Editor’s Note: Electroshadow wishes all readers a very Happy St. Valentine’s Day! To commemorate the occasion, we present a slightly less giddy and more sober view of love in the movies. Hopeless romantics beware, liberated woman Marie B is here to tell it like it is…
There was a time in my early twenties when I gave up watching romance movies. With firm resolve, I stayed away from chick flicks, rom-coms, dramatic love stories and the like. Each time I was invited to a movie with that kind of storyline, I politely smiled, shook my head and said, “No thanks. It’s not my thing.” I would rather go home alone on a Friday night than step into a theater with friends and watch the saga of a love lost and/or found play out on screen.
I didn’t always feel that way. Up until that point love stories were part of my thing. I enjoyed the sappiness and mushiness you find in formula films. I giggled and swooned over the dashingly handsome leading man and sighed dreamily at the romantic scenarios played out on screen. I used to count among my favorite films, movies like “An Affair to Remember”, “Sabrina”, “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Serendipity”, to name a few. In fact, I still do. I even willingly suffered through less lovable films like “French Kiss” and “Addicted to Love” (both of which, coincidentally, starred Meg Ryan). So why the sudden change of mind?
Blame it on the first heartbreak.
A few months before finishing my 3rd year in college, my first serious relationship ended. And too soon after the break up, I decided to go to the movies to see “City of Angels” (Meg Ryan. Again). I remember little about the film. Just that Nicholas Cage had the worst lovelorn look ever and despite what people said, I didn’t find the story all that enjoyable. But as the movie ended and the credits began to roll I remember just sitting there in the audience, unable to move.
I was crying.
The theater lights had switched on and people were slowly making their way to the exit yet there I was, sobbing. Literally. I couldn’t stop but still I couldn’t leave. I was like some crazy woman who, to an unknowing passerby, seemed to have taken the film way too seriously.
My friends watched me in amazement, not knowing what to do. When asked what was wrong all I could manage in between sniffling and gasping for air was something vaguely along the lines of, ‘love hurts.’
I don’t remember how I managed to get home after that, but I know that I eventually got over my heartache. Thanks to friendships, love, faith and prayers. And as I found myself ready to experience romance again, I made the decision to turn my back on romance films.
You see, a good film can do 3 things: 1) bring you to a world so wonderful yet unrealistic that you feel like you had a momentary escape from yours; 2) mirror the reality of life so clearly that you can almost see yourself in the presented human truth and 3) create an alternate reality that is almost what you think your world could have been or what it should actually be.
Therein lay the rub. Romance movies were starting to do a little too much of #3 for me. Inadvertently I had begun using these movies as a yardstick by which to measure my own life. And always, when it came to love, I felt I was coming up short. Whether it was a story of first love, unrequited love, forbidden love, or love that conquers, I would inevitably leave the theater wondering why my life wasn’t just a little more like the movies.
So if these movies made me feel impatient, discontent and gloomy, why was I even watching them? Why was I opening up occasions to throw myself a pity party? So out of a sense of self-preservation and a desire to spare myself emotional torment, I began the ban. And to this day I have never seen “Titanic”, “Kate & Leopold” or “Before Sunrise”.
Did it successfully make me happier? I’m not sure. As silly and unreasonable as it may have seemed, I’m actually glad I did it. At the very least it made me feel empowered about my ability to control my own happiness. Plus, it saved me from having to sit through snuff like “Gigli”, “Sweet November” or “The Notebook”. ‘Nuff said.
Over the years, my lock out of these films have softened. I still won’t voluntarily choose a romance when picking the movie for the week, but I have gone on to watch films like “Moulin Rouge”, “500 Days of Summer”, “Going the Distance” and “Eat, Pray, Love”. And yes, I enjoyed them all in varying degrees. But I know I will always think twice before putting my money down for a ticket. Because even though I have made my peace with the differences between my life and that of a screenplay, experience has pulled back the curtains and has broken the illusion of romance films.
I have learned that love isn’t always just around the corner, it doesn’t always conquer all and not everyone who leaves you ever comes back. My journey from break up to recovery wasn’t a 30-second montage over a dramatic soundtrack, but a daily struggle against the almost physical pain of loneliness and helplessness. In real life there are no supers that read ‘6 months later’ to magically fast forward you the point when you’re finally okay. In real life, that point sometimes feels like it’s never going to arrive.
Really good movies remind me too much about very real heart breaks. To watch it is to re-live each painful memory all over again. It hurts too much to wonder why a movie can have a happy end, but my own story never did.
But maybe that’s why we need romance movies in the first place. Real heartbreaks are hard enough. Surely 90 minutes of make believe isn’t too much to ask. If 90 minutes can remind us to hope again, to dream again and to love again, then they’re 90 minutes put to good use.
Yes, love hurts. But it also heals. And the almost physical pain eventually needs to subside so it can be replaced joy. The illusion of romance films are gone, but the truth of romance lives on. Ask anyone who has fallen in love, gotten hurt, only to love again.
As for me, I’m just going to sit back, watch the film and think, ‘hey… it’s just a movie.’