I hear ‘Caring is Creepy,’ one more time, I’m going to have one of my epileptic fits and stab you in the gut. Jesus, dude. This emo sensitive guy shtick is played. Take a cue from Frou Frou, man, and just ‘Let Go.’ Damn. I can’t believe I fell for you and your pathetic little existence. Sure, I found your constant contemplation kind of cute at first; I thought there was something deep and profound circling around in your head. Turns out, you were just counting the rocks up there, huh? Stop with the navel gazing, already. Can’t we just watch some fucking TV? And please not “Scrubs,” again. I’m so sick of that show. One night, man: Just one night, couldn’t we watch “Grey’s?” Cause at least then I could hear about someone else’s problems for a change instead of reliving your sad miserable life over and over every goddamn day of my life. Your mother has been dead for six months, dude. It’s time to move on. I cannot believe I fell for a guy that yelled into a quarry. That is, like, the oldest trick in the goddamn book. And when you said, “I don’t want to waste another moment of my life without you in it,” I didn’t think you meant it literally. C’mon, Andrew: Get a job, already. Look: I’m sorry you gave up your lucrative waiter slash acting career to stay in freakin’ Jersey. I’m sure you were just about to parlay that retarded quarterback gig into a movie stardom. But, you made your bed, and I’m getting the hell out of it. You need to go back to your ‘ellipsis,’ buddy. I gotta go. I’m sorry — I gotta hamster to bury or something. I’ll see you later. I’ll call you sometime. Maybe. Whatever. Have a nice life.”
This post, originally published in 2007, has been modified and republished.