Living in a Fantasy….

Over the summer I read a hilarious book by Caitlin Moran titled How To Be a Woman.  I don’t know if I have ever laughed so hard with a book- it was one of the most candidly real tackling of the things we have to deal with as a woman I had ever read.  The chapter where she discusses current waxing trends just about had me rolling on the floor.  Seriously, it’s a great read and I highly recommend it, but be ye warned -it is not for the faint of heart.  She is incredibly blunt and at times pretty crass, but if that does not bother you- go find this book.  I promise you won’t regret it.  OK- disclaimer done, moving on.

HowToBeWoman pb cThe part of the book that I connected with the most however had to do with Moran’s recounting of a relationship she once lived that existed only in her head.  When talking about how active and alive her imagination was as a teenager she writes, “My love life was busy, exciting, and totally imaginary.”  She then goes on to discuss one particularly vivid fantasy.

“My first serious relationship was conducted with a famous comedian of the time and took place wholly in my head.  I’d never met him, spoken to him, or even been in the same room as him- and yet, during one train ride from Wolverhampton to London Euston, I had one of the most intense relationship experiences of my life: all daydreamed.”

Sadly, I completely understand this experience.  For as long as I can rememeber I have loved stories; it started with books and later included movies and TV.  Growing up I was a complete bookworm and would devour volumes as quickly as possible.  While I was reading I would simultaneously imagine myself into the story, and while my imaginings did not always go down the path of romance, this was the case more often than not.

I have lived as a fifth March sister between Jo and Beth who was the lucky one to win Laurie in the end rather than stupid old Amy.  I’ve been a part of the Old West and both Regency and Victorian England.  I’m pretty sure that my first real crush was Gilbert Blythe.  My active imagination actually became a sort of test of how well written and plotted a novel was; if I could not imagine a better story with myself added into it or improve upon the original outcome by recreating separate events, I knew it was a good book.  As much as I longed for Mr. Darcy to fall in love with me just once, I simply could not imagine it into being- it was so clear that he and Elizabeth were meant to be together.

I won’t lie to you and and say that I don’t still create imaginary relationships and stories in my head today, but I like to think I’m at least a bit more realistic about it.  It’s rather embarrassing to admit, but I don’t think I’m alone in this pursuit.  What woman hasn’t spent at least a moment dreaming of what life would feel like on the arm of George Clooney?  However, I do wonder how healthy all of this fantasizing really is.  In fantasy, everything is pretty much perfect, but this is not the world we live in.  Real relationships take work and are not going to go completely smoothly.  Most partners we meet are not going to be near as dashingly hansom as either George Clooney or Colin Firth.

But I’m OK with that.  What reality has that fantasy doesn’t it that it is real.  In the movie You’ve Got Mail, Meg Ryan has a fantastic line where she says that so many things remind her of something that she once read in a book, but shouldn’t it be the other way around?  As much fun as I’ve had living my imaginary lives and loves, I don’t reminisce fondly over them the same way I do my actual memories.  I know that my friends and family and the times that we have shared together is my real story, and it can’t be improved upon or written any better.  The fantasy is fun, and does serve it’s purpose, but in the end it’s abandoned because it’s never as much fun as the real thing.

In How To Be a Woman, Ms. Moran continues recounting more of her “relationship” with the comedian, and then humorously recalls when she actually met him years later and was overcome with feeling all the emotions of their imagined time together.  But she ends it with a statement that I scarily can relate to.  “On the days where I have to rationalize this insanity to myself, I postulate that these intense crushes are necessary evolutionary byproducts of being a woman.  As our fertility window is so short- allowing maybe a handful of serious, reproductively potential relationships before menopause- these serious fantasies are by way of “test runs”, allowing women to run through entire possible relationships in their heads, to see if they’d ultimately work out or not.  Like a computer running through algorithms.”  Test runs aren’t such a bad thing after all, I just hope some of them can be real some day soon.

