I know famous exes JLo and Ben Affleck just got married, but I’m about to make the argument that, no matter what the media tells you, you don’t want to get back with your ex.
You’ve either already seen Netflix’s Persuasion, and have processed your feelings about how it’s not like the book, or you’re not going to see it because you don’t care or love the book too much. Either way, SPOILER, it’s about getting back with your ex. Lots of movies and sitcoms are. Don’t fall for it.
It goes like this: Meet cute. Chemistry. Will they? Won’t they? They do! They break up, usually because of something the guy did. In the end, they get back together, usually because of a big speech or at least show of love from the male lead.
The big climactic scene often (but not always) takes place at a wedding, when the female romantic lead is engaged to a clean-shaven asshole. Our hero crashes said wedding and either loudly (“Elaaaaaaaine”, The Graduate) or vulnerably (Owen Wilson, Wedding Crashers) professes his love for the bride-to-be, who ditches her swiss army knife groom and runs off with our hero. Roll credits.
Most well done, of course, is in When Harry Met Sally. Some time after they sleep together, he slinks away, they have a big fight at a wedding that does not end in reconciliation (maybe because Nora Ephron is a good writer), and then on New Year’s Eve, he says all the right things, she cries, they get married.
Heck, Shakespeare started it, with his will-they-won’t-they comedies—most notably Much Ado About Nothing, which has a stubborn man finally telling the woman he loves that he does, in fact, love her to bits, at a wedding, despite his ego. And while The Taming of the Shrew maybe doesn’t fall into the category, 10 Things I Hate About You, the arguably superior adaptation, has a bad-boy-gone-good plot to swoon over.
TV shows do it constantly, too, usually at airports. I don’t need to list them here, but you know how they go: he’s gone or she’s gone for good, but NOPE, he’s back or she’s back and they’re sorry and they love each other again and it’s all fine. “I got off the plane,” she says, and the studio audience goes wild. Series wrap. Fans are happy.
This is not my life.
First of all, as amusing as the new George Clooney/Julia Roberts “exes at their daughter’s wedding” movie (Ticket to Paradise) looks, I’m going to be lucky if both of us are even invited to our daughter’s wedding or, when our daughter comes of age, she even wants to attempt marriage after witnessing the train wreck her parents demonstrated.
And, after my last breakup, for weeks after I rounded the corner to my house and saw a white sedan, my stomach would drop a little because I was worried it might be my most recent ex, who was less likely to come to my house and apologize for breaking up with me in a five-minute phone call and more likely to come over and yell at me for the essay I wrote about it.
Face Your Reality
If you’re not like me and Scott Pilgrim with vengeful exes to battle, it’s still unlikely you’re going to have a Persuasion-like reconciliation with your ex, no matter how much time has passed.
First of all, your ex is far too stubborn in real life to even attempt an apology of cinematic proportions. They’re not sorry. They don’t want you back. They have convinced themselves that you are at fault for anything that went wrong in the relationship, and their mothers agree.
Secondly, your ex doesn’t have a female writer telling them what to say to you to make you forgive them for the horrible things they said when they broke your heart. Shonda Rhimes’ staff is not there Cyrano de Bergerac-style feeding them lines. They will not magically say the thing to make you believe that they won’t hurt you again.
Thirdly, and most importantly, why should you forgive them? Even if your ex delivered the perfect speech in the rain, at your wedding, which is at an airport, you still are exes for a reason, and that reason might be very, very valid.
Don’t Go Backwards
The feeling I get when I round the corner and see the white sedan—which, by the way, is always one of the three my next door neighbor owns—isn’t hope, it’s nausea. Dread. I don’t want him to come back and make me hear his little unprofessionally written speech.
He loved me because I’m lovable, damnit. I gave my love to someone who took it and threw it on the ground like a toddler discards unwanted food. It shattered and, should he want to pick it up and put it back together, it is not one of those Japanese pieces of pottery that can be forged back together with gold, more beautiful than before. No. It exploded into dust and was gone in the wind, thrown in the trash and unable to be picked back out again.
In Persuasion, the couple broke up because her family convinced her to dump him, which is a flimsy reason befitting the times. It does not apply to you and, if your ex didn’t think you were “good enough” to date at the time, you probably shouldn’t forgive them if they think you’re worthy now.
Sally shouldn’t marry Harry: they do not communicate their needs well. Rachel and Ross are a very bad couple and pretty irresponsible coparents. We know those crashed wedding couples have regrets. The Much Ado couple probably died young or of the plague, and, while I admit I do rather like the 10 Things couple, they likely broke up once she went to college—and that’s okay.
