Romantic comedies may be fine-tuned in a writer’s room and have their happy endings carefully crafted from a director’s chair, but the films have also given those of us in the real world a few pieces of quality dating advice.
At times dismissed for being trivial or a less valuable artistic expression, romantic comedies have commanded audiences for centuries — even Shakespeare got in on the action. His 16th-century play Much Ado About Nothing showcases the key plot of the genre: a series of antics make two people, who thought they weren’t meant to fall in love, realize they should be together.
Sure, someone rarely rushes into a New Year’s Eve party just before midnight to tell their best friend they love them, and waiting at the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day is more likely to result in pneumonia than true love. But, the fantasy is part of the appeal, and—unlike in real life—when the final credits roll and the screen fades to black, the heartache was worth it because the two people who were meant for each other end up together.
Using romantic comedies as a “how-to” guide for dating is ill-advised as it will surely leave a person feeling dejected. But, Newsweek asked four relationship experts for their take on a few quotes from rom-coms and, as it turns out, some of the words are advice worth heeding.
Interviews have been condensed and edited for length.
If a guy wants to see you, believe me, he will see you. –He’s Just Not That Into You
After contemplating calling a guy she met at happy hour (who said he’d call her) Gigi calls Alex for advice. He tells her she shouldn’t call the guy because if he wanted to see her, he would.
David Bennett, dating coach and relationship expert: I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the case just because a lot of guys, in particular, can be a little hesitant, worried about crossing boundaries or coming on too strong.
Julie Ingenohl, marriage and family therapist: One of the [golden rules of dating] I always teach my clients are if a guy or girl cancels on a first date, you don’t reschedule it. If they’re okay canceling the first date, they’ll be okay canceling the second, third, fourth or whatever date.
Diane Strachowski, psychologist and relationship expert: I think that’s true.
Celia Schweyer, dating expert at Datingscout.com: Guys are not complicated creatures and, they’re not from different species. If they like you, they will make time for you; they will put their one foot forward and will let you see their best side just so you become interested in them.
You should never go to bed with anyone when you found out your last boyfriend’s getting married. –When Harry Met Sally
When Sally learns her ex-boyfriend, who said he never wanted to get married, is engaged, she calls her best friend Harry in tears and asks him to come over. Lending a shoulder for her to cry on turns into them sleeping together, a decision that left them in an awkward relationship-limbo come morning.
Bennett: If you are making a major relationship or dating or sexual decision and you’re in an emotional state that you know is not your baseline state, you may want to take a step back and reconsider that action.
Ingenohl: This one is true. When we sleep with someone to avoid pain, we’re really just stuffing the pain and there’s really just no way to get around pain except to feel it.
Strachowski: You have this idea that there’s this rebound period and you shouldn’t be with someone if you’re in a rebound, but that’s not true. The healthiest of people move through relationships quicker because they’re not gonna take it so personally. If moving on is a good thing, then yeah, do it.
Schweyer: Think of it this way: If you want to have sex because you want to have sex—go for it! If you think sex will help you overcome feelings of loneliness and sadness and that some temporary body contact is all it takes to bring you back up, you’re probably wrong.
Musn’t read too much into it. –Bridget Jones’ Diary
A few flirtatious emails with her boss leads Bridget Jones to start wondering if he could be her future husband.
Bennett: I think that’s good advice because some people just like to flirt, some people might just be having fun, they might even be attracted in the moment, but then later on, real-life can weigh in. Maybe they have someone they’re seeing, maybe they have an ex that came back in their life, maybe they’re just looking for something casual or something short term.
Ingenohl: Overall, in this case, I do agree with her. You don’t want to read too much into things. You want to communicate and be able to ask questions and be vulnerable, and when you do that you don’t have any need to start moving forward in your head and making assumptions.
Strachowski: I think it’s a normal thing for anxious women to do. Anxious women race ahead and start planning their wedding before they’ve had dessert. Bridget Jones should take her own advice because she was a hot mess and she was so anxious and she needed to calm down.
