Thought Catalog
October 31, 2014

A Cynic’s Take On Romantic Comedies

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They Came Together

Well, here we are again.

For the second Thursday night in a row I am left home alone with plans that fell through as unexpectedly as the stock market crash of 1929. All dressed up and nowhere to go, other than the grocery store, conveniently located just a few blocks away and fully stocked with late night snacks. It took several indecisive minutes to narrow down my choices of frozen yogurt, ice cream and gelato. Low-fat, Greek, natural – it really didn’t matter, the only real goal was making it out of there with some form of frozen, chocolate flavored something. As I made my way to the checkout stand the cashier eyed – and no doubt judged – my purchase: three separate containers of ice cream and gelato. He asked if I was taste testing. I half lied and said I had a friend coming over later. She won’t be here until tomorrow and two of the containers were meant for my consumption, though if history truly repeats itself I will be guiltily eating the third container in the dark and apologize for it later, but he didn’t need to know that.

Just a few hours beforehand my makeup was running down my face after a decent workout, and my hair was a sweaty, matted mess – with remnants of Jell-O in it from the night prior, no doubt. With the aid of makeup and a few optical illusions I had transformed the sweaty, boyish coed into an edgy-looking CoverGirl, complete with septum piercing, only to slip into a comfortable t-shirt, an old pair of sweats, and my specs. Usually I would have Santiago, the beta fish, to come home to, but sadly this morning I found his lifeless body floating about in his tank. So, without anyone to talk to, I turned to the froyo and laptop for some good ole TLC.

Though I am a big fan of action films and crime dramas, nights alone are often spent shamefully watching romantic comedies – RomComs for short. RomComs are my true guilty pleasure, though I will go to my grave telling everyone that my only vice is frozen yogurt. Since my newest health kick, eating a pint of frozen emotion feels a lot less guilty than intentionally subjecting oneself to a binge of cinematic material that is solely created to turn one’s heart, mind, and soul into cathartic mush.

I don’t know what it is about the genre that is so captivating.

Wait, that’s a lie based on a staunch attempt to avoid thorough introspection.

I know why I watch sappy RomComs for hours on end (thank you, Netflix). It is because deep down – really, really deep down – I want some part of the plot to be true, if not for me, for someone, anyone.

Blame it on picture books, fairytales, or Disney, we all want that “happily ever after” everyone has been harping on about since preschool. I think we’ve been conditioned to expect that everything will work out perfectly in the end, but reality is a far cry from Walt’s brainchildren, which have since become a cornerstone of the film industry, and every childhood dream.

That is, of course, not to say that happy endings do not exist. We’ve all got that friend, or cousin who has a friend, who found their soul mate. And through some elaborate series of dramatic and equally whimsical events they ended up in the yellow house with the white trim and the picket fence with the dog and 2.3 children running around the yard.

I could care less if I ended up married with a house and a car payment, but a harmless, “magical romance” (I am physically controlling my gag reflex at this point) couldn’t hurt, no matter how cliché it was. That’s the thing about romantic comedies – they are horribly predictable BUT I STILL WATCH THEM, all the way through the credits, even going so far as to replay a few scenes or the whole movie entirely. The RomCom formula goes something like this:

Two unsuspecting people from (a) totally different, or (b) completely similar walks of life meet in what can only be described as (a) fate, (b) a bet/wager, or (c) some ridiculously benign interaction in which the two see or feel sparks, fireworks, or some other flammable phenomena. They get to know one another in the frozen food aisle, over coffee, or through instant message during the days of dial-up. Then there is the conflict – a bunch of really dramatic stuff happens here: an old lover comes on to the scene, a new lover comes on to the scene, someone has a really big secret, you name it. For a second, the audience believes the two may never end up together, and then shockingly enough, they do. Roll credits.

So I just ruined the art of romantic comedy for you, but you had to see that one coming.

Even still I will subject myself to emotional upheaval for hours on end in order to fulfill some need to prove that love does exist, albeit in a totally scripted alternate universe where everyone is strangely attractive and no one ever seems to wake up with morning breath. It is the false sense of hope that RomComs instill in their viewers that influence socially awkward twenty-somethings like myself to purchase things like popsicles in hopes of meeting someone, or anyone really.

Stay with me here.