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Defending the Romantic Comedy

Over the past week I have read several articles about how the Romantic Comedy may be a dying breed.  It all started with an article in The Atlantic monthly print magazine by Christopher Orr titled Why Are Romantic Comedies So Bad?  That was then followed by several critiques including one on NPR by Linda Holmes, and one from Billy Mernit on Living the Romantic Comedy.  All of that was then followed by a critique of the critiques with a second article from Orr- What Went Wrong With Romantic Comedies: Part 2.  Now, I’m not planning to also write a critique here- but I do want to discuss both the pitfalls and the greatness of the Romantic Comedy.  Why?  Quite simply because I love them.

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I completely agree with Orr that many of the movies in the genre from the past 5 years or so are dreadful.  Romantic comedies today seem to have become completely cliched and full of neurotic women we can’t see the charm in or identify with.  The men are often misogynistic and it’s hard to see how why we are supposed to fall in love with them along with the heroin.  The settings are contrived, the women are sex crazed, and the comedy is often too over the top or raunchy to be really funny.

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Mindy Kaling (who I could write an entire post on- let me know if you want to read that) hilariously addresses this when detailing the types of women often seen in Romantic Comedy today in an article she wrote for the New Yorker in 2011.  Kaling also mentions in the article how embarrassing it is these days to admit that you enjoy these films, and talks about how she is able to enjoy the current offerings by detaching them from any kind of reality.  “I regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world operates according to different rules than my regular human world. For me, there is no difference between Ripley from “Alien” and any Katherine Heigl character. They are equally implausible.”  Now, I will admit that I laughed out loud when I read that because I could relate- but it also made me sad.

I don’t want to watch a romantic comedy to examine another dimension- I want to be able to relate, to see some part of myself in the characters.  I want it to feel real enough because as a single woman, I live vicariously through these characters for the two hours that we spend together.  I can feel the emotions as if I too were experiencing their love.  And this escape- that’s what I look for in a good romantic comedy.

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 I want it to feel plausibly real.  I want the women and men to have pretty normal lives and regular jobs.  I want there to be moments of truth that I can relate to, such as when Sally (Meg Ryan) is crying to Harry (Billy Crystal) because she found out her ex is getting married in When Harry Met Sally.  Harry asks her if she would take him back now, and Sally says no.  Then why are you upset? Harry wants to know- and Sally responds with “why didn’t he want to marry me?”  That moment hits in the gut because it is so nakedly true.  Other true moments where I have found a moment of pure honesty in Romantic Comedy include Kristen Wiig’s reaction to the announcement that her best friend is getting married in Bridesmaids (simultaneous joy and tears), Bob (David Duchovney) asking Grace (Minnie Driver) if he can hold her hand in Return to Me (I could also write an entire post on the greatness of Bob), and the credit sequence in Bridget Jones’s Diary when Renee Zellweger sings/dances/drinks it out to “All By Myself”.

These moments are what keep bringing me back to my tried and true films.  Nora Ephron nailed it every time, but who is writing Sams and Annies today?  We need a new wave of Romantic Comedies that treat women as smart, rational human beings, and gives them real men to fall in love with- men who are not dragged into love kicking and screaming.  I have hope that these types of quality romances will come around again.  Until then, I’ll keep hanging out in the Shop Around the Corner, masochistically reminding myself that I want to be in love in a movie.

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Choosing to be Single?

Yesterday, I had one of those days where it is hard to be single.  Not hard in the emotional, “oh I wish I had someone” way- but hard in the sometimes things are just easier with another person to help you out, kind of way.

I live alone (well, alone with a cat), and usually I love it.  I like coming home and not having to worry that the mess I create while making dinner will bother anyone if it does not all get cleaned up in the same night.  I like to be able to re-charge by vegging out if that is all I have the energy for, and I am completely in control of what will be watched.  As a rather large Introvert on the Meyer’s Briggs scale, I need a lot of me time to feel re-energized and balanced, and living alone allows that.  This does not mean that I don’t get lonely from time to time- but the positives outweigh the negatives, and my cat is pretty good company most of the time.

