Monday, January 23, 2017

Romantic Comedies Make for Horrible Relationships

No, it did not take me 27 years to come to that conclusion. Though I will admit to just recently finding out it isn't spelled "duck tape," so that's not a bad guess.

Last summer, in attempts to get over my breakup and put myself out there, I gave a complete stranger my number for the first time. Upon texting me, iMessages put my email instead of my phone number at the top, to which he decided I had done something shady and he flipped out on me.

I know how women can give out fake numbers and someone might be sensitive to that, but this was ridiculous.

It comes up every once in a while: “Shit testing” as the internet likes to call it, where women intentionally reject a man in order to see how much he truly cares about her. In my experience, rarely do women consciously shit test in real life. Sure, you learn a lot about a guy when you reject him, but it’s unlikely for a woman to say to herself, How can I tell him no in an awful way and see if he sticks around? Honestly, I would be more annoyed he didn’t respect my wishes or himself.

I know some bitchy, manipulative women, yet true-life examples men describe as ‘shit testing’ is often more a girl being uncertain about her feelings and reacting to the pressure to make a decision quickly. Most women will say ‘no’ when she means ‘maybe’ because it is always, always easier to change your mind to a yes than from it, (and it’s highly likely ‘maybe’ will be received as a ‘yes’). In these cases, persistence will not only do you wonders, it is flattering and reassuring for the other person to say, “Your logical anxiety is less important than our feelings.”

Is that the man’s job? No. You don’t have to put up with wishy-washiness, cluelessness, or comfort her anxious resistance; I only think dating would be a lot easier if we all offered each other some true empathy and the benefit of the doubt rather than prematurely villainizing the objects of our affections. (And I say that auto-biographically.)

Sometimes, of course, their perception of shit testing is also just a gross delusion against rejection. “I have a boyfriend” is either the truth or a lie, but in any case, it will never be a challenge. It means no. She might change her mind (about lying to you or how important her boyfriend is), not impossible, but this is where self-respect comes into play.

After my breakup, I also became extremely easily triggered by romance and sexual images. The bad experience had completely warped my view of these things and I struggled to feel any yearning for love. It seemed like a false, shallow entity that meant nothing. Mostly, I was hurt any time I saw men portrayed as feeling love and devotion; it all seemed like such a lie, completely fake, about as real as vampires or resurrection. Might as well as look forward to going to Middle Earth.

I started to more deeply understand why some women hated the way that men were portrayed in romance—the backlash against Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey in particular. I have always defended these novels, saying that fantasy does not always have to be healthy—fiction is a way to toy with danger in a safe place—and women do not always need to be the keepers of morality, as characters, readers, or authors. But in recent months I would see these smug “Alpha Males” all over romance, these dehumanized guys who dehumanized women, whose confidence came from condescension and “love” is portrayed via possessiveness, and I couldn’t help but wish someone would knock these assholes down a peg.

More and more I’ve been pulling out of my depression and being able to enjoy things again. Just recently I’ve started to watch romantic comedies after about two years of not being able to stand the stuff, and I have to say how things have changed.

Not only do the guys smug smiles grate on me a little more, but the woman are deranged and shockingly callous.

I watched Failure to Launch, a sometimes funny, sometimes painful chick flick about a woman whose job is to help older men move out of their parents’ house by improving their confidence with the love of an attractive woman.

The morality was questionable on all accounts.

The male hero was a man-child, having problems with intimacy. He would bring the women who were getting too close home to convince them to break up with him. Unable to tell a hot girl he loved her or commit, he was the quintessential “guy.”

The female protagonist was a perfectly calculated control freak who would use a formula to pick up guys, help them feel better about themselves until they moved out, and then… I don’t know. Break up with them somehow. All without having sex with them. She lied about who she was, played mind-games, and was the quintessential “girl.”

I enjoyed watching it. Not that I was paying extensive attention (I like to have background noise when I’m drawing). But I did remember thinking, “These people are supposed to be romantic?”

