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I Watched a Romantic Comedy With the Eyes of a Father

I’ll admit, I am a sucker for romantic comedies. It isn’t a surprise to my close friends, but to the casual acquaintance, or to those in my social justice circles, they may be taken aback. I’m often ranting against convention. I can’t stand plots that rely on tropes and cardboard characters.

I want plots to be complex, and I want characters to be nuanced. I don’t want to be able to predict the ending, nor do I want the “guy” to always get the “girl.” When I re-watched the Star Wars movies with my daughter, I get re-triggered by all the shortcuts that Lucas took. I want these things because life is never as simple as romantic comedies make it out to be, nor is it true that romance always ends with the couple falling back into love after a fight.

For romantic comedies, none of these things matters, though. There is something reassuring in the 90-minute 3-part plot line when you don’t have to think, and you can zone out for a minute to grab a snack or check your messages or whatever else happens while watching romance unfold. I love this about them because on some level it makes you pretty sure for a brief moment that life will always end up “happily ever after.”

Now that I’m a dad, I view romantic comedies on a whole new layer. I can’t put my finger on it, but it is a mixture of nostalgia, fear, excitement, and hope. Regardless of which of these emotions rises to the top, they are all interconnected to my daughters and how they will experience dating and romance.

I know the statistics. I know that if they go to college, there is a good chance that one of them will experience sexual violence. They will feel pressure from a boy to go beyond the limits of their comfort. They will think they have to give in to that pressure to feel loved or accepted.

They might even think this is “just how it is” because of societal pressures and cultural mores.

But life is changing, and romantic comedies are too.

The plots are shifting and female characters are stepping up and are acting with a stronger sense of purpose. They aren’t cardboard characters placed before the male antagonist. They are empowered to push back and demand more of their “suitors.” Is this because of the Me Too Movement? Could it be that cultural shifts have a larger impact and are creating actual change?

I think it is still too early to tell.

Art and life imitate each other in a reciprocal dance, and real change takes time.

What I do know is that when I watch the two principal characters fall in love through ridiculous dates that no one ever actually goes on, I want that for my daughter. Regardless of how realistic it is or not, I want her to meet a man, or a woman, who makes mistakes and acts the fool, and ultimately, sweeps them off their feet. I want them to meet someone who balances their quirky, neurotic habits while pushing them to be better than they ever thought they would be.

I know it is a lot to ask of my daughters’ future partner, but I’m their dad and that’s my prerogative. I won’t accept anything less than perfection.

When I talk with other dads, and get to know their personalities and their relationships with their daughters, I am not alone. Across all our cultural and political viewpoints, when we see our daughters, when we see the gifts and talents they bring into the world, we want nothing less than perfection for them. So we work long hours, we study up on developmental milestones they need to hit, and we create as many opportunities as we can for them to thrive.

As we do this, we may find ourselves falling into the tropes of the foolish dads in romantic comedies. The activist, the critical thinker, and social critiquer in me cringes and fights against this thought. While some dads may be okay with becoming a stock John Hughes’ creation, I’m not.

So while I will enjoy a silly escape into a romantic comedy, I’ll educate my daughters to spot the cardboard characters in their lives and turn away from the “to good to be true” types. I’ll empower them to accept nothing less than perfection for themselves, minus the human frailty that any suitable partner will bring to the equation. And most of all, I’ll do my best to step aside and let them lead their lives when they are ready to spread their wings and soar.

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Brian Anderson

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