All The Terrible Dating Myths Rom-Coms Taught Us to Believe

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Rom-coms, particularly the classic ones made in the 80s, 90s, and early aughts, are like cinematic comfort food. Sure, they’re predictable and occasionally even riddled with sexist cliches, but is there anything else you’d rather watch when you need a wine-fueled night on the couch? For most of us, the answer is no. But as much as we love them, they’re really not the best place to pick up actual dating advice. Which is unfortunate, considering that’s exactly where we got our earliest entrees into the world of relationships and romance. Here are a few of the worst dating habits women have picked up from rom-coms.

When in doubt, play hard to get

Remember in Clueless, how Cher decides to play hard to get with Christian, sending herself chocolates and dropping her fluffy pens on the ground in class and stuff? And then he turns out to be gay? Yeah, that whole drama could have been avoided if she had just been more upfront about her intentions with him. I’m not saying you should throw yourself at every person you find attractive, but if you’re into someone IRL, you should probably just find a chill yet clear way to let them know and spare yourself the heartbreak of getting too invested before you find out they’re unavailable or uninterested.

Men will only notice you after a big makeover

This one goes hand-in-hand with Hollywood’s predilection for pretending beautiful women who happen to be bespectacled and brunette are somehow hideous, unloveable beasts. Have you ever noticed how in, like, every movie from The Breakfast Club to She’s All That to Just Go With It (remember Brooklyn Decker’s cinematic debut?), the already-attractive woman has to change her appearance to get the guy to notice her? Yeah, in real life, potential partners will either be interested or they won’t, but a haircut and some lipstick probably isn’t going to change anything. In fact, if your partner is a typical dude, you’ll be lucky if he notices your haircut at all.

People always somehow resurface

In rom-com land, there is no need to give anyone your number when you meet them at a party or catch their eye across a crowded train, because inevitably, they’ll just pop right up again. You might bump into them on the sidewalk or spill coffee all over them at Starbucks. Heck, they could be your new cubicle mate or your best friend’s secret boyfriend! But if they’re cute, and you’re cute, and you both noticed each other, they’ll be back, probability theory be damned. If this is how the real world worked, none of us would have any need for smartphones, social media, or anything other than good ol’ fate.

Rich dudes are everywhere, and love knows zero socioeconomic bounds

From Pretty Woman to Maid in Manhattan, rom-coms have us all believing that the world is simply crawling with handsome, single, fabulously-wealthy men. Spoiler alert: This is not the case. I know, I was angry when I found this one out, too. What’s more, dating someone from a vastly different economic background than yours can be complicated in ways that go beyond, for example, haughty shopgirls who don’t realize you’ve got serious dough to spend.

If you don’t like someone, that probably means you’ll eventually fall in love with them

Whether it’s your new boss (What Women Want), a rival bookseller (You’ve Got Mail), or that rude guy at your parents’ cocktail party (Bridget Jones’s Diary), if you meet someone and immediately have a problem with them, that means you’re meant to be. Except that, in reality, it doesn’t. Sure, sometimes people surprise you, but it’s also important to trust your instincts, especially as women. For us, dating often means placing ourselves in situations where we’re vulnerable—not just emotionally, but physically—and if someone seems like a creep or a asshole, oftentimes, it’s because they are.

When he’s the one, you just know

The flip side of this trope, of course, is that in rom-coms, people always seem to “just know” when someone is the person they want to spend the rest of their life with. This concept is crystallized in When Harry Met Sally, when Sally says, “He just met her… She’s supposed to be his transitional person, she’s not supposed to be the one,” but the idea is literally everywhere, from Titanic to My Best Friend’s Wedding. This is a particularly bad lesson to internalize because, for most of us, things are just more complex. Oh, and the whole idea of “the one”? That’s up for debate also.

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