How 90’s Rom-Coms Ruined Everything

Film in the 90’s nurtured a specific emotional storyline that carved itself into the hearts of young women, securing the idea that the romance of a lifetime is waiting: in your inbox, at your high school reunion, at your next trip to the store. All you have to do is exist and the perfect partner will come around a corner too fast, knock your papers out of your hand and accidentally spill your coffee, and the rest is history.

Women who watched these movies and connected with this idea that romance should be movie-worthy are, on some subconscious level, still dreaming of some version of this trusted tale: that against all odds, he will do whatever it takes to choose me. Even those in relationships often have expectations that only an imagination can deliver.

Those who are not partnered are told that a chance encounter is all it takes to change your entire romantic life. But what are we now that chance encounters have been replaced by an algorithm? We have also come to rely on tech in ways that were never intended, which is interfering with good old-fashioned human nature.

The one where George Strait falls for a regular person.

Pure Country, (which has a much better IMDb rating than I anticipated,)–a stunner of a movie for this small-town girl whose first boyfriend was named Beau Dean, drove a pickup truck, and raced motocross for a living–starred country music legend George Strait and it defined romance for me. Strait was a sturdy man with a wild streak who shows up in a cowboy hat and respectfully asks an unassuming, yet strikingly beautiful woman if he can kiss her. (Consent in 1992!) And as they stand next to a field of unbroken horses, she says yes.

Practical Magic, another movie that paved my heart’s way, tells us that not even a curse brewed by three powerful witches can keep us from true love.

These stories shaped the way I view the world, myself, and my life–some might say they shaped me to my detriment, but I disagree. I see potential in everything because of the twists and turns that these movies took. They’re the reason I am able to feel optimistic, even in 2020.

I grew up in the country with minimal distractions and an overactive imagination. All I wanted was a distraction. Of course, that all got a little too real once I developed a C cup and much-older men literally started knocking on my bedroom window. Once, I had to shoo the high school principal’s son (7 years my elder) away from my house at midnight on a school night. Like, what? Was that the story I should have chased? Hard pass.

I wanted to move to California and be a skater kid and marry the drummer from No Doubt. (This was the summer I wore a chain wallet to the county fair.) I wanted Bret Michaels to write a love song about me. I wanted the guys who liked Metallica to discover that sweet little old me also liked Metallica and boom!, a love story has written itself: The girl from the country is dynamic! She loves nature and animals, but is also unafraid of darkness.

Hell, I even dated the captain of the football team. And I still don’t have closure from that relationship if I’m being honest, and not because of him–but because the story was so goddamn good.

In my life today, because of the pandemic, my dating life looks like this:

I match with men on some app and then we text or talk on the phone for weeks before we even meet. Some of them are beautiful. All of them are smart. We end up liking some elements of each other but ultimately it doesn’t go anywhere and these men transition themselves from potential romantic partners to just another one of my instagram followers. They don’t want me, but they want to keep me on their digital bookshelf, so to speak. And because this is not a unique experience, the collective we are left wondering — why do they like and follow online, but disengage IRL? And did we even want them?

We feel so wrapped up in being good enough, hot enough, smart enough, that we forget to survey whether or not these men are even worthy of our energy. We project their potential, or our own fairy tales, onto them before we even know who they are. We are setting the whole thing up for failure.

Yet, here I am, performing for them in my Stories, virtually sharing my considerably precious life with men who didn’t choose me. In my kitchen, at my desk, wherever I am, because I still have the completely human desire to connect, to be looked at, to be loved. Because I’m waiting for “the moment that changes everything.” As if the gorgeous writer one city over will suddenly realize he loves me because I shared a picture of my perfectly cooked steak.

Other people might call us The Hopefuls: the women whom everyone tells to have hope. Even the most optimistic of this crew is optimistic because the other option is to be sad. To feel unlovable. And that is a life that no self-respecting woman would intentionally choose. At least not full-time.

My best friend, when she was single, wouldn’t go on a second date if she didn’t “feel it in her loins” for the guy right away. And while sometimes I agree with her–with that gut feeling–I also realize that sometimes I don’t even feel comfortable in my own skin on first dates. Sometimes I’m nervous and intimidated. Sometimes I need a second date to truly shine.

But, if the story is true, none of that matters because right now, as you read these words, my friend, the universe is conspiring for you to meet your soulmate and never feel that crippling loneliness ever again; you’ll no longer wonder why even that bitch Whitney from spin class found a partner and you are still alone.

People used to fall in love because we could connect in person, without expectation or assumptions. But does that still happen? Even before the novel coronavirus, was that happening in the age of swiping and instant gratification?

I’m still excited to start something new, which I think makes me remarkably resilient considering the current landscape. I don’t know how humanity will settle back into a place of human connection, or if it ever will. And I have no idea where that leaves me, Ms. Sleepless in Seattle. Ms. Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. Ms. One Day I’ll Bump Into Paul Rudd. But I am tired of pretending that we should let go of romance, because we need it now more than we ever have. C’est la vie.

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