Letter From The Editor: Not A Rom-Com

Dear APW,

Before we get started on Not A Rom-Com month, let’s just put this out there: I’m a big fan of Romantic Comedies. David (who otherwise has excellent taste) is not, so when he’s gone I’ll watch any Romantic Comedy I can get my hands on. In fact, today’s second post references The Holiday, which is a perfect example of the form if you ask me. Plus, Kate Winslet.

That said, the trouble with Romantic Comedies is glaringly obvious. Rom-Coms are our new fairytales, our cultural mythmakers, and they spin a web of narrative that is hard for us to escape. The myths hide so deeply in our psyches that we don’t know they are there until they’ve leapt out to bite us in the (totally unrealistic) ass. For me, the most damaging Romantic Comedy myth was not, of course, margaritas with the gay best friend (reality?). What really messed with my head was the Romantic Comedy life timeline. I really thought that you graduated college, found and interesting job at a magazine or art gallery, got a nice urban apartment, and were starting down the road to serious success by twenty-two, preparing you for happily married with a baby and owning the art gallery by twenty-seven. And I know this myth has its hold on more people than me, since the APW comments are filled with laments of not being anywhere near as successful at, say, twenty-three, as expected.

Newsflash: You know who was wildly successful by twenty-three? Lindsay Lohan. Brittany Spears. Fiona Apple. Drew Barrymore. And that clearly worked out flawlessly for everyone concerned. Wild success and relative youth has a way of doing damage, and sometimes destroying talent before it even begins. I, however, was not a recipient of that newsflash, and at twenty-three, was trudging through the snow in boots I’d bought to wear to my temp reception job that were now leaking. Brilliant. Now I had freezing wet feet to go with my constant mental tape loop of despair. (If I don’t own an art gallery and a collection of wildly cute shoes at twenty-three, it’s clear the ship has sailed.) Then, to make things worse, by twenty-six I had my perfect Rom-Com theatre production job… and the same goddamn leaky shoes. Because why? Working at an art gallery/theatre/floral studio will leave you flat broke and not at all in the possession of a stylish and well-appointed apartment. (You want the reality of my twenties? Watch Girls—less the horrific sex scenes, thanks.)

I found out that the danger of Romantic Comedies is they contain a shred of truth. It is totally possible to be happy, with a job you like, an exceptional collection of shoes/handbags/records/whatever your thing is, a nicely decorated home, and a cute dog and/or baby. It’s just that, for most of us, that happens five to twenty years after the Romantic Comedy timeline says it should. And thank God. Because as Elizabeth Gilbert said, in one of my favorite (paraphrased) quotes from her ever, “I’m glad I became successful when I was old enough to know that I was neither as great as my most fervent fans thought I was, nor as terrible as my most dedicated critics.” Which is to say: know yourself first. Then get the shoe collection.*

Which pretty much applies to weddings exactly. Know thyself and be thyself. And then figure out what the eff kind of shoes to wear.

So this month we’ll be deconstructing the Romantic Comedy narrative and try to strip it of some of its (damaging) power: the grand romantic gesture, love conquers all, weddings as the end of the story. And of course, we’ll be doing it with a splash of love for the form. Because being spunky and brave like your classic Rom-Com leading lady usually does not go amiss.

Next up: What watching The Holiday (and sobbing) can teach you.


*Sidenote: I wish. I’m always the person with about five shoes in rotation. Flats, boots, sandals, gym shoes, heels. Maybe I’ll tackle that issue in the next decade.

P.S. Next month’s theme is “Decided.” Rather than the often-discussed process of making a decision, we’re talking about what happens once you’ve decided. Made a choice. Gone for it. What happens then? What happens next? (Hint: This is what a wedding is. What happens when you’ve decided.) If you want to join in the fray, submit your stories, weddings, and more here. Of course, posts not related to the theme are delightedly accepted as well.