It was about a year ago that I moved across the country to go to a school where I knew absolutely no one and had zero friends upon moving in. Left alone for several days in my apartment and suffering at the hand of unfamiliar, east coast humidity levels, I purchased popsicles hoping that one day I would run into someone in the hall or elevator. We would strike up a conversation about the ridiculous weather and the stresses of moving in and I would offer them a popsicle, and thus, a friendship would be born. It goes without saying that no such event ever occurred and I ate nearly the entire box by myself. Personally, I blame my lack of a romantic storyline on my own naiveté and the blindly hopeful, misguided advice of the RomCom industry, but I digress.

If my popsicle misfortune taught me anything, it is that life – especially one’s love life – rarely goes as planned. Going for someone who you perceive to be “out of your league” seldom ends well. It’s nothing like Sixteen Candles or Pretty Woman. In reality, self-worth and personal respect take a backseat when you place someone on a pedestal. Maya Angelou said it best when she stated: “Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.” You truly are worth more than you often give yourself credit.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the whole friends with benefits (FWB) thing. Well, while we’re here we might as well have a cynic’s version of a heart-to-heart on the topic. Sure, casual canoodling with no need to DTR (define the relationship) sounds great in theory; and movies like Friends With Benefits and No Strings Attached would have you believe so. There’s about to be a spoiler, so you’ve been warned. Basically, the premise of both films is that two extremely attractive, consenting adults agree to engage in a non-binding carnal contract, completely void of emotions and labels. Eventually, one or both of the parties involved inevitably develops feelings, creating more than just sexual tension. So a bunch of stuff happens and then the two realize they liked/loved one another all along, and they end up happily ever after, blah blah blah. You can clearly see just how enthusiastic I am about this technique. In the real world, however, there are many more outcomes, none of which is as exciting as Hollywood would have us believe. The first, of many possible results, is that the two adults in question both end up having feelings for one another, and trade in the FWB relationship for one with an emotional component. This scenario is extremely unlikely, as the two of you decided to forgo the conventional style of relationship for a “less complicated” one. Scenario two is a bit … anti-climactic: one or both parties become involved with someone else, traditionally or otherwise, and your once care-free romping about is now sadly over. The third: someone contracts feelings, and much like a terminal disease, you deny it to the death until it finally eats you alive while you allow the non-relationship to fizzle out. Moral of the story: it’s looking pretty damn bleak.

As I am sure you have already noticed, I am really only capable of communicating through dry humor, cynicism and unadulterated sarcasm. And if you, the reader, are truly as wonderful as I imagine you to be, you are so cunning you have deduced that my true talent lies in totally overanalyzing every little event, no matter how benign. You, you remarkably intelligent patron of this page, determined this based on the fact that nearly the entire basis of this blog is to overanalyze day-to-day occurrences. My predisposition for hyper-analytical thought makes those quintessential cinematic scenes a bit problematic. You know the scenes I’m talking about, the ones we all wish would happen, but in reality they would never truly play out the way they do on the silver screen. Quick-witted one liners exchanged between two aesthetically pleasing protagonists? Yeah right, I can’t even have a conversation with myself without sticking my proverbial foot in my mouth. Locking eyes from across a crowded room? When such a phenomenon occurs the first thought that pops into my mind is typically: “What do you want?” That or I immediately think they are most certainly a serial killer, take your pick. Oh, and the whole kissing-in-the-rain scenes? Please. I would be too preoccupied calculating the probability of being struck by lightning to fully enjoy the moment.

As fanciful as the RomCom industry’s illusions are, we still continue to hold out hope – I say we because I am simply too proud to stand alone as the subject in this sentence. I have never been one to expect something as elaborate as a synchronized, Glee-style flash mob to ask for my hand in “happily ever after” (and honestly, a hoard of people smiling and leaping is really quite terrifying). Nevertheless, I am still waiting for the day that ink and highlighter stained fingers are charming. So I’m just going to sit over here in the corner, holding out for the person who happens to find combat boots, cargo pants, and Clubmaster specs alluring – a Patrick Verona to match my Kat Stratford persona, if you will.

At the end of the day, you may not be the director in the story of your life, but you do get to choose the cast. My suggestion: use your best judgment, don’t go for the stock characters, and give yourself the best lines.

Cue music. Pan out. Roll credits. TC mark