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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