When I was young, somewhere in my early teen years maybe, I developed a love of romantic movies mostly in the form of musicals but also those with a bend towards comedy. The neatness of it all appealed to me along with the magical feeling of getting swept up in the story and carried away by its currents. I recognized that most these stories followed a similar formula: the build up where the main romantic couple either meet and dislike each other immediately or where their lives overlap ironically or coincidentally without them meeting; the revelation where the seemingly unlikely pair starts to see or notice one another, maybe they finally meet for real or maybe it occurs to them that there is attraction lurking beneath their tense interactions; and lastly the dramatic, often epic, conclusion followed by the inevitable possibly metaphorical ride off into the sunset. Once in a while the story took a twist and didn’t end this way but mostly there was this satisfying tying up of all the loose ends into a lovely, neat bow. And I so enjoyed that process and the perfect ending.
In fact when it didn’t happen I felt a little robbed. When I read Little Women and Jo didn’t end up with Laurie I was downright angry, even more so when her calmer, kinder sister did. What the actual eff, Louisa May Alcott??
Somewhere along the lines things changed; I changed.
I very distinctly remember going to a movie with my then (but not too far from ex) husband somewhere in the late 2000’s, I was slightly past mid twenties; we saw one of those romantic comedies. It followed the formula and presented the same perfect ending after the token conflict or overcoming of circumstances. But the satisfaction in that was gone. Vanished. Instead a white hot anger flickered up inside me. I literally wanted to take off a shoe and throw it at the giant screen.
“Lies!”, I thought, “it’s nothing but lies.” Why do they sell us this bullshit? Like everything is going to magically be great some day. Almost ten years into a marriage that was fatally flawed from the start, and not romantically so but destructively so, I knew better than that and I did not enjoy the empty promises I was being sold in the form of that perfect ending.
Shortly after that, during the divorce yes, I couldn’t even watch romantic movies, especially the comedic ones, unless I was in a dark place and wallowing in the bit of self loathing I had yet to battle through. I felt angry, so so angry, and betrayed by them. It was a twisted form of punishment to sit and watch the trite, idyllic story unfold and know that the reality of relationships, the real stories, were tinted with hurt and brokenness. Pain, more often than not, inflicted by the very person standing there swearing they loved you.
Time heals all wounds, as the saying goes. Heals, yes, but it never puts things back as they were. The more help you give time, the more work you do, the better those wounds heal. But there’s still always a scar.
While I don’t thoroughly enjoy those romantic stories like I once did, I can occasionally watch and enjoy them now. These days, though, I appreciate the less than perfect endings more. I like when the film gives nod to the possibility of perfection in romance but then gently reminds us that is not the norm. So maybe the couple rides off into the proverbial sunset but then they fall off their horse which insights bickering and blame casting; suddenly yet stealthily the seeds of resentment are sown. Or, more likely, the couple doesn’t end up together but they both treasure the time they shared while going on to lead full and fufilling lives. It’s a reminder that even relationships that don’t last forever have value and are worthwhile; sometimes things end and people part ways but that’s okay. Perfection isn’t always ideal.