However, there are times when it would just be helpful to have someone else around.  My predicament yesterday was that my shower backed up- not just running slow, but full on standing water.  I tried everything I could possibly think of, and when none of them worked, I went to the internet for more ideas.  Finally, defeated, I called my landlord and let him know the issue.  He had me call a plumber and it was both a relief and a disappointment.  It was nice to know that I no longer needed to handle the issue alone, but I had really wanted to tackle the problem myself and feel self sufficient.  In the end, it did drain on it’s own before the plumber returned my call, it just took six hours for the liquid plumber to work.

During this whole ordeal I kept thinking how nice it would be to have a guy I could call to come help me out.  This may be very un-feminist of me, but sometimes it’s just reassuring to have a male presence in the face of household dilemmas- even if they themselves don’t know how to fix the problem.  It is a nice feeling to have someone to share the burden.

I don’t run into these types of situations often, but when I do I always find myself contemplating my singleness.  I read an article once that said it takes courage to remain single in our society.  At first I did not think this was true because courage implied a choice and I did not think I was choosing to be single, it was just my state of being.  I also did not feel personally that my single state was me acting courageously, it was simply the only way I knew how to live.  I’ve been single my entire life.  At 29 I still have never had a relationship.  This is all I know, there cannot be anything courageous in that.

But the more I thought about it, the more I began to identify with it.  While I still did not feel courageous, I understood what the article was trying to say.  We live in a world today that is built around couples.  When was the last time you went to an arts event and saw someone sitting by themselves?  It feels like there is an underlying social tabu about not going to events alone.  I actually love going to the movies by myself and do so often, but I feel uncomfortable doing many other things by myself such as eating in any place that is a step up from a coffee shop.

In trying to become more comfortable with doing things by myself I want to take a trip on my own.  This has become a very frustrating process.  When looking through living social getaway packages, they are all directed at couples.  Romantic getaway for two!- they all proclaim.  OK, two is not a problem I think, I’ll find a friend to come along or enlist my Father- he’s wanted to explore some of these places.  But then as I read the details, it’s always for a King room and will have champagne or something waiting.  Not really the vibe you want on a trip with your Dad.  These kinds of promotions only remind me of my single state and make me feel like there is something else I am left out of because of it.

While all of this can be infuriating, I am still going it alone, and in a lot of ways it really is a choice.  One of my favorite go to guilty pleasure movies is The Wedding Date with Debra Messing.  In the movie, faced with the prospect of showing up to her sister’s wedding alone, Kat (Messing) hires an escort to come along and pose as her boyfriend.  One of the main messages of the movie is expressed when Kat asks her date Nick (Hello, Dermot Mulroney!) about a quote of his from an article stating that every woman has the love life that she wants.  Kat is furious-  “Do you think I want to be alone and miserable?” she throws at Nick.

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I agree with Nick, I think the answer is yes.  While I don’t believe that Kat wants to be miserable, I do believe that if she really did not want to be alone she did not have to be.  The same goes for me.  If all I wanted was to go on a date, I could make that happen.  I could find someone to ask out or join an online dating site.  Finding someone is not the problem; finding the right someone is.  I have never desired to be in a relationship just for the sake of being in one.  Yes, it would be nice to always have someone to go to a concert with or to help me with things around the house.  It would be helpful financially to share the rent if I were ever to live with someone, or even to be able to take advantage of those travel deals.  But as great as all of that would be, it doesn’t really mean anything to me if I’m not sharing it with the right person.  I don’t want to have a boyfriend just because it is great to have a boyfriend- I want it to be special.  So, until I meet that person- yes, I am choosing to remain single, and maybe it is a bit courageous.

I’ll fix that drain on my own.  And if not- that’s what plumbers are for.