It happened again last night. I tried to stick to that goal of getting my life together. Stop at the one glass of Chianti. Get to bed early. Write a few pages of the book proposal that keeps staring me in the face. And then, I couldn't help myself... I stayed up till 1:30 in the morning, watching When Harry Met Sally for the 97th time.
Despite my best intentions, I've spent much of the past seven post-divorce years giving in to my romantic comedy addiction. Some people drink heavily. Some sleep with 22-year-olds. Some try every cooking and yoga and lawnmower repair class they can possibly sign up for. We all seek distractions from this major failure in our personal lives. Mine just happens to be escaping reality by watching movies where love always turns out right, everyone says just the wittiest quip at the perfect moment and nobody is ever 10 pounds overweight.
The obsession began that first Friday I spent alone in my separation apartment. Sitting there without kids, without a significant other, without anything in particular to look forward to, I channel surfed my way into When Harry Met Sally. When the movie first came out, I hated it. Real people don't talk or act the way those characters talked and acted. Relationships never work the way the one in the film did.
Which, as I realized now that I was alone, was the entire point. I was completely transfixed seeing how perfectly things worked out for Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. It was like striking out with the bases loaded during your company softball team, then going home and watching The Natural. After a heaping helping of failure, you want to indulge in the comfort of make-believe.
It was a time when I needed a little hope. Even if it was only for two hours and featured a vastly overplayed fake orgasm scene. That's why I rented When Harry Met Sally every night for the next week. And every time I watched it, I worried a little less about how the film directly contradicts itself (the first half is all about how men and women can't be friends, the second half is all about getting friends to hook up). By the end of the week, I was repeating entire scenes while I watched.
From there, things spiraled totally out of control. I typed "romantic comedy" into my DVR search, and started recording everything that popped up. Some were classics, like Annie Hall and Say Anything. Some had relatable premises, like the one about a couple who take nearly a decade to admit they're meant for each other (A Lot Like Love) or the one about a couple who just can't seem to find each other till the last five minutes (Next Stop, Wonderland). And there were ones that sounded so pathetic, I figured watching them would fit right in with how pathetic I felt (the Christmas Carol rip-off about a radio host who learns about love from the ghosts of boyfriends past was my bottoming out point).
And so it has gone for most of the past seven years. When I am kid-less and date-less on a weekend, I relate to Jason Segal getting over being dumped in Forgetting Sarah Marshall two or three times. When I come home from a bad date, I zip through the inevitability of romance in Must Love Dogs or Love Actually. When I realize a friend could never be a lover, I slip back to When Harry Met Sally. No matter how bad my evening goes, these romantic success stories are waiting for me.
I suppose that's my excuse for the addiction. Things don't work out in real life. They do in romantic comedies. Therefore, I crave the vicarious thrill of seeing lonely people say just the right thing at just the right moment and love happily ever after. There's nothing wrong with believing the central thesis of every romantic comedy ever: fate exists, and if you just hang in there for 100 minutes or so, you're guaranteed to find the one you were meant to be with. Being a complete cynic, though, I'm horrified I continue to fall for such a cheap ploy. It's no different than enjoying a TV commercial where some guy trains his dog to fetch beer and then buying that six-pack.
On the scale of manly behaviors, I'd say weeping buckets over Tom Hanks revealing himself to Meg Ryan at the end of You've Got Mail ranks somewhere below watching The Bachelor even if your wife/girlfriend isn't home. I should be living in the real world of romance after divorce, where relationships irreparably fall apart and loving someone new isn't such a sure thing. Watching these movies has become such a part of my past at this point, clinging to them now feels a bit desperate. And yet, I keep doing it.
I'm hoping there's a bright side to all this. After all, romantic comedies do offer a little bit of perfection in an imperfect world. If we can get an adrenaline rush from sports movies where the underdog gets the final basket or catches the final pass, why not enjoy the same from anything Hanks-Ryan related? Perhaps it's just a question of moderating my usage, letting the rom-coms take up 30 percent of my DVR instead of the current 71 percent.
Weaning myself off this addiction isn't going to be easy. Maybe I should start slow. Instead of moving away from fictional romances and seriously trying for the real thing, I'm thinking I should ease into it by watching non-romantic movies that still remind me of the current state of my love life. I'm learning toward Apocalypse Now.