How to not feel like the villain in a romantic comedy
September 5, 2022 1:47 PM   Subscribe

A lot of romantic comedies focus on the story of the person who got their heart broken by someone and to some extent make a villain out of the one who did the heartbreaking. This story is stuck in my psyche and making me feel like a villain for having a history of hurting guys I liked aspects of but didn’t feel were right for me. Are there any movies that turn this narrative around a little? Where the person who did the heartbreaking was redeemed at the end, or found his or her way? I’d love some examples to counter the narrative in my head.

I’m not proud of all my romantic decisions in the past. Usually I dated guys when I wasn’t truly “in it”, tried to convince myself it was right and then ended it a little too late-usually going back once or twice before it actually ended. I’ve learned a lot since then, and don’t do that kind of thing anymore because I know what I’m looking for and what I need. Dating isn’t as confusing as it used to be. But all the guys I’ve dated have gone on to marry amazing women. And sometimes it makes me feel like a villain that everyone dislikes because she treated the good guy badly. He goes on to true love and every one is happy and protective of him. And you usually don’t even see the rest of her story because the focus is on the one who’s heart she broke. I’d love some help changing this story a little so I feel worthy of love despite confusing guys in the past and not being as considerate of their time and their hearts as I should’ve been.
posted by ygmiaa to Human Relations (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
On the top of my head, the movie Love Hard on Netflix, does this for me. No one is necessarily the bad guy - just bad matches where the individuals aren’t able to be fully themselves and are in the process of learning about themselves - causing some hurt feelings, of course. I know there are a lot of other moves out there like this, too, but I’m drawing a blank. I think the most important takeaway of these situations is giving yourself and others some grace - you’re all in this learning and experimental process of figuring out who you are and who you can be yourself with. And then moving forward accordingly, but doing so in a kind, compassionate way - while also forgiving yourself and others when you fall short of that.
posted by Sassyfras at 1:57 PM on September 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

I think Schitt's Creek is good for this - some relationships work, but some don't, and it's not because anyone's evil, they're just not well suited, and part friends
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:06 PM on September 5, 2022 [10 favorites]

It sounds like maybe you weren't the best partner early on, but "villain" seems to be a stretch. There's a lot of missing context here - how long these relationships or whatever lasted, how old you are, and so forth.

It sounds also like you, yourself, were confused and had a pattern of unintentionally dragging things out trying to make things work. That's not "villain" behavior, that's "ygmiaa has some things to figure out" behavior. Especially if you're talking teens through twenties. People have a lot of shit to figure out then, and often don't make good partners for anybody.

So - here's the narrative I'm picking up: You dated around. You didn't know what you wanted and were slow to end things / led guys on a bit trying to make it work. Assuming that's all there is to it - and you've teased out the pattern and plan to do better in the future - you are really only guilty of not having found the right person yet and being unskilled at dating. Doesn't sound like these guys are so damaged that they weren't able to find love, so don't beat yourself up.

You probably are the "villain" in their story. Most people are the villain in somebody else's story - that comes with the territory of dating, unfortunately. Sometimes the rejected person needs to cast the other person as the villain to feel better about themselves and of course their friends are going to do that. They're great, how could anybody dump them? What a jerk! Such is life. Don't worry about it.

Just work on being considerate in the future. You can't guarantee you're going to be somebody's match - so some hearts may get bruised in the future, too. Just be kind, be honest, and they'll find their person when the time is right. So will you.
posted by jzb at 2:06 PM on September 5, 2022 [6 favorites]

One very low-key romcom that undermines this trope is Éric Rohmer's Boyfriends and Girlfriends. It is pretty great--totally worth the $5 subscription to Metrograph this month, especially since you also get to see The Aviator's Wife and Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle. They're all basically slice-of-life films, and Boyfriends and Girlfriends is particularly kind to people who move on to other relationships. Rohmer's A Tale of Winter is too, if you can find it. I'd also suggest Ryusuke Hamaguchi's Happy Hour, which is a five-hour epic of quiet, moving, and kind portraits of women in a friend group, several of whom have made relationship choices they're not thrilled about but also don't regret. It's free online (but ad-supported) here and here.
posted by Wobbuffet at 2:30 PM on September 5, 2022 [3 favorites]

Eat, Pray, Love - she keeps getting into relationships with nice guys who aren't the right fit and breaking their hearts, so she goes and finds herself, and then is able to be in a healthier relationship with Javier Bardem (za-zing!).

