Most people have smiled at the final scene of a rom com. The part where they finally get to kiss or say “I do” is heartwarming and exciting. But what if we shouldn’t love what these films have to say about love?
Generally rom-coms begin with a woman either in a career or a relationship. Often she is unhappy, and instead of the source of that unhappiness being her stressful job or the fact she can’t pay her rent, it is that she is lacking the right man. Her friends or relations are usually very helpful in pointing out this failing and helping her set about the task of finding a suitable partner.
Before this quest can begin, we are presented with the cardinal rule of on-screen romance: women sit tight and your man will present himself. Rarely will a rom-com show a woman embarking on a fruitful search to find a man. If she did, she would be desperate and needy and therefore entirely undesirable as a partner. But never fear, the perfect partner is just waiting to spill orange juice on you on the streets of Notting Hill, or insult your wardrobe choices and conversational ability at a turkey curry buffet. As a woman, your main job is to sit pretty and hold tight: the perfect man will always make himself known.
So whilst the womenfolk are nicely waiting, it is down to the men to think of extravagant ways to impress them and prove their love. I mean who wouldn’t want someone you barely know playing music outside your bedroom window in the small hours? But even if the feelings are reciprocated and the gestures welcomed, the whole set up places an inordinate pressure on men to continually perform in this way. Instead of the relationship being based on mutual appreciation and effort, rom-coms teach us that men should have to continually prove themselves as worthy of the woman’s love.
Even when the ‘perfect’ man does present himself though, it’s important not to scare him away by appearing too eager. Whilst the perfect man is continually driven to persist and prove his love, the perfect woman is encouraged to resist. Rom-coms teach women that playing hard to get is attractive: admitting you have feelings for someone isn’t.
But women needn’t fear: their obvious incapability in the decision-making department means they can just surrender the choice about which man to choose to the men themselves. Instead of their choice being based on personality, compatibility or mutual respect, women just have to wait to see which man makes the biggest romantic gesture and simply latch onto him. I mean, everyone knows the number one trait in a long term partner is the ability to make heartfelt speeches on the spot at other people’s weddings. But if the man is in control of performing these demonstrations of love, and all the woman has to do is go with the one who does this best, what happens if men change their minds? If all of the power is in the hands of the men, women are completely unable to control their future.
But it’s alright because there’s a big wedding, or a big kiss or a big lot of kids and everyone, including you, is smiling. What rom-coms never show us though is the bit after the finale. What happens when, after all of this chasing each other across countries and standing on the roofs of cars holding roses, the couple settle down and realise they don’t have a lot in common? Or, if they do have things in common, what if they aren’t able to work through things together or survive difficulty? Rom-coms teach us that love is all about the grand gestures, the bits before “I do”, rather than the part where you actually help each other to succeed in your lives. If your relationship isn’t a series of sunset picnics then you’re probably going about things all wrong.
And what about the people rom-coms stay silent about? Our picture of romance isn’t only dominated by the roles created for men and women, but also who can fulfil those roles. We are prescribed an idea of who can love; namely, young, white, able-bodied, beautiful, heterosexual people. Which leaves a tiny proportion of society who are deemed as worthy of love. Isn’t that heartwarming?
The carefully curated behaviours deemed acceptable for men and women mean rom coms create an unattainable picture of romance. They teach us that if our romantic life isn’t full of flash mobs, our love isn’t valid.
[Halina Romaniszyn – @bisforbeanie]