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RomComs: Harmless Escapism or Harbingers of Perpetual Despair?

by in Lifestyle on 4th May, 2023

A cursory examination of popular women’s fiction titles, trending movies on Netflix or Box Office hits reveals the enduring appeal of romcoms. After all, who doesn’t like a girl meets boy, they fall in love, and live happily ever after? From dystopian sci-fi films to period dramas set in colonial Africa, the settings for romcoms are as varied as the audiences it attracts, pulling in elderly aunties as easily as young teens. We never outgrow fairy tales.   

Romcoms make for an entertaining and laughter-filled evening whether at the cinema with friends or family or ensconced in our favourite cosy sofa at home. We allow ourselves to be swept up in an emotional and euphoric ride by the predictable plot line of a heartbroken or lonely or not-even-looking-for-love girl meeting her soul mate after a series of comic misadventures, tearful confessions and romantic moments. Amidst the economic, political and climatic catastrophes of our times, it offers a complete and welcome escape from reality. The warm glow and flurry of butterflies in the hearts of women, young and old, are the undeniable after-effects of romcom consumption. 

But by the time we’ve got home or hauled ourselves out of the sofa pit, the glaze of happy giddiness has given way to a strange restlessness, and a sense of emptiness begins to gnaw at us.   

There are no fit, funny and financially independent guys yearning to marry us. The ones who have proposed or who might propose are dull and quiet with no signs of romantic tendencies. The extent of their humour is limited to sharing some dubious TikToks. Then, as dark thoughts take root and doubts blossom in our hearts, we begin to wonder if we’re good enough. We ought to go to the gym more, get into healthy habits, dress differently…and…and…

Sisters, it’s time to bash the myth peddled by romcoms firmly on the head. Take it from me, I’ve had a complex decades-old relationship with romcoms. They’re like that pint of your favourite ice-cream, blissful when you’re eating it, relishing the brain freeze and the sugar rush, but by the time you’re done, you feel a little ill.  

For starters, where does one find a guy who looks like the main man in the movie, pulling off even the shabby-chic look with panache?

Remember Hollywood can make an unwashed guy, who’s been living in the wild for a month, look incredible. And, let’s be honest, when was the last time you met a guy with a sense of humour that made you snort with laughter? Probably when you bought a ticket to a comedy show where the guy telling the gags had spent a year writing and perfecting the material. 

How about the last guy who readily shared his deepest emotions within a few days or hours of the first meeting? You probably got a little freaked out and wondered what made him think you agreed to be his emotional dumpster?  

And then there’s that most beloved, i.e. clichéd, of romcom scenes that never fails to set hearts racing. Do you really want to be pursued by someone who buys a last minute, ridiculously priced plane ticket, and charges past the check-in, security and boarding queues, battles past people stuffing bags into overhead bins, all without breaking a sweat, and appears magically behind you to declare their love in the aisle with dozens of people watching? 

As for the romcom sidekick/best friend, let’s be honest, none of our friends are that funny and neither are they devoted full time to our love lives.

They’ve got their own issues going on. The ones who are married assure us that even if a fiancée is an incredibly well-groomed, always fragrant, flower sending, gym bunny, a husband rarely maintains the same standards. 

The friends who are also looking for a spouse regale us with stories of their first phone conversations or meetings over coffee. Instead of gentle questions and mild flirtation, the conversation centres round: 

  1. If she wears a hijab, is she open to taking it off, you know, later?
  2. If she doesn’t wear a hijab, will she consider putting it on?
  3. If she’ll continue with her career after marriage and kids
  4. Whether she’s happy to live with parents-in-law….and maybe also brother- and sister-in-law?
  5. And why on earth does she want to specialise in surgery – that’s so competitive and difficult. 
  6. Also, what madhab does she follow, and most importantly,
  7. Does she know how to cook?   

Needless to say, Muslim women’s lived experience bears little to no resemblance to the predominantly white, secular, western-centric romcoms which are focused firmly on the lower self, our lustful ‘nafs’. They lack the language to discuss the deeper bond that stems from being in a loving, supportive union for a greater purpose. After all, marriage is half our faith. 

Yet expectations of relationships are often informed by popular culture’s depictions of what falling in love looks like and how to find it. We seldom see ourselves and loving, healthy Muslim relationships reflected in fiction, TV or film, let alone in romcoms, except as sneering parodies or tragedies. This has an impact on the expectations girls and women have, both married and unmarried. 

Thankfully, our faith offers us a powerful corrective to these narratives about romantic love. Of course, there must be a spark of attraction between the couple and no relationship can last without its share of romance and humour.

The best example of this is from the life of our Messenger (ﷺ) who would perfume himself before going home, would play and laugh with his wives and would feed them. 

One of the most romantic and intimate acts of love was related by our mother Maymuna, peace upon her, who said that she would bathe with the Messenger (ﷺ) using the same vessel. The romance and love that defined the happy marriage of our beloved Messenger (ﷺ) with our mother Khadija, peace be upon her, outlasted her life. He (ﷺ) would get excited when he heard her sister’s voice, for it resembled his beloved wife’s. He’d(ﷺ) sent presents to her family members long after she’d passed away out of the enduring love he had for her.   

If sequels to some of the most successful romcoms were to be made, with the couples ten or fifteen years into a marriage, I wonder how they’d be faring.

Once the physical magnetism has worn off, the weight has piled on, the jokes have become old and the inevitable routine has set in – would their relationship still be as strong? Would they still be as smitten with each other? What are the ingredients of a lasting, loving relationship? 

The beloved Messenger (ﷺ) guides us in this regard too, saying, ‘If someone proposes marriage to you whose religion and character satisfies you, then you should accept it. If you do not do so, there will be trials on the earth and the spread of corruption.’

Of course, we’d all prefer someone whose key character traits include a sense of humour and a propensity to engage in random acts of romance. Yet one of the most romantic gestures I know about is of a husband scraping the thick ice off his wife’s car, on a bitterly cold morning, realising that it was very low on fuel and taking the time, before work, to get it refuelled so she wouldn’t have to stand out in the cold for even a moment longer than she had to. That gesture would never make it onto a romcom script but it’s an act rooted in love and kindness. For as Muslims, we know that every act of love and devotion springs from the deep spiritual awareness that we’re all sustained by the Love of the Most Loving, the Turner of Hearts who can transform relationships and help us find contentment. He alone can direct us towards those who love and value us as much as we do them.  

So the next time you settle down to watch a romcom, remember it’s like chewing gum, the artificial flavours are fantastic for a little while, but chew it too long and it’ll leave a foul taste in your mouth.

B.B. Hajaban

B.B. Hajaban

Born and raised in Pakistan, B.B. now lives in the UK. She has degrees in Economics, Development Studies and Creative Writing from McGill University, the London School of Economics and Political Science and Bath Spa. When she’s not reading or writing, she can be found drinking coffee and binge watching Turkish, Palestinian or Iranian films. Her main goal in life these days is to start learning a martial art.