The Trope that Romantic Comedies can’t live without

Do you ever see real-life romantic comedies playing out?

Think of all the romantic comedies you’ve seen and read. Do you see situations in your life that reflect those events?

Most of us have probably had at least one sitcom experience, in which we feel that we’re a character in some cheap drama unfolding around us. At times, I’ve even felt like the female lead in the first few minutes of a rom-com. The scenario goes something like this:

A young woman leaves work after a long January day. She exits the building and shuffles through the snow to her car. Halfway there, she drops her keys. She bends over to dig the keys out of the fresh, powdery snow and, in doing so, spills her coffee onto her coat.

Upon recovering the keys, she completes the trek to her snow-covered car and stuffs her belongings inside. Arming herself with an ice-scraper, she then begins to etch the snow and ice off of the windows—unable to clear the middle portion of the windshield because of her height (or lack thereof). At last, the young woman piles into her car and closes the door, heaving a sigh that only a single woman could heave, who has no man to scrape her car for her. Her breath is visible inside the car.

Mind you, my rom-coms rarely get past the “first few minutes” stage… aside from the occasional unwanted sequence of Mr. Collins-like encounters (read up on your Jane Austen if you don’t catch the reference).

My guess is that most of you can somehow relate—and to that extent, most of us do see some elements of rom-coms in daily life.

But there is one particular pattern that seems to define romantic comedies of all eras, which I highly doubt we see happen in real life.

You guessed it: the rivals who become lovers.

Think about all the rom-coms you know, from old classics to new.

Here’s a brief list, just to name a few examples:

Father Goose

When Harry Met Sally

You’ve Got Mail



La La Land (although this is more of a drama)

While this list is far from exhaustive, most of you will recognize this trope in some of them. The love stories all begin with the same theme: boy and girl meet. They don’t like each other. Either they find the other person off-putting or they feel threatened by him/her. But they’re somehow fascinated with each other. Pretty soon, they’re kissing.

Obviously there’s much more plot to each of these stories, but the central plot of numerous rom-coms depends on the same trope of the rival-to-lover transformation.

Why does this reality-defying pattern define romantic comedies?

Most males and females who clash at first sight do not wind up together. At least, not in my observation. They start gossiping about each other. They start name-calling behind each other’s back. It seems to me that most individuals who make the wrong first impression don’t get a second chance—much less get a lover out of the deal.

So why do so many rom-coms use this trope to set the stage for their love story?

I suspect that once upon a time a writer thought he would make his love story unique. Write a story about two people who don’t get along at first, and then—surprise! They fall in love. The readers will never see it coming.

Maybe it worked back then. Maybe the first audience was surprised. But now every time I see a male and female character butt heads, I begin to yawn, because 98% of the time they are going to fall in love. Now, the process through which they fall in love might actually wake me up, but the ending is basically a give-away. So why do so many quality stories follow this pattern, if everyone knows how the story ends?

Here’s a thought: maybe some writers don’t intend to surprise us with their love story. Maybe they intend to challenge us.

You see, any time the two principal characters feel threatened by one another, that betrays some weakness. Some insecurity. Any number of things could happen in the plot, but we know that in order for them to fall in love, these two people will first need to overcome their own egos or insecurities. In short, they will need to grow personally in order to appreciate one another relationally.

Once we look at romantic comedies through this lens, I think we might find we can learn more from them than we expected. Sure, some are cheesy. Sure, some are saccharine. And sure, some are just vulgar. But some actually illustrate elements of human prejudice, arrogance, cynicism, and willful ignorance that we would do well to examine in our own lives.

And additionally, they help us laugh at ourselves. And that’s never a bad thing.

What do you think? Have you seen real-life rivals fall in love?

Do you find the presence of this trope boringly predictable or amusing?

What are some rom-coms that you think use this trope to expose a character’s insecurity and need for growth?

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One Comment on “The Trope that Romantic Comedies can’t live without

  1. I’ve never witnessed enemies become lovers, either. I never thought of it that way, though. (What does bug me is all these kid movies with the kids hating the nannies (who are sometimes big, scary spies) and vice versa and then all of a sudden, the hardened killer becomes warm to kids and the kids love him.)

    But you’re right – it’s a challenge in a way.Like “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Maybe this one time (out of a million), they are not as terrible as we think they are.

    Yes, I, too roll my eyes when I see these tropes play out. But, I try to see the positives in it when I can.

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