Dating and relationships are supposed to be fun, and most of the time, they are. Often, it’s when you’re trying to measure your lived experience against some kind of ideal that things get stressful. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have standards — set them and set them high — but if you’ve ever felt frustrated when a date doesn’t do what you expect or a relationship doesn’t play out as planned, consider the source of those feelings.
Hollywood, which has been creating clichés, tropes, and stereotypes for nearly 100 years, is a willing scapegoat. As audiences become more sophisticated and more diverse voices find themselves behind the camera, things are improving, but you don’t have to look too hard at some of the more seminal rom-coms of the last few decades to spot things that don’t ring true.
1. Love and lust are synonymous.
The movie “Twilight” and the TV series “Mad Men” could not be further apart, but when I look at Bella and Edward, I hear Don Draper saying this: “By love, you mean big lightning bolts to the heart, where you can’t eat and you can’t work, and you just run off and get married and make babies. The reason you haven’t felt it is because it doesn’t exist. What you call love was invented by guys like me… to sell nylons.” That love is instant and all-consuming is perhaps the biggest lie Hollywood has sold, and no movie in the 21st century has packaged it better than “Twilight.” It’s conflates love with lust and sets an untenable precedent of what we should be looking for before a relationship even begins.
2. Your future mother-in-law is the enemy.
“Crazy Rich Asians” is hardly the first movie guilty of perpetuating this trope, though it is the most recent. It’s not that there’s zero chance you’ll encounter a disapproving mother-in-law, but movies would have you believe it’s all but inevitable, especially if you’re a woman. Fortunately, in real life, two women can love the same man and like and respect one another from the get-go.
3. Everyone loves a grand romantic gesture.
While Amy Schumer’s dance on the floor of Madison Square Garden in “Trainwreck” is admittedly endearing and mercifully not too public, grand romantic gestures play to the camera far better than they do in real life. Sure, some people dig them, but movies suggest that it’s the ultimate way to say “I love you for real this time” or “please forgive me.” Yet many — calling all introverts — would be absolutely mortified at this public display of affection. If ever there was a time to know your audience, this is it.
4. If it’s meant to be, nothing can ruin it.
For anyone who treats dating as a series of tests — if you can put up with X, you’re the person for me — you can at least partially blame “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” for imparting the idea that true love can survive deception, game-playing, and just plain awfulness. Despite Andie embracing every crazy-girlfriend stereotype imaginable and Ben trying to prove he can make any woman fall in love with him, enough of their real selves come through and the pair finds their happily ever after. Let’s just say they have a higher tolerance for poor behavior than pretty much anyone I know in real life.
5. Letters from the dead are romantic.
Imagine the love of your life has died. You’ve survived the initial shock, the funeral, and the early days of grieving. You’re putting your life back together when a letter from the dead arrives. This is what happens to Lou in “Me Before You” — and in countless other movies — when Will chooses to end his life with assisted suicide. Lou smiles, wipes her tears away, and goes on with her Parisian day. IRL, this would tear open the wound in the short term, even if you came to appreciate it later.
6. Catfishing ends well.
There’s an entire show dedicated to just how badly catfishing ends, yet Sierra, the title character of “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser,” is presented as the ultimate exception. It’s true she became a catfisher by accident, but she quickly figures it out and does some of the shrewdest, most devious ’fishing our screens have ever seen. Still, she gets the guy. What do they say? “Liars make good lovers.” No, no they do not.