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is also about two people who it is just not working for, so they try to erase the painful memories of their relationship. Neither of them is particularly terrible, they are just terrible together.
posted by Toddles at 2:35 PM on September 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

This isn't a movie, it's a book (most likely aimed at high school kids, but still really good): "My Sister's Bones", by Cathi Hanauer Ⓒ 1996. Here's an excerpt of a final exchange between the main character, Billie, and her ex-boyfriend, Vinnie, after she breaks up with him:
"I'm sorry, Vinnie," I tell him, "Really sorry."
"For what?"
"For everything. For hurting you --"
He ... laughs. "You didn't hurt me. I'm not some fucking wimp, Billie. I'll survive without you. Believe me."
posted by SageTrail at 2:38 PM on September 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

to the movie question: 500 Days of Summer, which is told from the point of the heartbroken, but also ends in... it just wasn't right

To the real question:
both things can be true
you can be doing what's right for you (great)
and you can be doing it in a way that's not totally clean (room for growth)

so how can you show up a little more cleanly the next time?
if you could be a little more conscious and conscientious of the other person's experience, what would you do differently?

I think life can be a journey of getting better at stuff like being a fuller human among all these other growing humans.
posted by jander03 at 2:56 PM on September 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

novel high fidelity
posted by j_curiouser at 3:07 PM on September 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

You might like Gregory’s Girl - which specifically subverts school based romantic comedies.
posted by rongorongo at 3:11 PM on September 5, 2022

Trying to think of examples from the woman's perspective, but just off the top of my head, The Heartbreak Kid maybe. Brief Interviews with Hideous Men might be close, too.
posted by rhizome at 3:30 PM on September 5, 2022

The Baxter sort of fits. It certainly flips many of the romantic comedy tropes around and subverts them. From Wikipedia: ‘A "Baxter", as defined by the film, is the nice, dull guy in a romantic comedy who is dumped at the end of the story for the protagonist.’
posted by furnace.heart at 3:43 PM on September 5, 2022

Roman Holiday, in a way. Hearts are broken but it's clearly the best call.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:08 PM on September 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

The Philadelphia Story. There is a complex web of relationships, and I don’t want to spoil it, but one character leaves their partners, and it’s portrayed not only sympathetically, but as almost inevitable. The person who gets dumped isn’t portrayed as a bad person, just a bad fit.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:39 PM on September 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Forgetting Sarah Marshall seems like it’s going to villainize “uptight careerist heartbreaker” Kristen Bell then the trope turns completely on its head. We see her reasons, the main character’s shortcomings, etc. And we see how the “new sexy free spirit” is actually a flawed person too. Pretty refreshing.
posted by kapers at 6:31 PM on September 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

The Ted / Stella storyline especially episode “shelter island” in how I met your mother when Ted realizes he’s the guy in the rom com that the hero comes to “rescue” the girl from at the altar; and you see that Stella likes Ted but never loved him and she’s not a bad person he’s just not the one.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:13 PM on September 5, 2022

Runaway Bride might be just up your alley. The protagonist has rejected several men at the altar, but after some self-reflection, figures out what she wants and gets her happily-ever-after ending.
posted by creepygirl at 9:40 PM on September 5, 2022

Good Luck Chuck features a male protagonist who gets a reputation as someone who people will go on to marry their true love after having sex with him. There is a romantic happy ending for this character, with their main storyline centering around more romance-based hopes with their love interest.

This movie does have offensive elements with lots of rude things said in a way that is typical for this sort of raunch comedy in this time period, but you might still find it useful for what you are going for.
posted by yohko at 4:36 PM on September 6, 2022

Sorry, not a movie, but maybe the song I Didn't Mean to Break Your Heart? Youtube: I Didn't Mean to Break Your Heart
posted by kristi at 7:03 PM on September 6, 2022

I second 500 Days of Summer. It starts with looking back at an idealized form of their relationship for the first part of the film, then looks again, with all the red flags that were there. Near the end, the main character asks his ex about their breakup and her new partner and she says, "I just woke up one day and I knew.... What I was never sure of with you."
And it doesn't paint her as bad for not fitting with him and finding someone who suited her. Or him for being sad then looking for love again. It was just life.
posted by blueberry monster at 5:33 PM on October 14, 2022

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