I’ve spent most of my life thinking that romantic comedies have done me a terrible disservice, as far as relationship expectations are concerned. The most life ruining trope of this genre, for me, has always been the grand gesture. I remember actually citing the ends of both Good Will Hunting and Garden State to my long distance boyfriend of several years ago, as evidence that he should quit his PhD program to prove his love for me. In my non-defense, I was 22 and an idiot.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m the only one who’s been done a disservice by the rom com mentality. More and more, I’m seeing guys that have taken the male rom com plotline to heart – if you meet a girl who’s not interested in you, just keep pursuing her and eventually you’ll win her over. Or, if things with a girl end poorly and you want to win her back, you can accomplish this with a grand gesture. This sort of persistence is supposed to be seen as romantic. In actuality, it’s just plain creepy.
This was first pointed out to me in a seminar I took on Sex And The City in college. (Yep, it was a real class.) We were watching the episode where Steve and Miranda first meet; Miranda dismisses the encounter as a one night stand, but Steve keeps pursuing her: showing up at her apartment, coming out to drinks with her friends. We’re supposed to see this as evidence of what a nice, caring guy Steve is, and how much he cares about Miranda, and that’s how I used to see it, until the instructor pointed out that in actuality, what he’s doing is tantamount to stalking. Miranda’s said she’s not interested, but he keeps trying. We’re supposed to think, “Oh, but Miranda’s so cold and jaded, he just knows what she’s really looking for,” but what that’s actually saying is that women can’t be trusted to make up our own minds, and we should just wait for guys to tell us how we feel about them.
When a little light stalking isn’t enough to convince a woman that she really does like a guy after all, then a grand gesture is just what the doctor ordered. In order for a guy to need to make one, one of two things needs to have happened – he’s committed a horrible offense that’s led to the end of the relationship, or the woman has decided she doesn’t want to be with him. And so he comes up with some bold, romantic move to show her that he’s sorry or that she should give him another chance. This often involves convincing someone not to move across the country, or chasing them across the country if they’ve already gone. Again, what’s actually happening is that as women, our opinions are being totally disregarded. If a lady says she never wants to see you again, she’s saying she never wants to see you again, not that you should do something extravagant so she can changer her mind. And yet time and time again, this works in the movies – How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days and Say Anything spring readily to mind, but the examples are many.. On rare occasions, the grand gesture fails, and it’s sort of refreshing. There’s a plotline in West Wing (spoiler ahead if you’re watching on Netflix) where Toby tries to win back his ex-wife by buying her a house, and I remember being sad when she didn’t accept, but it’s actually really, really great to see a show depicting a woman sticking to her guns and not giving into a male opinion or cheap romanticism.
I know it sounds like a non-problem when I go ‘oh, this guy won’t stop pursuing me, it’s the worst,’ and 90% of the time the response is ‘well why don’t you give him a chance.’ And the answer is, I’m not interested, and I shouldn’t have to explain it any further than that. If I’m not interested, for whatever reason, I should feel no obligation to give a guy a chance just because he won’t leave me alone. Life would sure be swell if we could all get people to like us just by doing stuff, but that’s not the way the world works. We’re all entitled to our opinions, so no number of love letters or boomboxes held over heads should necessarily change them.
I’m not advocating an end to all romance; flowers or a thoughtful note for someone you’re dating, or hoping to date, can be wonderful. But once someone’s expressed that they’re not interested, any further action is unwanted and intrusive. At some point, this isn’t about saying what the recipient wants to hear, but a method of just saying what the sender wants to say. That’s not romance. That’s just selfishness.
Featured image via