Updated: Aug 31, 2021
We all love a lighthearted rom-com after a long day. We are the reason that romance is one of the most successful genres of all time. You can find me subtly hiding behind the “we”. I mean, humorous plotlines centred on romantic ideas about how two people meet through extremely unlikely circumstances and fall in love followed by a prodigious conflict and subsequent solution wrapped in the package of happily ever after? Count me in! That’s the thing about romcoms. We are always sure of the end. They hardly ever let us down. They are hopeful, optimistic and reassuring. They restore our faith in love. They help us build our fantasy life where the relationships are like what they say they should be like. I have grown up constructing my world from the tiny fragments of books and movies I consumed. And trust me, I have consumed a lot. Romantic comedies have always been an escape for me. As it is for many of us.
Although, at times, when I am not intoxicated with the compelling image of one true love or a flawless relationship between two people with absolute compatibility, I ponder over the destruction these depictions cause in relationships in real life. Over the years, movies and books like these have affected our views on relationships way more than we are willing to admit. Obviously, older people are less likely to assimilate the unrealistic representation of love and build their expectations around it. But these expectations− them damping in the rain all night to get your “yes” or, chasing you down at the airport to publicly express their love for you− often destroy the relationships among the younger audience. It is very important to inform and indoctrinate our youth of what love is− beyond the rose-tinted wall of books and movies.
The thing about love stories on screen isn’t that they are untrue. It’s that they are incomplete. We hardly ever see anything beyond two people reconciling after a conflict. They don’t show us the messy part of a relationship. The raw depiction is hardly ever opted for. Books and movies contribute a great deal in building unhealthy ideas about how a relationship should run or how your partner is supposed to treat you. Having expectations is not a bad thing. It actually is very reasonable. Knowing your self-worth and not settling for less is a rational approach to finding happiness. But it is a sad truth that the more books and movies we read of the romance genre, the more we find ourselves indulging in the pit of impractical presumptions that are harmful and hurtful to both the parties involved. Blinded by our high expectations, we often end up depreciating the existence of the partner who has done nothing but supports our unhealthy obsession of binging romantic comedies every weekend.
The effect of consuming romance on screen doesn’t halt here. We not only project our unhealthy expectations towards our partner but also inscribe the destructive image of what a relationship should be like in our minds, responding to our impulse trying to recreate our favourite tropes of a romance flick. We start looking for the same people that exist (and seem charming) only within the pages of a hardcover or inside the black and white world of our favourite tv shows. The tedious trope of bad boy falling for the good nerdy girl has been shoved inside our throats for so long, yet it keeps manifesting itself in a variety of guises, still just as beloved as it was a lifetime ago. It starts with the falling for the said person’s abuser, slowly progressing to I can fix him, to the jealous/overprotective/possessive boyfriend, ultimately closing with the I will slit my wrists if you don’t marry me trope. We glamorize and yearn to find a Noah to our Allie, Chuck to our Blair, Ben to our Andie, Big to our Carrie; all the relationships that not only undermined each other’s potential but also retrogressed the individuals’ character development with their codependency.
I will be a hypocrite if I say that I have never fallen victim to one of these tropes featuring swoon-worthy characters that made me question my own judgement. I was a naïve girl in my teens. And just like almost everyone else, I had built my world based on the perfect recipe of romcom. When I came across a person just as charming and mysterious as my favourite character from a young adult novel, I was thrilled. My fantasy world was just going to turn into a live-action movie with lots of love and adventure and I was so ready to give it my all. But boy, was I wrong. It did take my all though. The whole experience ripped me off of my self-esteem and made me question every gesture of love for the rest of my life. I endured way too much mistreatment in the name of love because I thought when I will come on the other end, it would be the happily ever after that I had been imagining for a lifetime. I kept trying my best to tender the heart of my abuser without realizing that my self-respect was being tarnished every time I pushed myself to be the part of situations that drained me of my sanity. It was toxic love, and I knew that. Yet I kept trying to make it work. All because my favourite novel gave a similar idea of what love should be. It had consumed me to the point that I almost gave up on my academics. My academics have been a pretty big deal for me all my life, trust me.
It took me a few years to snap out of the love delusion and when I did, I was a completely different person. It took a lot of good years to reclaim my sanity. Today, as I write this, I can safely say that I don’t regret reading all those romcoms and basing a real relationship on its synopsis. Because the great thing that came out of it is that now I have the power to read and watch every romcom in the world and not associate my real-life experiences with it.
It all brings us to the question of how and who should be the perfect handpick as a role model for love in today’s world. I would say, definitely not romcoms. Because although the plot centres around the relationship between two people, it does almost nothing to develop the characters as separate people. And in every love story, being whole by yourself is just as important as growing together in a relationship. The love between two people is not the only element that drives a relationship. Respect, mutual understanding, compassion, and the ability to be independent without your partner are essential to a long-lasting relationship. It’s not the events of a relationship that make a love story epic. It’s always you and your partner. The rest falls together quite smoothly.
Exploring love on your own can prove to be a wholesome experience. Although, there are certain dos and don’ts when entering a relationship for the first time. For starters, have expectations but avoid unrealistic ones. Don’t look for someone to fill your void within or someone to solve all your problems. Nobody but you can do all that. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt, but also know your self-worth and stop trying to translate abuse into the language of love. Lastly, stop comparing your relationship to the couple in your favourite romcom. Trying to recreate an epic love story could come at the expense of ruining an otherwise healthy relationship. I am not saying that true love doesn’t exist in the real world. It certainly does; just not quite like the one in fiction. Love in real life is messy. Unpredictable. But most of all, it is beautiful.
cover credits: Everett Collection