After watching the highly-anticipated second installment of Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (TATBILB), cheekily entitled P.S. I Still Love You, I started thinking about what makes romantic comedies the satisfying viewing equivalent of biting into a piece of 10-layer chocolate cake. They’re full of predictable tropes like implausible meet-cutes and guaranteed happily ever afters, but they somehow always make you ravenous for more and more bites of the same. And after watching that movie’s bookish protagonist Lara Jean Covey once again find herself in the arms of high-school heartthrob Peter Kavinsky, I started to brainstorm ways to bring that movie magic to my IRL love life. Because I, much like Lara Jean, love love and refuse to believe that it’s “nothing like how it’s portrayed in the movies.”
Thus began my off-screen romantic comedy dating experience, led by lawyer-turned-relationship-therapist Rachel DeAlto, JD. DeAlto sent me a list of five rom-com assignments to complete throughout the week (think: sprinkling rose petals on the bed) so I could see just how romantic I felt both toward myself and my boyfriend. Would the clichés of this romantic comedy dating style stand their ground under the harsh lights of reality? I tried it for a week to see what happened.
Here’s what happened the week I tried romantic comedy dating to manifest a happily ever after.
Task 1: Create a lovesick soundtrack for my life
The TATBILB sequel really (and I mean really) leans into musical rom-com tropes. In one scene, the world blurs out around Lara Jean as she walks her high school’s halls listening to moody break-up music. In another, she and Peter Kavinsky literally lift into the air as they’re kissing and music blasts in the background.
Making your own movie soundtrack that you blast during somewhat banal daily life events is a #mood many people may already invoke, but per DeAlto’s instruction, I made my playlist super lovey-dovey for the purpose of operation: romantic comedy dating.
But since my boyfriend and I are currently long-distance, only seeing each other about once a month, I can’t exactly listen to the soundtrack while I’m on my way to meet him out at night. So instead, I play it before one of our Skype dates and dance around my room. I know exactly one dance—the floss—so the whole ritual consists of me doing that until I’m out of breath, then shaking my hips around a bit. That’s all I’ve got, folks, but it does pump me up to talk to him.
Task 2: Scatter rose petals leading to the bathtub
Is it officially a rom-com if no roses were harmed in the making? I’m not sure. To test the theory, I check to make sure my roommates aren’t home then trail the petals from my bedroom to the bathroom. Again, I have no significant other in my close proximity to test how romantic this whole floral bath situation would be in the company of another, but I run the hot water and sink into my own sappy experiment. As I shut my eyes and sink in, I do feel a kind of romance with the hot water…that is, until I get overheated and have to escape to the cold tile.
The blooms stick and turn brown and get caught in the drain. It’s decidedly not like the movies, but hey, it was nice for a second there.
What they don’t show you in movies or on The Bachelor, though, is that picking rose petals off the floor and the insides of the bathtub is a pretty thorny experience. The blooms stick and turn brown and get caught in the drain. It’s decidedly not like the movies, but hey, it was nice for a second there.
Task 3: Write a love letter (like Lara Jean Covey) or a poem (like Kat Stratford, of 10 Things I Hate About You)
The third item on DeAlto’s romantic comedy dating to-do list asks me to write down my feelings on paper. I think first of Kat Stradford, whose 10 Things I Hate About You poem is the pinnacle of an inner-feelings tell-all. (“I hate the way you talk to me, and the way you cut your hair.” And so on. ) In the 1999 film, Julia Stiles (as Kat) delivers the sing-songy lines with a candor that feels hard to replicate. Lara Jean’s earnest, childlike letters, on the other hand, a bit more approachable—and, um, less public—for me, so I decide to give that a shot.
I sit at my desk and start penning a letter that’s gushy, embarrassing, and pretty damn emotional. Like Lara Jean, I have zero intentions of ever giving my boyfriend this letter, and the freedom this notion gives me lets me dig deep and articulate exactly what I love about him and the worries I have about our geographical hurdles. A lot of my frustrations about the time zones and space between us come pouring out onto the page. By the end, I’m crying (like Stradford at the end of her poem), but I feel a catharsis, like a rom-com heroine who has hit a turning point in her story arc and is readying herself to run through the airport or learn how to time travel to get to the person I love.
Task 4: Take a sabbatical, go somewhere far away, reset, and return anew
In a task taken straight from Under the Tuscan Sun, DeAlto suggests I take a sabbatical from my life to gain some perspective on my current relationship and reconnect with myself. While I’m not in the position at the moment to give up all my earthly belongings to wander the globe, I do give myself a one-day sabbatical on the tail-end of a work trip.
I end the night with overpriced room service and Netflix, and even though I didn’t exactly buy a house in Tuscany, I definitely feel more romantic and loving toward myself.
I’m in Atlanta, Georgia, on a sunny but chilly day and I start the morning with a walk along the BeltLine, a former railway corridor that’s been transformed into a footpath. I don’t put on my headphones; I just listen to the world around me and consider, well, everything: work, the book I’m writing, my relationship, existence at large—you know, the little things. In the afternoon, I go climbing in a local Atlanta gym and talk to strangers about how to scale the holds to make it to the very top. I end the night with overpriced room service and Netflix, and even though I didn’t exactly buy a house in Tuscany, I definitely feel more romantic and loving toward myself.
Task 5: Fall in love with yourself
DeAlto’s final task strikes me as the most major. I’ve spent my whole life trying to fall in love with myself the way Jenna Rink falls in love with her adolescence in 13 Going on 30. So naturally, I feel doubtful that I can accomplish it in the course of seven days. Strangely though, completing a week of rom-com related tasks without my partner present has made my pursuit of self-love feel less impossible.
Between the soggy rose petals and five Taylor Swift albums, I’ve learned to be my own friend in a way that does feel romantic. It’s not a “happily ever after,” per se; it’s an ongoing effort to give my life the sweetness of that 10-layer chocolate cake that never. gets. old.
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