By George Simms
Whenever I get gloomy at the state of the world, I want to hear Hugh Grant’s dulcet tones narrating a heart-warming montage of the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. I want to spend two hours enthralled by meet-cutes, stolen glances and star-crossed lovers with impeccably poor timing and/or judgement. I want to laugh, cry and shout at some unfairly good-looking people on the television in a way that means I can work through some of my pent-up emotions without having to actually face up to them.
The thing is, I don’t want to like romcoms. In principle, I’m a pessimist who adores reading Alain de Botton berate the modern legacy of romanticism (‘Why you will marry the wrong person’ should be compulsory reading). My head knows that love and relationships are far more complicated than simply laying eyes on ‘the one’ and your life instantly falling into place.
Across the board, romcoms promote toxic relationships by ignoring healthy communication in favour of the infamous ‘you should know what’s wrong’. They teach us the totally unrealistic principle that if the relationship didn’t begin with a lightning bolt across a crowded room, then it will never truly be built on love; that love is an instant, unmissable connection that will sustain your relationship no matter what happens.
In any other context, Meg Ryan’s Annie in Sleepless in Seattle would be considered a stalker and rewarded with a restraining order. Whether we like it or not, the three biggest direct influences on the romantic life of anyone born after 1990 are probably your parents, Nora Ephron and Richard Curtis.
Romcoms are a relic of Christianity’s phenomenally damaging views on love and sex, via Shakespeare and the Romantics. Corinthians 13:4 ‘Love is patient, love is kind’, is painfully, obviously untrue to anyone who’s been in love, especially those who have then stopped being in love. You wouldn’t know that from watching most romcoms. They tend to always be about the relationship between a man and a woman – Bend it Like Beckham and Love, Simon are two of the only mainstream romcoms I can think of which focussed on LGBTQ+ stories.
Alongside this, until the release of recent Asian-American-lead films like Crazy Rich Asians and The Big Sick, romcoms have been horrendously whitewashed. The names we associate with the modern rom-com: Hugh Grant, Meg Ryan and Rachel McAdams, among others, are almost all white and straight. Romcoms come infused with the privilege to not have to worry about anything other than affairs of the heart and most of them ignore crucial social issues.
As much as it pains me to say, romcoms find their magic in their total ignorance of anything that really matters. What most people call ‘real world issues’. In Fleabag, Andrew Scott’s Hot Priest delivered what I consider to be one of the great romantic monologues of the last decade. He ended it by saying ‘Being a romantic takes a hell of a lot of hope…when you find somebody that you love, it feels like hope’.
Thanks to romcoms, we get to watch people fall in love over and over again and, just for a few hours, we can experience a bit of that hope. I don’t know about you, but there are times when I really need a quick fix of hope. With a world that is literally melting around us, sometimes escapism is the only way of getting that quick fix. Whether you feel like you’re the one stood crying in the rain or you’re sat smugly with your arm around your partner, romcoms make us believe that ‘the one’ is out there for all of us. As much as I don’t think that’s how life works, it’s a magically hopeful way to think for a while.
So here I am, on an unreasonably expensive doorstep with torrential rain pouring down my face. But I don’t care. Because I have to tell romcoms something. I hate the way I don’t hate you. Not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.