Schweyer: If you really tend to fall for someone over being given the most basic sympathies, be aware how easily it can hurt you. Most smiles are just smiles and not subtle ways of saying “let’s fall in love.” For that, it takes a lot more.
Not dinner. Not necessarily on the first date because halfway through dinner you could be really sorry you asked them to eat dinner. Whereas if it’s just a drink, if you like them you can always ask them for dinner but if not, you can just say, “Well, that was great,” and then you go home. –Sleepless in Seattle
When Sam’s considering getting back in the dating game after his wife’s death, he explains to his son that he prefers to meet people organically and get to know them in a casual setting.
Bennett: I actually recommend that advice, yes. Especially these days when usually you don’t know the person, and you have no idea if you’re gonna feel any type of compatibility or chemistry, we actually suggest [to] keep it more casual for first dates.
Ingenohl: I totally agree with this one. But, the only caveat, [is if] the date is going really well, and the one drink turns to a second drink, turns to a third drink, by all means, order some damn food because you’re just going to end up drunk. You do have to eat at some point if it’s going well.
Strachowski: I’m totally about that and I totally agree that if there’s great chemistry you can have appetizers or say, “Hey do you want to grab a quick bite?”
Schweyer: In times of online dating and blind dates, the advice out of this quote can be more helpful than ever before. They can end in a disaster if the person you met online isn’t like you imagined him or her. In this case, it will make it much easier for you if the date will naturally end in about one hour, thus you’re not wasting any delicious food when fleeing the table. If you already know your date from real life the advice to not go for dinner on a first date doesn’t make much sense.
I have never lied to you. I have always told you some version of the truth.
The truth doesn’t have versions, okay? –Something’s Gotta Give
Erica, a playwright, realizes Harry hasn’t given up his well-documented playboy ways when she sees him in a restaurant with another woman, causing her to question how she ever let herself fall for him.
Bennett: I would say that’s true. You’re always getting someone’s spin on the truth but there is probably a real truth out there and it’s important to get that out of the person you’re dating. If someone used that line I would be very concerned.
Ingenohl: I do think that she is right. I don’t think the truth has versions and I think if you’re accepting half-truths you’re allowing people to play with your emotions.
Strachowski: I would say be careful. Diane Keaton was right, there is only one version of the truth but the other person is so afraid that it’s going to be used against them that they’re cherry-picking.
Schweyer: It’s dishonest to leave out crucial details (while not actually lying) and the person who does this, knows that very much.
You really have to stop buying into this bullshit Hollywood cliché of true love. –Friends With Benefits
Jaime, a firm believer in true love, rethinks her outlook on life after her boyfriend breaks up with her outside of a movie theater, where they were supposed to see Pretty Woman, a movie she loves.
Bennett: The Hollywood narrative of love is not very realistic and it doesn’t usually show the more negative consequences of love, it just shows everything working out perfectly. I do believe you can meet people who make you feel really good and you have a real connection with, but I would say if you looked at the sequels of these romantic comedies five years down the line, you might find they turn into your average couple who’s not feeling those things as much anymore.
Ingenohl: That one is sort of true and false. Love is a real thing and true love is a real thing. The false part there is that there’s one true love for people. I don’t believe that. The other piece with Hollywood, I don’t think you have to be incredibly attracted to the other person. I think when you’re in a mature relationship when you start to fall in love, the person becomes more attractive because of who they are as a person so it can build slowly.
Strachowski: I agree. I think rom coms really set us up to fail with this highly idealized romanticized version of love. What you’re now evoking is people who are more dramatic and are really going to be in pursuit mode because you have this fantasy of idealized love and you could eliminate a lot of really great people who are just gonna say, “Well that’s a game I’m not gonna do that crap.”
Schweyer: While it is correct that Hollywood has its very own unrealistic ways of depicting true love, it’s not necessarily unreal to experience it in real life. Living happily ever after can’t be dismissed as mere cliché. Do whatever works for you, but avoid letting either option grow to extremes. Neither becoming (too) cynical nor dreaming your days away and missing actual chances at love are desirable.