It’s Official, Watching Rom-Coms Is Bad For You

Apparently, they make us think that stalking someone is normal

It’s highly unlikely a baby-faced John Cusack will ever turn up outside our house at dusk holding a boombox that’s playing In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel. Our Say Anything dream will probably remain just that. And we’ve made our peace with it.

We already know that watching rom-coms gives us wildly unrealistic expectations of what romance is. But does it do more than just set us up for romantic disappointment? Is it actually unhealthy for us to romanticise a lover’s persistence? To swoon at the cue card scene in Love Actually?

Do rom-coms make us think that stalking someone is cute?

A new report, I Did It Because I Never Stopped Loving You, by the gender and sexuality expert Julia R Lippman, of the University of Michigan, found that ‘the romanticised pursuit behaviours commonly featured in the media as a part of normative courtship can lead to an increase in stalking-supportive beliefs.’

That’s all our favourite movies ruined, then. And come to think of it, maybe it isn’t sweet and sentimental for someone to turn up uninvited because they just can’t take no for an answer.

That’s right, certain rom-coms like Love Actually and There’s Something About Mary (you know, the one where a private investigator is employed by Ben Stiller to track down Cameron Diaz, the object of his affection) normalise stalker-like behaviour.

Lippman found that this ‘persistent romantic pursuit’ on-screen makes us more likely to tolerate obsessive behaviour in our real-world relationships. Her research involved showing women films where men exhibited aggressive romantic behaviour, including There’s Something About Mary and Management, also films that depicted scary male aggression, like Sleeping With the Enemy and Enough, plus nature documentaries such as March of the Penguins.

‘After watching excerpts from one of these six films, participants completed a series of survey measures, including one that assessed their endorsement of stalking myths,’ Lippman told The Guardian. ‘Stalking myths are false or exaggerated beliefs about stalking that minimise its seriousness, which means that someone who more strongly endorses these tends to take stalking less seriously.’

The results suggest that when the women watched films that present persistent pursuit as romantic they were more accepting of male aggression when later quizzed about how they perceived this behaviour.

‘[Such movies] can encourage women to discount their instincts,” Lippman told Canada’s Global News. “This is a problem because research shows that instincts can serve as powerful cues to help keep us safe.’At their core, all these films are trading in the ‘love conquers all’ myth,’ she added. ‘Even though, of course, it doesn’t. Love is great, but so is respect for other people.’

On the flip-side films that depicted persistent pursuit in a negative way made participants less likely to tolerate stalker-like males. 

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