Featured Sponsored Content

  • Oh so excited. I really really loved this Rom-Com theme. I submitted a post and I really really hope it’ll make the cut :s

    And Meg, how do you always read what’s in my mind?:

    “What really messed with my head was the Romantic Comedy life timeline. I really thought that you graduated college, found and interesting job at a magazine or art gallery, got a nice urban apartment, and were starting down the road to serious success by twenty-two, preparing you for happily married with a baby and owning the art gallery by twenty-seven.”

    Umm yeah, on of the biggest lies since Santa Claus. And then, you discover that you can reinvent yourself, that you are so much more than what a university degree says you are.

    PS: The sex scenes in Girls are truly horrific, and I find Hannah kind of mean, to the point I have considered not watching anymore but alas, I’m hooked.. Other than that I love the show . Shoshanna is my favorite, by far.

    • meg

      Hannah is… sort of all the horrifically embarrassing parts of your (or my) early 20’s writ LARGE. Which is cringe inducing but brillant.

      And Zosia Mamet is stealing that effing show. Did you read the New York Times Magazine piece with her? Awesome.

      • I could totally do without Jessa and just have Shoshanna. She steals every scene anyway.

        • meg

          But Jessa’s clothesssssss.

      • I’m gonna read it right now thanks ! And Jessa’s clothes yeah :)

      • Louise

        Oh man, Girls makes me SO happy that I am NOT in my early twenties… I have very little situationally in common with the characters (I live on the west coast and was living with my now-husband in my early twenties) … but the insecurities and naiveté are raw and palpable and familiar.

        And yes, I LOVE Zosia Mamet’s character development this season!

    • Hannah is totally mean. One way I can deal with the show is by comparing it to “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. The main characters in both are misanthropic and difficult to like.

    • Louise

      “And then, you discover that you can reinvent yourself, that you are so much more than what a university degree says you are.”

      YES. This was so shocking and liberating to learn, and a lot of my friends still haven’t figured it out. Its not the sort of truth that you can just tell someone, though. They have to figure it out themselves, it seems… As an educator (who went to school for design) now I want to know… how do we fix this?!? How do we convince people/kids that they don’t need anyone else to tell them who they are and what they can do and how well they do it?

  • Zoe

    To me, the biggest danger of rom coms is not the timeline. It’s the fact that about 98 percent of them say: 1) This is what it means to be happy (glam job, hot husband, cute apartment) 2.) to get these things that will bring happiness, you should probably be: white, thin, conventionally pretty, heterosexual.

  • Sam

    “Which is to say: know yourself first. Then get the shoe collection.*”
    This. So this.
    Still working on both!!

  • Unrealistic life timeline woes. Yes, currently in the throes of that.

    Sing it, sister.

  • That movie timeline (of despair!!) has kept me pretty depressed for most of my 20s. Especially since my job is neither financially nor mentally rewarding.

    Some elements of our story ARE kind of like a rom-com. We passed in and out of each other’s lives for years and harbored secret crushes and finally got it together, both divorced and sadder/wiser/even more effing broke than before, and he with a young child. But there is very little cute or movie-worthy about real life most of the time, even for us!

    I do love “The Holiday.” Looking forward to the month ahead!

    • Oh our how-we-met story is totally Rom-Com worthy. We met on an airplane while travelling, we did not stop talking the whole time, then were in touch (thanks gchat) for a year until we finally got together, and we’ve been together ever since.
      The rest hasn’t been quite so rosy though, I’ve struggled with feeling”I am failing at womanhood in all aspects” : 1. I don’t have the career (after studying hard for 9 years, and getting two diplomas) and 2. I can’t manage to produce babies!

  • Great article. I have to remind myself pretty regularly that I’m doing REALLY well for myself right now. I’m 24, have a full-time job that I mostly love, I get enough money to get by, plus stay on top of regular loan payments, car insurance, and feed my cat. And I’m getting married next year! Yeah, we can’t afford to have kids yet, but we’re off to a good start.

  • Stephanie

    Although I do love a kick-ass romantic comedy, I stopped buying into the fairy tale at about 19 or 20. Actually, my life was a lot like “For a Good Time Call…” Getting dumped, getting laid off, doing sex work, meeting a guy, quitting sex work, finding a job with decent benefits – not my dream job. Not my dream life.

