Ever since I can remember I’ve been obsessed with the concept of love. Not necessarily in the “boy crazy, can’t wait to get married” way. Men are…..disappointing to say the least and marriage is a misogynistic, unnecessary institution. But, love as a force, the feeling that launched a billion, trillion poems, this thing that has the power to transform to destroy, that we write endless thinkpieces about, dissect, try to understand, qualify, quantify and yet fails definition.
I fed this fascination with a steady diet of romance novels (preferably historical) and romantic comedies (preferably British). The romance genre is not exactly known for its progressivism or feminist praxis, and yet, 9/10 I will choose a romcom over a movie from any other genre. I’m well aware that these movies are overwhelmingly cishetero centered, white as hell, often reinforce harmful tropes about women and perhaps most scathingly are utterly and completely predictable. But isn’t there a comfort in that?
I like knowing that they’re going to end up together. I’m here for the journey, not necessarily the ending. Knowing where the story is going for once is reassuring because, in our own lives, we never do.
But my affection for the genre is complicated. Women are conditioned to look for love, and yet we’re also shamed if we say that we are. Falling in love is supposed to be one of the pinnacles of human existence, but it’s also a show of weakness, a buying into the narrative that society has set for you. Monogamy, heteronormativity, the big fluffy white dress, marriage as a triumph for women and a death knell for men. These are the lessons often contained within romantic comedies and similar forms of media. And the cynic in me is stuck on this, on the problematic messaging, on the reality of dating, on the fact that love is hard to find and men are trash. It’s difficult for me to forget that romance doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it’s subject to the same shitty facts of life just like everything else. People come with baggage that is sometimes never resolved, people are hard to trust, we sometimes make ourselves difficult to love, just because you deserve someone doesn’t mean you will ever meet them.
And most of the women in the romantic comedies look the same, essentially everything that I am not. And personality wise, even the most rambunctious and tough are worn down to soft and simpering versions of themselves. And I’m not decrying the strength and power in vulnerability, but some of these romcoms look like the Taming of the Shrew with more comprehensible slang and fewer sex jokes (cause no one has more sex jokes than Willy Shakes). But what if you know, to accidentally quote Miley Cyrus, that you can’t be tamed? That you don’t want to be? That you are prickly and opinionated and furious about a lot of things and you don’t intend on changing. Do we have to soften ourselves in some way to find love? To hand our happiness and self-sufficiency over to someone else? Sometimes I wonder if there are any truly feminist heterosexual pairings.
But the older I get the more solace I find in the saccharine sweet simplicity of a romantic comedy. They pare down love to its basics. That irresistible, irrevocable call that isn’t always convenient, isn’t always logical but is always the most important thing in the world. It breathes optimism into love. And the really good ones, with realistic, complex, brave women and kind men, that show how love can transform, can change your life and yourself, but without you losing who you are, are something of a miracle.
Our country and our world is essentially a burning garbage fire, but romantic comedies are, at least for me, a balm. Just like how some grownups watch Disney to recapture the magic of childhood, the imagination of youth, romantic comedies are a reminder that growing up comes with its own particular brand of magic.
What I want are more stories where women find love without having to change anything about themselves. And those “unloveable” things aren’t their frizzy hair or cellulite or terrible dress sense but the things that are really hard to love about someone else. Stories where they aren’t trying to save a man. Where she doesn’t have to teach him how to feel, or why mansplaining is a real thing. Where she can be her full, complicated, sometimes unlikeable self, and if she falls in love, great, but she’ll be okay no matter what.