Romantic comedies are not as cute and harmless as their reputation boasts. They are part of the damaging media parents get concerned about. We absorb what we watch and even movies we think are sweet can have harmless, lasting affects on us. Rom-coms send unhealthy messages to people, often young women, about relationships and sense of self. Let's go a little deeper into the common rom-com tropes to better understand the unhealthy messages these movies can send.
Acting Like a Bitch Gets the Guy
We've seen this trope in so many romantic comedies. The leading lady meets the leading man and they instantly hate each other. Red hot sparks of fury - soon to evolve to passion - ignite. The woman acts like a selfish jerk and makes hurtful, cutting remarks at his expense only to lead him to falling madly in love with her.
This is incredibly unhealthy. No self-respecting human would fall for someone who treats them so badly. And if they do, they're struggling with some unhealthy behaviors that need to be resolved. In real life, either the guy/girl will rebuff the guy/girl for being an asshole, or the guy/girl is sitting on some pretty big issues the guy/girl shouldn't want to get involved with. Walk away.
The Jerk Becomes a Nice Guy
This one is a classic. In the beginning of the movie, the guy is a bully or a player and when he meets the leading lady, she is so perfect, so amazing, so WOW, he decides to be a better man to impress, and land, the woman he loves.
This never happens in real life. If a guy/girl is a jerk, they're just a jerk. No one can change another person - and that's okay. We shouldn't want to. Only go for the person whom you can love as s/he is. Don't believe the falsehood that rom-coms push on the public: that if someone is special or amazing enough, that something magical will hit the other person on the side of the head (figuratively) and they'll realize the error of their ways and become a better human. The problem isn't you. You are amazing, special, and deserving of someone they will never be.
The Guy Makes a Bet with his Friends
This has been used less since the '90s, but still gets some use in rom-com story lines. Someone, usually the leading man, makes a bet with his friends to get with someone that everyone thinks is unattainable. She finds out and dumps him, rightfully so. In the end, he realizes he fell in love with her for real and she forgives him. Cue happy ending.
The Rich Guy/Girl Who Lies About Wealth
This one is cute, albeit far more unrealistic than the others. It starts with the love interest meeting the leading man/lady and falling immediately in love but they face their biggest insecurity: that the one they love won't truly love them back if the other person knows they're wealthy. So they lie, drama ensues, and the couple makes up and they have a happy ending.
Cue the eye roll. No one should stay with someone who lies about who they are, especially with something as fundamental as finances. That kind of lie could potentially create more problems later on, in real life. It's not healthy to take someone back after they've lied repeatedly for months, about anything. Also - the rich person gets everything they wanted. Who didn't see that coming?
The Leading Woman is A Mess Until She Meets "The One"
A modern version of the classic "the prince saves the princess trope. The movie will start with a carefree, reckless mess of a woman surrounded by family and friends who tell her she needs to settle down and get her shit together. She often will have an engaged or married sister to lorde her fantastic life over her. And lo and behold the perfect, well-rounded man she's been waiting for will show up and romance her into becoming a better person, by everyone else's standards.
There are a few problems I have with this. Firstly, the leading woman starts out as not that bad. She usually has a job, sometimes successful and sometimes not. She'll live in her own apartment, sometimes decent and sometimes not. And she'll have this wide network of friends and family, judgmental though they are. Overall, she'll be doing alright. She doesn't need to be fixed. Secondly, no other person can or should fix someone else. Love, and partnership, are not cures for anything. Thinking that if a woman just found the right man who will save her, then her life will get better and everything will fall into place, isn't healthy. Important note to women: There's nothing wrong with you. And if there was, only you can save yourself.
Rom-coms don't often promote healthy relationships or healthy choices for potential partners. We're flooded by these messages from the media that are teaching young women and young girls to settle for less than they deserve, to doubt their judgment and themselves, or that they can't be happy unless they're settled in a relationship. Even worse, the LGBTQ community is vastly under represented in these love stories.
Media should be spreading more positive messages to the public about love and relationships (and relationships of all types, including LGBTQ couples). For example, films like He's Just Not That Into You that preaches if a person is not being treated the way they deserve or getting what they want and need from a relationship, they shouldn't be in that relationship, and Isn't It Romantic? that teaches women that loving themselves is far more important than being in a relationship. The relationship was the bonus and not the goal. These are the messages I want our young women and girls to learn: love yourself, save yourself, don't try to change anyone else, don't let anyone else change you, and don't settle for anything less than you deserve.