It comes as no surprise, I assume, that the writer of a lifestyle relationships section is in fact a hopeless romantic. Evenings spent watching silly romcoms over the years have allowed me to see the patterns, the themes, and the flaws of most romcoms. This genre is one that has become increasingly popular in the last two or so decades and provided us with some truly iconic and heart-warming cinematic masterpieces. No one will ever be able to remove from their minds classics such as When Harry Met Sally, Love Actually or The Proposal. Whilst these examples are known for comically showing the good and the bad, and show most of the realistic side to romantic relationships, we cannot deny that they have massively raised our standards for love.

Who could ever forget the necklace Edward (Richard Gere) gifts Vivian (Julia Roberts) in Pretty Woman, or the love that endured 20 years between Donna (Meryl Streep) and Sam (Pierce Brosnan), which then leads to the all time classic “I do, I do, I do” by ABBA. But it is wildly unrealistic, not to mention unfair, to expect this out of a relationship. Whilst it is good to keep your standards high and know what you deserve, expecting a $250,000 necklace or for your significant other to break into song at any moment, may be a tad unsuccessful. 

And yet, I cannot be the only one who has secretly wished that a grand romantic gesture, straight out of a romcom, would be part of her romantic life. These films, whilst beautiful, cheesy, and uplifting, tend to lead us into a vicious cycle of unrealistic expectations and disappointment. Relationships are tricky. They take time and are often far from perfect, full of compromise and emotional baggage. You know in a romcom when a member of the couple runs to the other, all angry and bothered, saying some inspirational quote pulled out from Google about how the other has to learn what they truly want in life before they decide to get into the relationship in question? Let me visualize it for you: take A Cinderella Story, when Sam (Hilary Duff) storms into the men’s changing rooms to tell Austin (Chad Micheal Murray) that he needs to stop pretending to be someone he isn’t, and that even though she “has no family, no job, no money for college, it is [him] who [she] feels sorry for” because at least she was true to herself. This, and other confrontational scenes such as this one, show the more realistic side to relationships. Stepping out of one’s comfort zones, giving things up for your partner, and learning to grow are all things that are key parts of relationships, yet they are hardly ever shown in romcoms. As a matter of fact, when this ‘confrontation’ (that will take up no more than 5 minutes of screen time) happens, we know the finale is about to come up. Fireworks, kisses (probably in the rain), and a flash mob are to be expected. 

So… we shouldn’t watch romcoms? Absolutely not. They are still comforting; they provide us with a much-needed break from all of the things that are going on around us. Quite frankly, there is no better way to get over a break up than a good old romcom accompanied by some ice cream (or vegan equivalent for my fellow lactose intolerant/dairy-free peeps). But when you decide to come back to the real world, you have to know what to expect. 

There are romcoms which have been created with the purpose to mock the classics. An example that comes to mind is the recent film, Isn’t It Romantic (2019). As IMBd describes it, the film is about how “a young woman disenchanted with love mysteriously finds herself trapped inside a romantic comedy.” Natalie (Rebel Wilson) must come to terms with the not-so-perfect romcom she found herself in and realise that, in reality, her ‘perfect’ romance was right there all along, even if it involved much less singing and dancing. The clichés, however, seem to arise in this film as well. Whilst many are mocked, the idea of a perfect romance not being the one of fairy tales seems to be a common theme that never truly vanishes from the screen.

In addition to this, we have to think about how many romcoms end on the “happily ever after”. The problem with this ending is that we do not actually get to the substantial part of the relationship, merely the beginning or the confession of love. Most of the important parts of a relationship happen once the ‘honeymoon period’ is over, when the rose-tinted glasses are removed, and the baggage each person brings into the relationship is truly addressed. It is often the case that if the romcom begins with an already ‘established’ couple, we can expect there to be a breakup. It is hardly ever that we find an established couple which encounters problems and can overcome them. If that is the case, then they are likely a side couple which gets no more than 3 minutes of screentime. This is hugely problematic as romcoms are most likely the ‘romantic’ movie genre that young people are first exposed to. This delay in addressing the reality of relationships ultimately creates unrealistic expectations that eventually have to be let go of in order to have healthy, successful relationships. 

Romcoms over time have changed. More and more themes are being addressed, and the variety of couples we see depicted on screen is increasing. But it is undeniable that the flaws are still there. Whilst I encourage all of you to enjoy a good romcom marathon with your closest friends, I also urge you to notice the problems in them and (if applicable) ponder on your own relationship and whether it is looking a little too perfect to be real.