We can feel hurt that we never got a proper goodbye, never got the big speech, the true, epic love Hollywood promised. Did you really want to wake up every day next to Ross Geller when you could have been in Paris, though? Do you want to be legally shackled to the worst Batman?
So, even if your ex calls you on New Year’s Eve and tells you they love the little crinkle you get when you’re looking at them like they’re nuts, remember that they were nuts for leaving you, they made you nuts while you were getting over them, and nuts is an ableist term. Your therapist and future self will thank you.
Image: Nick Wall / Netflix
Although people who peaked in high school like to act poetic about how great the 2000s were, they weren’t actually any better than the present day. I mean, it was a time when Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake wore matching denim outfits in public and nobody carted them off to an insane asylum.
But I’m prepared to make a concession on two points: 1) At least we weren’t under the administration of a sentient slime mold wearing a bad wig. 2) The 2000s were a golden age for romantic comedies, mostly thanks to Judy Greer’s tireless efforts to play every heroine’s best friend. Plus, only like half the jokes were sexist, and there was about an 80% chance pre-pretentious Matthew McConaughey would show up.
Obviously, a betch has to be picky about her rom-coms—some are shitty in a good way, but others are best avoided in case someone catches you watching them. To guide your Netflix viewings, here’s a totally objective list of ‘00s rom coms. If you disagree, which I’m sure everyone will, please note that I’m not actually forcing you to watch these movies; I’m just saying that if you regularly watch any of the bottom five, you have terrible taste.
14. Garden State
Garden State is considered a modern classic by two groups of people. 1) men in their late 20s with a crush on Natalie Portman and a thriving quarter-life crisis and 2) 8th graders in 2004 under the assumption that any movie that features a Shins track in its soundtrack is automatically deep. To everyone else, it’s a film about self-absorbed white people whining about their lives until they’re magically fixed by the power of mixtapes. There are approximately a zillion issues with this film, beginning with Zach Braff’s complete lack of expression and ending with the fact that you can’t “cure” real depression by listening to The Shins, no matter how clearly superior the soundtrack is to anything else in this film. Worst of all, though, is the fact that Natalie Portman played a manic pixie dream girl so obnoxious I still dream about strangling her character sometimes. Padme deserves so much better.
13. Failure to Launch
I’m not saying romantic comedies have to make much sense, but Failure to Launch’s plot is mystifying. Matthew McConaughey’s parents are tired of him living at home, so they call in a
lady high class escort (Sarah Jessica Parker) whose job is literally seducing men into moving out of their parents’ basements and unceremoniously dumping them. Because that’s plausible, and not at all fucked up to force your son to fall in love with someone you’re paying. Ridiculous premise aside, you know a movie is terrible when famed nicegirl Zooey Deschanel is the best thing about it.
In case you missed this one, and for your sake I hope you did, Monster in Law is about Jane Fonda inexplicably being terrible to Jennifer Lopez, who walks a lot of dogs and is engaged to Fonda’s son. That right there should tell you all you need to know—I cannot think of one movie that JLo was in that was anything above mild torture, and we’re supposed to root for her character why, exactly? If my son was engaged to a full-time dog walker you can best believe I’d do everything short of actual murder to put a stop to that bullshit.
11. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
I’m told some people love this movie, but Jesus fucking Christ, is it possible for the two main characters to be any more appalling? Here you have two assholes manipulating the shit out of each other and just generally acting psychotic, all to win a stupid bet with their friends. They really should call it “How To Act Like A Psychopath And Lose Your Dignity.”
10. 13 Going on 30
Not gonna lie, I fucking adored 13 Going on 30 when I was an impressionable preteen. It had time travel! Mark Ruffalo! A makeover scene! Years later, the movie is still fun to watch, even if it is way too obsessed with the ‘80s, but the jokes are more cute than funny. Also, why would anyone allow their 13-year-old child to go to a sleepover hosted by a 30-year-old? That is … questionable to say the least. Not to mention Jennifer Garner’s character does a reverse transformation from a betch into a nicegirl and dumps her hot pro bf in favor of her formerly fat friend. Blah blah, true love, I don’t give a fuck. Tenth.
9. 500 Days of Summer
500 Days of Summer is close to being Garden State wrapped in cutesy narration, but it’s far superior. For one thing, it reintroduced the world to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s dimples. For another, it manages to be a fairly realistic depiction of a shitty millennial relationship without being super fucking depressing. But that’s also kind of the problem—rom coms aren’t supposed to be realistic, they’re supposed to be cliché and feel-good, and I don’t care what you say, Summer is a thot. I have literally stayed up at night mapping how she could have possibly met someone worthy of engagement a mere 118 days after she broke up with Tom, and only six days after attending a wedding as his guest (yes I did the math—I told you; this movie keeps me up at night). No matter how you slice it, she had to have cheated on somebody.