There’s a lot of lying in chick flicks. Lots of mind games. Lots of working to change the other. The man is always incompetent in some form, the lady always superwoman. I don’t care what people say about Fifty Shades of Gray: Rich successful, perfectly groomed, “good-looking” guys tend to be the shitty boyfriend in most films. It retains our current atmosphere’s attitude—ambition and effort or for evil advisors.

You want to be the hero? You sit there until someone informs you of your greatness. Then they will push you, but you do not try to be anything more than you are now—you might just be ordinary, after all.

I can’t say that I’d ever want the love portrayed in romance. It all seems to be thoroughly toxic, selfish, and competitive.

Strange, being that my argument why everyone loved Harley Quinn—the female counterpart to Batman’s the Joker—while dismissing all the other female counterparts in superhero comics, was due to the unhealthiness of its relationship; Joker does not have to change when in a relationship because he doesn’t care about Harley one bit. Her flawed obsession with a sadistic asshole is part of her charm. It’s the flaws that make their story so interesting.

Of course, few of the writers attempt to pass it off as moral or idealistic—though some certainly try.

How do you write a love story in which the people aren’t exhibited humongous red flags of sadism, narcissism, or even just problematic immaturity that’s not incredibly boring to watch?

Well, that’s simple enough. Don’t make the conflict the love story. But then it wouldn’t be romance, would it?

I love “Fitzsimmons” from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., two flawed but loveable side characters, Fitz and Simmons, who truly connect with each other in each line. But the writers had trouble pairing them off, trying to make Fitz go for the silver-spooned “Skye” first despite a complete lack of chemistry. Neither of those characters are the plastically attractive, perfect save for one inconspicuous flaw types that Hollywood deems worthy of a true love story, and that’s what makes it great.

When I wrote the manuscript, The Dying Breed, I considered it a romance novel with sci-fi elements. About halfway through, I very much realized it wasn’t. As time went on, going through more and more drafts, the characters’ relationship grew less idolized and more real. I wrote it in five months four years ago, and it’s only now that I look back on that I see how typical their arguments are—despite fleeing from the hordes of bounty hunters in a dead landscape.

Currently, I’m still working on a piece temporarily called The Plane in which not only were the two main characters, Soel and Sanya, not supposed to be romantically entangled, I went out of my way to make it so. Yet something about them clicked, and without my permission, it was clear they had a natural chemistry upon their first meeting:

            “It is there I will need you to travel into the middle of the rainforest to the largest conglomeration of the locals and retrieve something from their temple. Something no Station man has yet achieved.”
            “Retrieve ‘something,’ huh? Like drugs?” Sanya asked. “Cheap hooker? Patent infringement?”
            But Soel focused on other things. “Somethin’ Station man hasn’t done? And y’r sendin’ us? I don’t know if a’yone’s told y’, but you don’t got the most socially talented people here.”
            Sanya shook her head in agreement: you don’t.

The more I allow them to develop their relationship at their will, the more their sarcasm and antisocial behaviors brought them together against the rest of the world. In short time, they organically became a team. Neither of them deny their feelings, they just don’t talk about it much.

            “Don’t listen to him, Soel. It’s sexy.”
            “Buzz off.”
            She grinned. “You need to learn to take a compliment.”
            “I’m sure t’won’t come up again.”

Their relationship lacks the typical conflict and possessiveness that marks the sensual arousal of the romance novels, the yearning that people have for being truly wanted. Good thing too as The Plane was never intended to be about love, but I suppose stick two people in a small aircraft together…

I still begrudge the lack of romanticism—and I don’t just mean love—in my works, enjoying a good will-they-won’t-they plot, but I’ll admit there’s something nice about seeing people actually appreciate each other’s presence. As much as I’d like for a passion for the ages, there’s something to be said for seeing characters in long term relationships that work on a more feasible level.

In truth, I am jealous of my characters’ bonds at times. Sure, they might be clinically depressed, alcoholics, wanted criminals, and brainwashed cult members, but they do have each other, and there is a certain level of loyalty to one another that I can’t help but be proud of.

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