    But my husband loves me to pieces, and although life isn’t perfect like in the movies, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    • meg

      THAT is a post you should write for this month.

      • Maddie

        That might be the fastest submission turnaround in the history. Stephanie wins the day.

  • Breaking out of the unrealistic timeline and life goals has been something I’ve been working on since discovering the Rom-Com at age 16 (I lived a sheltered life). It’s hard to move past expectations that seem to be placed on you by society, while at the same time you’re getting told that it’s okay to be struggling with figuring out your place in society if you are. And if you have friends who have the rom-com relationship and life? Endless comparisons. I’ve finally learned that we all compare, that even if it appears the rom-com life is surruonding you, it probably isn’t. We all have our struggles.

    • Class of 1980

      The rom-com life is not an eternal state. Eventually, advantages can turn into disadvantages, or even tragedies, because life is not static.

      Expect to see an ebb and flow over time in your feelings about how your life stacks up to your rom-com friends. You may just be witnessing a transitory Golden Age in their lives.

      One of the greatest shocks of my life was how my ex-sister-in-law’s life evolved. She had married a businessman, never needed to work or even clean her own house, and they achieved serious wealth. She led a charmed life. Perfect, right? Well, her husband was a selfish man who became more difficult over time, and her life was cut short with a terminal illness, pain, amputation, and sudden death.

      That’s a dramatic example of life’s twists and turns, but from what I’ve seen so far, no one lives the same life over a lifetime.

  • Rom-Com month is going to rock. Love a good Rom-Com! Nora Ephron is The Master.

    The timeline thing is spot on Meg.

    There was an short article by the director of a new Rom-Com in The Guardian this weekend which might be interesting to some, about romcoms in general – http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2013/feb/02/i-give-it-a-year-dan-mazer?INTCMP=SRCH

    We spent our first wedding anniversary watching The Holiday at the cinema. We watch it every Christmas now, obviously.

  • Kate

    I am not a Rom-com devotee, the last new one I saw was before I even started dating my fiancé,but I do love The Holiday! That being said I love hearing about people’s lives and realizing how unrealistic that timeline was for them, that maybe they spent lots of time partying and found the one they spend the rest of their lives with later in life but now have this ideal to me life they one I hope we grow into, or simply have. It might not be the perfect job or certainly the perfect wearable shoe collection but coming at this from 27 and 30 and still not really knowing what we want to be when we grow up or what our family will grow or not grow to look like those answers certainly aren’t happening on a rom-com timeline.

  • Moe

    Romantic Comedies are responsible for making women miserable and disappointed for as long as I can remember. I can’t explain why, but I’ve never been a believer or a fan.

    From the hip and exciting jobs in fashion, art, and publishing to the snarky gay sidekick or the chubby female comedienne (either/or), right down to the hopelessly stylish fashion, they just never seemed real and all the expectations they put on relationships are so damaging.

  • SarahT

    As a very happy person in my late forties I can report that cute apartments in big cities and expensive shoes are not required for bliss. And neither are the fairy tales that are peddled to people my age: the big house, a successful yet available husband, beautiful children who go to great schools and a killer body despite having had three kids. Status and stuff do not equal a meaningful life or happiness. I love the diversion of rom-coms, but my dreams are bigger than that.

  • jules

    I believe there is a reason why rom coms work: because they have an ending. Once people are together, the two disjointed quirky people who somehow are perfect for each other, credits roll. We don’t see the struggles to stay together, to compromise on tastes, to figure out what life is like without the dating and the angst and grocery shopping and couponing and fighting about the towels and dishes and discovering they have very different values and don’t know how to mesh them into the happily ever after they were “promised”.

  • I love this. I spent most of my twenties on a frantic search for someone to fall in love with me. My mom did try to warn me, but that rom-com narrative is so pervasive. Looking back, I’m so glad I didn’t marry any of the people I dated in my 20s and thank them for running for the hills (I’m sure my desparation showed through).

