Saturday, 21 May 2016

Friends, romance and the meet cute myth

There's a moment in the 2007 classic that is The Holiday which I'm sure you're already familiar with, since the schedulers at ITV2 apparently LOVE a transatlantic, real estate-heavy rom com. In it, the elderly former Hollywood scriptwriter that Kate Winslet's overly earnest, new-in-town character befriends explains to her the concept of a 'meet cute': "Say a man and a woman both need something to sleep in, and they both go to the same men's pyjama department. And the man says to the salesman: 'I just need bottoms'. The woman says: 'I just need a top'. They look at each other...and that's the meet cute."

There, in all of five sentences, is the crux of all my ridiculous romantic expectations. I'm as bad as the Meg Ryan character in Sleepless in Seattle, whose friend informs her of a sad home truth: "That's your problem: you don't want to be in love. You want to be in love in a movie." Most of us have an overly romanticised view of dating and relationships, but for those of us who grew up greedily devouring books and films and music and TV shows containing perfect Hollywood-style, "You had me at hello" moments, it's even worse.

When I started writing this, wondering which moments exactly it was that brought about this hopeless romanticism, I realised that they were endless. It was watching The Graduate, where Dustin Hoffman dramatically puts a stop to Elaine's wedding. In The Notebook, where Noah writes Allie a letter every day, and single-handedly builds her dream house. In Pride and Prejudice, where Mr Darcy finally tells Lizzie, "You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you." In Dirty Dancing, where an absurdly handsome Patrick Swayze utters that immortal line, "Nobody puts Baby in the corner."

It was in Friends, where Rachel watches the prom video for the first time and realises that Ross is "Her Lobster!" In The Office Christmas special, where Dawn walks into the Christmas party as Yazoo's Only You plays, before snogging a young Martin Freeman's face off. It's when the baby faced Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes lock eyes through that fish tank in Romeo + Juliet. When Heath Ledger sings I Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You to a bemused Julia Stiles. In Bridget Jones, when Mark Darcy tells her he loves her, "Just the way she is." And in possibly my favourite film of all time, when Harry finally tells Sally he loves her on New Year's Eve – with the most unconventional of speeches. These and countless other examples of stomach-flipping, firework-inducing moments have wound together to create the absurdly sentimental romantic I find myself today.

'Dating' in the modern, people-as-disposable-drinking-buddies sense of the word used to be a concept that was confined to fictional places, like Sex and the City. But there are now a pretty staggering 1.4 billion swipes made daily on Tinder, the king of dating apps, and countless more on the likes of Bumble, Happn, Plenty of Fish and all the rest. Pretty much every single person I know is on one, or has been at least once. Even people I know who are in relationships have accounts just for the lols, scared as they apparently are of missing out on the 2016 singleton experience. But even still, I continue to resist using them properly, very occasionally downloading it and sending the faces that appear in my feed firmly away like the ones on a Guess Who? Game. For me, there's been nothing 'meet cute' about meeting online since Tom Hanks starred in You've Got Mail.

I realise this is pretty ridiculous; the app's only been running a few years, but already there are Tinder marriages and Tinder babies in the world. Yet while I conveniently forget the good dating app stories I must hear pretty frequently, I can enthusiastically fill you in on every romance that's ever blossomed in a way which supports my idealistic expectations. There's the one about the friend who met her boyfriend because they shared the same train carriage to work, or the one who met her husband in an art class. Then, best of all, there's the one who shared a cab with a stranger to save money, and gained a future wife.

Of course, the real reason these stories stick out quite so much in my mind is precisely because they're so exceptional. And as the release of BeyoncĂ©'s latest album showed last week, delivering as it does what appears to be a full on rage against Jay Z and his adulterous past, even the stars with the biggest chance of a Hollywood-style romance haven't quite managed it. Life doesn't always follow the typical tom com arc – with couples wittily sniping at each other before overcoming their antipathy to live happily ever after in a Nancy Meyers-style mansion.

In Lena Dunham's TV show Girls, we only ever see one line of her character Hannah's book: "A friendship between college girls is grander and more dramatic than any romance." And I've since read Dunham echoing the same sentiment in real life, telling Interview Magazine, "I think about my best friendship – which the Marnie-Hannah friendship in Girls is based on – as like a great romance of my young life." When I reflect on some of my own friendships, I realise I've found the same thing to be true.

Some of the things my friends have done for me, heard out of context and with no knowledge of the women behind them, could easily be taken to be the grand romantic gestures of a dashing, Mark Darcy type. When we were at uni, my housemates and I were forever leaving each other little post it notes with cute messages, making each other mix tapes and throwing surprise dinner parties with our best homemade efforts. Even the smallest of actions, like messaging someone to tell them a song came on that reminded you of them, making someone their favourite cake, sending them a surprise present in the post, or writing them a post card from some far flung corner of the world, proves that not only is romance not just for the movies, it's not just for couples, either.

So, at the risk of sounding like a Hugh Grant voiceover going on about the Heathrow arrivals lounge, the next time you find yourself wondering where your meet cute is, or feeling miserable about the lack of romance in your life, just think – perhaps you've been looking for it in the wrong places.