8. Sweet Home Alabama
Full disclosure: As a Southern betch, I’m stoked that Sweet Home Alabama takes place right next door. (Dear Hollywood: An entire country exists between New York and LA.) But even though it features Patrick Dempsey as the other man, Josh Lucas with a dreamy Southern accent, and Reese Witherspoon, there are still some issues. Mainly, WTF WERE YOU THINKING, MELANIE? Did you really dump your future president fiancé for your secret redneck husband just so “the first boy you kissed could also be your last”? I’ve heard of trying to keep your number down, but damn if this isn’t some delusional shit.
7. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Everyone on planet Earth can relate to having a batshit crazy family, and that’s exactly what makes My Big Fat Greek Wedding appealing. The two leads are fine, considering they’re not Kate Hudson or Matthew McConaughey, but the extended family is everyone’s favorite part of the movie. Honestly the most memorable moment to come out of this movie is the “put some Windex on it”—pretty good deal for Windex, not so much for the people who actually starred in the movie. However, it does get points for the memorable line: “The man may be the head of the household, but the woman is the neck and she can turn the head any way she pleases.”
6. The Proposal
The plot is pretty flimsy (a Canadian businesswoman has to marry her assistant to avoid deportation) but everyone loves a story where the couple starts out hating each other and eventually falls in love. The cast is what makes this movie pure rom com gold: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, and Betty fucking White, who gifted us with the infamous Native American dance scene. Basically, it’s predictable but ridiculous, making it better than some of the other garbage movies on this list.
5. Knocked Up
Admittedly, Knocked Up is probably to blame for some of the chubby man-child/beautiful, svelte woman couplings we see in the media that give men unrealistic beauty expectations (of the types of women they can expect to date), otherwise known as The Beyoncé/Jay Z Phenomenon. But whatevs. It’s a good movie. Seth Rogen has that whole dad bod thing going on—apparently a thing some people are into—and Katherine Heigl was at the top of her rom com game before she pissed off the entire cast of Grey’s Anatomy. Knocked Up is actually hilarious, which is enough to make up for the fact that Katherine Heigl appears in it.
4. Miss Congeniality
Even aside from my undeniable crush on youthful Sandra Bullock, Miss Congeniality is a quintessential early-2000s romantic comedy. Allow me to explain. 1) It stars an ambitious career woman who don’t need no man. 2) But she kind of wants one anyway, and everyone realizes what a catch she is when she puts on lipstick and a dress. 3) Did I mention its plot is literally an extended makeover scene as Bullock goes from bad ass FBI agent to bad ass beauty pageant contestant? I rest my case. Add in some cute female friendships and a scene in which Bullock teaches us how to fend off an attacker, and it’s basically required viewing every year.
3. Love Actually
You had to know Love Actually was going to make the list despite this amazing take-down article of why it’s actually terrible. With approximately a bajillion storylines going on, it’s hard not to find one you like and get invested, and it doesn’t hurt that the film features every well-known British actor under the sun. I’m not sure how the movie manages to juggle all the different plots without being confusing and/or boring, but I’m not gonna question it. However, this shit is TOO FUCKING LONG. If I have to pop an Adderall just to make it through a damn movie (which I do), you need to send your editors back to the drawing board.
2. 27 Dresses
27 Dresses is the perfect example of a rom com that’s super cliché in theory, but in practice, it’s so fucking heartwarming it doesn’t even matter (ugh). Katherine Heigl plays ultimate nicegirl Jane (in case the fact that her name is “Jane” wasn’t enough of a clue), who’s been part of 27 weddings and miraculously hasn’t gone broke from buying all the bridesmaid dresses. The dudes are pretty forgettable, but Jane’s psychotic sister and slutty best friend totally steal the spotlight, elevating the film to truly betchy heights.
P.S. For once, James Marsden plays the leading man, so his preternaturally perfect face gets more screen time, #bless.
1. Bridget Jones’s Diary
Bridget Jones’s Diary is the ultimate feel-good movie, as in it’s literally impossible to watch it without feeling your icy soul thaw ever so slightly at the end. The titular character starts out fat, single, and past the age of 30, so basically our worst nightmare. By the end, though, she manages to bang Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, land a better job, and become a self-described “wanton sex goddess.” If those aren’t your life goals, you clearly need to start your own self-help journey.