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As rom coms decline, so do conventional ideas about love

Published: Saturday, July 26 2014 8:35 a.m. MDT

Friends eating fast food posing to camera

John Howard, Getty Images

Dana Corey and her husband of 13 years don't celebrate their wedding anniversary. They celebrate the day they fell in love over brunch menus and a broken pair of reading glasses.

"It's the day our lives changed," Corey said.

If that sounds like something out of a romantic comedy, that's because it's the kind of story many people hope to have for themselves — the "how we met" story. But the part of Corey's story not found in many romantic comedies these days is becoming very common: Corey, a 41-year-old divorced mother of three at the time, met her husband online.

It's been a rough few years for romantic comedies, as L.A. Weekly's Amy Nicholson penned an obituary for the genre in February.

"In 1997, there were two romantic comedies among the top 20 box office performers. In 1998 and 1999, there were three. Each cracked $100 million in sales. Even as recently as 2005, five romantic comedies topped $100 million at the box office," Nicholson wrote. "Contrast that with 2013: There's not one romantic comedy in the top 50 films. Not even in the top 100."

The cause of the drop-off has a host of valid theories behind it that range from financial to cliched story lines. But as Megan Garber wrote in the Atlantic recently, the reason may be much simpler than that: Romantic comedies may not accurately reflect modern relationships anymore.

"Love, actually, is now more data-driven than it has ever been before," Garber wrote. "The rom-com, in general, has responded to this enormous cultural shift by ignoring it."

Corey knows from experience that love doesn't subscribe to a strict formula — she's a Portland, Ore.-based relationship expert who runs Modern Relationship Expert, a website where women and couples learn how to foster lasting relationships.

"We've changed," Corey said. "We don’t want to be as led by this romantic princess story, like a fairy tale. It’s fun every now and then. But reality is really quick to say, 'Nuh-uh.’ ”

Feminine backlash?

That reality, Corey says, swoops in and spoils the familiar rom com formula (boy meets girl, hilarity ensues, love conquers all). She says it is partially due to young women growing up under the pressure of the women's movement, or, as Patheos culture and entertainment writer Rebecca Cusey calls it, the "dark side of feminism."

"The very noble and true idea that women can stand on their own and control their own lives seems more akin to, 'Don’t make yourself vulnerable,’ ” Cusey said. "I don’t know why those two things can’t coexist."

If that sounds far-fetched, consider Disney's recent efforts to break its in-house spell of fairy tale princess stories. Both "Frozen" and "Maleficent" eradicated the age-old concept of true love's kiss by taking romance out of the equation — in "Frozen," the love was between siblings and in "Maleficent" it was maternal.

That's not a bad thing, Corey says, since many classic rom coms can inspire depression as much as faith that "the one" is waiting just around the corner. It's Hollywood's age-old reinforcement of the fairy tale myth that has finally made audiences roll their eyes rather than longingly sigh.

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