Romantic comedies have been setting unrealistic standards for romance for decades. We give them credit for establishing pretty much all the clichés that real life inevitably fails to live up to and I’m sure we’ve all wondered why life can’t be more like the movies (usually after a breakup, crying into an ice cream tub).
We look to Richard Curtis, Cameron Diaz and co for lessons on love. But can they teach us anything about real life?
A makeover will always get you noticed
You have the eye on the most popular guy in school. How do you get his attention? Why, by taking off your glasses and letting down your hair, of course. In planet rom-com, a solid makeover is a the most risk-free investment you can make into finding the love of your life. Of course, in the real world, there's a slightly less direct correlation between time spent on the gym and accessories, and finding our loved ones – plus our makeovers tend to take a little longer than a day.
Reality check: Investments don’t always pay off
The first kiss will be perfect
It's the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the first kiss. Our hero and heroine have gone through god knows how many awkward trip-ups and convenient coincidences to get here. Shielded by the plot, our characters can make their move, safe in the knowledge they both want to reach the maximum payoff of a mutual kiss.
IRL... no such guarantee. We can’t always tell if the other person is actually that into us, and so we’re often too scared of rejection. If one goes for it and the other backs away, it’ll just be really awkward for the rejector and even more awkward for the rejected – not to mention the fact that first kisses are normally pretty rubbish anyway. Until you’re completely sure, it might be simpler just to leave things as they are, even if both parties end up slightly unsatisfied. Chances are, it will take several attempts before both of you can work up the courage to make the move.
Reality check: Everyone has to be fully signed up to seal the deal, and you can never be sure what the other person’s thinking
Happily-ever-after is pretty much guaranteed
They’re clearly meant to be together, but for the sake of plot development, some misunderstanding will temporarily pull them apart. That leaves us with the drama of the finale, where characters make grand, sweeping gestures to try and win back the guy/girl.
In a world where two people are destined to be together, doing something risky and reckless will always lead to the guaranteed payoff of winning back the love of your life. Characters are free to gatecrash weddings, run through airport security and make impromptu public speeches to declare their love. In real life, high-risk strategies won't always work: there might be a great potential payoff, but there is also a great possibility of loss. Chances are, you'll just end up being known as the person who tried to ruin their best friend’s wedding.
Reality check: You have to balance the size of the risk against the size of the potential gain
There's always such thing as "The One"
Whether it’s love at first sight, or a gradual realization that she loves the guy she couldn’t stand at first, every film predetermines that the hero and heroine will end up together forever, no contest. In other words, they have a monopoly on each other’s hearts. In reality, finding love doesn’t always work like that. With seven billion people in the world, there will always be competition out there. Your crush may already be taken, or just more interested in other people.
This is why dating exists: rather than waiting around to be swept off your feet by “The One”, it's easier and quicker to find suitable matches in markets with lots of participants, and a better chance of finding a good match. You may find yourself going on multiple questionable dates, but there will always be someone else around the corner.
Reality check: Shop around!
Finding love is pretty simple when the characters are propelled together by a script writer with dollar signs in their eyes, but it’s a lot harder in reality. Real life is unpredictable. While there’s every chance of you finding and chasing someone special, there’s also an equal chance of getting your heart broken in the process – something that rom coms often gloss over. Romance may not match up to the movies, but hey, at least we won’t have to sprint through airport security to declare our love anytime soon.