    • I did the opposite. I refused to date anyone unless I felt it was someone with whom I truly connected…and this lasted for 5 years! I was terrified of “settling for someone who wasn’t my soulmate”(talk about rom com narrative!) and it was quite the gamble!

  • Class of 1980

    “I really thought that you graduated college, found and interesting job at a magazine or art gallery, got a nice urban apartment, and were starting down the road to serious success by twenty-two, preparing you for happily married with a baby and owning the art gallery by twenty-seven.”

    Hmmm, I read somewhere that the dirty truth is that many of the young women in prestigious, exciting, but low-paying jobs in NYC, are able to do it because they are from rich families who are supporting their adventure and their nice urban apartment.

    • meg

      Oh. Of course. I went to NYU, I knew them alllllll. (And loved some of them to death). Also, there is this f*cked up thing that jobs for people in their 20’s pay less in NYC than other places (even though the cost of living is staggeringly higher) because the competition is so intense. That said, I did it flat broke, it’s possible, and I’m really glad I did. (I’m also pretty glad I don’t have to do my 20s again. Both are possible, obviously.)

  • Sam

    Oh do I LOVE Elizabeth Gilbert. Mostly for her TED talk. It’s a must watch for anyone with any sort of creative endeavors. If you haven’t watched it. Go. Now: http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one that mentions this talk almost every time I hear/see her name.

      What? It’s SO GOOD, you guys. Seriously.

  • I found that the trick with the timeline was to watch different romantic comedies. When I was in my teens, I loved comedies about nerdy girls (like I was) who got the boy of their dreams (favorite heroine: Molly Ringwald). When I was in my twenties, my heroines were normally a bit older, poor and unsuccessful but turned their life around with the power of looove (While you were sleeping, anyone?). In my late twenties, I refused to watch rom coms with young heroines and opted for ones with older leading ladies (Barbara Streissand in The Mirror has Two faces was a favorite, for example).Then at 29 I met my husband and our story could very well be a rom com material (even though I joke that it could also be an Angelina Jolie movie because we met in Peacekeeping :)

    Rom Coms were always about hope, for me, so I made it a point to look for the ones that were uplifting instead of bringing me down. My best friend and I also liked to deconstruct the narratives and realized that, for us, the problem was not so much how unrealistic they were, because life can be pretty awesome, but the fact that the sad or unhappy moments were told in a whim (“5 years later…”, or the heroine recalling the bad moments very fast, in a simple conversation), when in real life the struggles take longer and seem insurmountable at times. “We are just going through those 5 years” we used to say “then they will be over and we’ll tell them to someone like Sandra Bullock in While you were sleeping, and everybody will think “oh that was easy/worth it, look where you are now”. But we will now better. “

  • Sara

    I’ve succeed with the shoe collection…I may have been focusing on the wrong part of those rom-coms. Happy feet = happy life?

    Joking aside, the problem rom-coms and chick-lit have set for me is this sped up version of reality – meet, fall in love, get engaged in three months? No problem. Yeah, not so much. The dating part is hard enough in three month. Took too much time for me to figure that out that there’s more work involved.

  • see, my distrust of Rom-Coms is their presentation of relationships.
    They work too hard on the “he will sweep you off your feet” line. And it just doesnt always happen.
    I asked now-husband out on our first date, and to go steady, all thanks to an awesome article (once bookmarked, now lost) that gave me the bingo moment – your life is NOT a romance novel / rom-com. You are not a princess who needs rescuing. You are potentially setting yourself up for years of disapointment if you expect your other half to be *everything* (especially everything ALL AT ONCE), and it is perfectly possible to be happy with a man who does not do “grand romantic gestures”.

    Once I took off my rose-tinted glasses, and erased a lot of my cultural narrative, I met DH, who meets all of my initial desires for a partner, even if he did not appear to be my knight in shining armour at the time – and it turns out he is perfect for me after all.

  • Pingback: Ask Team Practical: Back on the Shelf | AtSet Productions - Pro Photography & Videography()