I’m Writing a Rom-Com—But I’d Never Been on a Date Until Last Week

can real life be just as magical?

rom com first date: illustration of woman typing on laptop, bubble with a couple on a date spilling out
Paula Boudes/PureWow/ Malte Mueller/ilyaliren/Getty Images

The story begins with me, a 27-year-old writer and hopeless romantic who’s working on a rom-com manuscript. The problem? I’ve never been on a date. How could I write a novel about love without exploring the world myself? As if my life were its own Nora Ephron movie following the meet (protagonists meets love interest), lose (protagonist loses love interest over some misunderstanding or secret—you’re the scion to the corporation putting my family bookstore out of business!?), get (protagonist and love interest fall in love finally!) trajectory, I decided to do some field research and get myself some dates! Although a few weeks ago an electric bike almost ran me down in the middle of a New York City street, nary a beautiful stranger pulled me to safety. Talk about a missed opportunity. So, meet-cute be damned, I did something I swore I’d never do: I downloaded a dating app and went on three dates. Here’s how my experience stood up to the Hollywood ideal.

Part I: Meet

I show up. Makeup done. Hair done. Cute outfit (I think), pretty shoes bordering on painful. Heart palpitating just a bit…these are my very first dates after all. They arrive. We do the awkward, is that you? squint, and I take the lead. Why don’t we sit here? and We might need a backup plan, it’s raining now. One of them suggested a tiny, but popular, café where there were no chairs because it was a Sunday afternoon. Drinks appear, and they’re unremarkable. I pay for myself. (My choice.)

The conversation is smart—art, philosophy, pop culture—but also run-of-the-mill fare that probably screamed FIRST DATE!!! to nearby eavesdroppers: Where are you from? Tell me about your family? How long have you lived in the city? Blah, blah, blah, blah. No scintillating banter debating whether men and women can just be friends. From the get-go, it was clear: My story wouldn’t be ending with a vindictive karaoke rendition of “You’re So Vain” followed by a taxi chase à la How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. There wouldn’t be an epic, impromptu flash mob to “Thriller” that kindles a spark like 13 Going on 30. The small-talk we made was interesting, but not dazzling. Where was the spark I’d been trained to expect from a potential lover? It was real life, and truthfully, I was disappointed.

Part II: Lose

For me, this beat in my rom-com meant if I really wanted to fall in love, I needed to break up with my fanciful daydreams. Cue that scene in Sleepless in Seattle.

Annie Reed: [watching "An Affair to Remember"] Now those were the days when people knew how to be in love.

Becky: You’re a basket case.

Annie Reed: They knew it! Time, distance... nothing could separate them because they *knew*. It was right, it was real, it was...

Becky: A movie! That’s your problem. You don’t want to be in love, you want to be in love in a movie.

When I told my mother that I was expecting the whole experience to be a razzle-dazzle Kurt Vonnegut graph (for my purposes: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl), she told me, in her Big Boss voice, “pop that Cinderella bubble, stat.” Just like Becky bluntly points out to Annie in Sleepless in Seattle: I want to fall in “movie” love, which apparently doesn’t exist. But isn’t the lesson in these films that it does exist? That Becky is wrong and that he’s waiting for me at the top of the Empire State building (convenient, since I work nearby). My struggle is this: If I let go of these ideals, am I also “lowering my standards”? 

Part III: Get

This is typically the point of the movie where the lovers reunite and all is well. For me, it’s an understanding with myself—and a recalibration of what it means to fall in love, because I’m obviously not starring in a rom-com any time soon. Short of trying to get hit by a taxi in hopes that a love interest will rescue me, here’s how I’ll be re-writing my own real-life rom-com prospects: First, I’m going to institute a “two-date rule,” since getting to know somebody usually takes more time than fleeting eye contact over the same paperback novel in a giveaway bin. Second, even though I’m going to be open to the apps, I’m still going to gift myself the opportunity for some authentic rom-com tropes by building in room for the romantic spontaneity of IRL connection. And apparently, in-person dating is on the upswing (thank goodness!) with speed dating and mixers happening more and more often. 

I’m going to wear the cute outfit, do the makeup, tote an interesting paperback and continue to show up at my local coffee shop. If you want that know where to find me. 

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