Romantic Comedies and Reality

After chasing Henry around the softball field and putting the kids to bed, after downing glass #1 of wine and eating two chunks of dark chocolate, I am now reclined with feet propped indulging further in one of my favorite romantic comedies, French Kiss, with Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline.

My favorite romantic comedies all have the same plot line.  Oh, they aren’t exactly the same of course. 

The leading actress is dating a guy other than the leading actor when the two meet in Serendipity, and the entire movie follows the push and pull of fate and destiny as they battle the doubts of their other engagements against the passionate, emotional love connection they felt with this other person they met once in a romantic scene with gloves and elevators until it comes right down to the wire and now this is IT, will he marry his fiancée or will he come to his senses and keep pursuing the dream of an unknown woman, who is also pursuing the dream of this mystery man?  Yes! Pursue the dream! There he is in the park in the middle of the ice skating pond and there’s the glove! The end.

In While You Were Sleeping, Sandra Bullock has a crush on a stranger that passes through her toll booth every day until he nearly gets hit by a train, and due to rescuing him she meets his family and gradually falls in love with the guy’s brother, who, surprise surprise, is the person she ends up really wanting to be with, the better match, and in spite of the wild circumstances, surprise! He asks her to marry him by dropping an engagement ring into her token slot.   The end.

Both of the leading actresses in The Holiday were with guys that were not right for them before, and Kate Winslet is still crushing on her ex- who is engaged when she finally discovers an interest in Jack Black, who is also seeing a girl that isn’t quite right for him, but by the end of the movie (spoiler alert!) they all end up with people who bring out the best in them, who seem to like them for who they are.  “What are you doing for New Years Eve?” asks Jack Black, who then flies with Kate Winslet across the big blue to spend New Years with her and Cameron and Jude, who are also now awesome.  The end.

Or how about When Harry Met Sally, when Harry is with another girl the whole time and Sally is with another guy the whole time until the end when, whaaaaat they are actually really great together, they should be together, why aren’t they together, get together already!  The end.

And in French Kiss, my favorite favorite romantic comedy, Meg Ryan is on the hunt to win back her fiancé from the French Goddess he met and suddenly fell in love with, but along the way she meets Kevin Kline who is not at all the kind of guy she ever expected to be with but then, surprise! “I want you.  That’s all.”  Oh, sigh.  L’amour.  The end.

Oh wait.  These are all the same plot lines, aren’t they?  Leading actresses who are with the wrong guy, leading actors who are with the wrong girl, leading actors and actresses who discover by the end of the movie that they love each other, actually, that the first relationship was good, sure, good enough in fact that most of the time the couples were ready to commit to a lifetime together, but now, well, it either wasn’t great, or it wasn’t great enough or someone messed it up or now, this, this other person has taken them by surprise, they have touched the circuits that weren’t triggered with the first, and their compatibility is so much better than anything ever anticipated or experienced, and this is what they’ve been waiting for.  No more messing around with a ratchet set, trying to adjust the wheel of a wrench until it fits.  This one is it.

There’s a reason this plot line works for me, though.  There’s a reason we’re crazy about these movies, these predictable yet entertaining comedies we can laugh at and cry through, and it isn’t just because Meg Ryan is just the darned cutest person who ever starred in an eighties or nineties romantic comedy (Sleepless In Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, French Kiss, When Harry Met Sally).

I feel that hunt and pursuit for the person I thought was perfect for me, if I bent and twisted a certain way, and I feel even more the resolution, the discovery of a person who is actually quite more perfect for me.  It’s been ten years (minus two days) since Brandon proposed to me on my college graduation day.  We did a lot of chasing before we met, kept running to some degree afterward, even, but finally I convinced him to marry me.  🙂  Gratefully, that isn’t the end.

The difference between reality and romantic comedies though, I think, is that it isn’t that we’ve tried on these different people until we’ve found the perfect match.  It isn’t that we’ve just collided with the wrong people and have to keep bouncing about until we form some kind of ionic chemical bond that is sure to keep us together with a better chemical composition.

I think it has more to do with being aware of the person you are, discovering the solid heartwood of ourselves that will not bend, that will not be worn away by time but will always serve as our core.  This is who I am.  This is what matters to me.  In real life, once we understand this heartwood and stop trying to whittle it away to take the shape of something else, or bend it like a bow, I think that’s when we’re best suited to find someone who is a good fit.  I think that’s when we are ready to choose a life partner who is hopefully also a whole human being at home in their own skin, who also is ready to find someone that is compatible with him or her.

Maybe it’s a surprise at first, this compatibility thing, and we say things like, “I never imagined myself with someone like him,” with joy and delight we say, “we’re so different but in all the right ways.”

The unexpected joy of the real life romantic comedy comes later, when after these years of trial and temptation, these years of grief and sorrow and anger, these years of triumph and rejoicing, during the moments when they are both fully the best versions of themselves, she rests her head on his chest while they watch a show, he drapes his arm over her shoulder.  She knows herself.  He knows himself.  She knows him.  He knows her.  This familiarity and intimacy is security, rest, ease, trust, faith. Love.

When the show is over, he fills her water glass for her while she takes out her contacts and they climb the stairs, plug in their phone chargers for the night, turn off the lamps, and roll towards each other under the covers, bodies warm, and they sigh and embrace and laugh and kiss and love, and it is better than any “You… complete me,” better than, “What are you doing for New Years Eve?”, better than, “I want you. That’s all.”  Better.  Better and better and better.

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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