On Turning 30 & Falling Out Of Love With Romantic Comedies

Photo: Moviestore Collection/REX Shutterstock.
I turned 30 this year. Now before you stop reading, let me tell you up front that this isn’t going to be one of those essays in which a millennial ruminates on what she’s learned thus far in her paltry three decades on this, the third rock from the sun. My grandfather turned 99 this year; my grandmother 90. They both survived the Holocaust. That’s impressive. They’ve got wisdom. They have lived and it’s probably why I really didn’t care about hitting the small 3-0.

Unlike many people I know or have read about in chick-lit novels, I didn’t spend the weeks leading up to the not-at-all magical occasion making lists about everything I’ve accomplished thus far in my life. I just don’t think the Pulitzer committee is going to create a special category celebrating the body of work I’ve amassed on the Kardashian/Jenner family anytime soon. I also didn’t make any laminated documents about things I immediately need to do now that my age starts with a 3 instead of a 2, like run a marathon, have a baby, climb Mt. Everest, or completely change careers and become like, a politician or something. I mean, you see what Hillary Clinton has to go through. It doesn’t look fun.

As someone who’s in a very committed relationship with her DVR, though, I can tell you something that does happen as you approach 30 that no one really talks about: Your pop culture predilections change. If you’re a person who loves to escape into stories, the types of stories that interest you will definitely change. It’s more of an evolution, really, to reflect the fact that you’ve now actually experienced many of the things you used to only witness as plotlines in movies or TV shows in real life. You now know that the run to the airport at the end of rom-coms is the most unrealistic thing that has ever been brainstormed by an overly romantic writer (Hello, TSA!) and that Mr. Big is not the ideal man. He’s actually a total dick who leads Carrie Bradshaw on for years, turns her into a cheater, and then is all, “Fine, we can be together, and also my name is John.” What a reveal. I think she just likes him because he takes over her shoe budget and humors her fashion choices.

This probably makes me a traitor to my gender, but I just don’t give a fuck about Sex and the City’s overly romanticized notions of love for privileged white heterosexual women in New York City anymore. Oh, Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte found their happily ever after? Shrug. I’d much rather hear about the millions of women living in New York City who are still looking, and also manage to converse about other things besides men — or women (a novel idea, I know) — from their four different perspectives. Give it a rest, ladies. Has one of your brunches ever passed the Bechdel test?

I just don’t give a fuck about Sex and the City’s overly romanticized notions of love for privileged white heterosexual women in New York City anymore.

As you approach 30, you can’t help but dwell on the more practical parts of shows, either. I know this is well-trod territory, but Carrie Bradshaw could not have paid her rent given her extravagant ways. In the same vein, you also start to identify more with the adults on teen shows (if you’re someone like me, who still watches teen shows). I decided to re-watch The O.C. this year, after catching my beloved Adam Brody in Billy & Billie, and I found myself caring a lot more about what was happening in the adults’ lives than I did when I first saw the show as a teen. Poor Kirsten Cohen, the misunderstood WASP princess of Newport Beach, who suddenly careens into alcoholism while her husband Sandy gets closer and closer to an ex-girlfriend who shows up to work on a project with him. I was so much more invested in the Cohens' marriage. In the past, I only cared about Seth and Summer.

I also have trouble watching the impulsive decisions teen characters make. I realize that I was a teen once and I’ve read the research about teenagers’ still-developing prefrontal cortexes, which contribute to their poor decision making abilities (my psychology major is showing, I know). I remember making impulsive choices as a teen. I look back and shudder, wondering what I was thinking — or if I was. It’s hard to see teenagers doing it on TV shows, especially now that social media exists (it didn’t when I was a teen...small blessings) and everything these teens do is going to be a part of their digital footprint forever.

Photo: Courtesy of ABC Family.
It’s because of this that I’ve stopped watching shows like Pretty Little Liars, Awkward, and Faking It. They just look like macabre performance art to me. All of the actresses are so good looking: Their lips plumped, eyelashes extended, bodies toned, hair always perfectly blown out and curled. Then, we’re supposed to believe they have time for all of this impulsivity-cum-DRAMA on top of the five hours a day they appear to spend getting dressed? I’m tired just thinking about their morning routines, let alone all of the social media networks they then have to monitor while doing homework, trying to get into college, hooking up with various people (including teachers), and — in the case of PLL — constantly running away from a murderer. Their lives are just too complicated for me and the scripts feel so forced because they’re clearly written by twenty- and thirty-something writers trying to recapture that carefree, teenage mindset. It looks so maudlin and performative through my 30-year-old eyes. And yes, I know Pretty Little Liars is jumping ahead five years this season. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is still closer to reality.

Just because I’ve forsaken many of my past pop culture loves as I entered my third decade, however, doesn’t mean old habits die hard. I still love romantic comedies, especially ones where two people engage in a beautiful dance of “will they/won’t they” before they do. So help me, I will always love them, Whitney Houston-style. For example, I watch The Holiday every single time it’s on TV, just to see what I refer to as “the Jude Law money shot,” a.k.a. the scene where Jude Law’s character Graham shows up drunk on Amanda’s (Cameron Diaz) doorstep, looking so fucking handsome that my teen self who entertained every fantasy ever about dating a British author/editor just dies and goes to heaven.

Now that I’m 30, though, I stop after the money shot. Because if I keep watching, I start raging about how Iris (Kate Winslet) gets stuck with Miles (Jack Black). Nothing against Jack Black, but if we’re going to pair up Cameron Diaz and peak-of-hotness Jude Law, I think there’s a better match out there for Kate Winslet. Ugh, the trope of pairing gorgeous women with schlubby men — will it ever end, Hollywood? I also start fretting over how Cameron Diaz and Jude Law’s characters can possibly sustain their relationship, what with her being a successful movie trailer editor in Los Angeles and him being a father of two adorable young girls in England. Surely, someone will have to relocate and that's going to be a whole discussion.

What was really starting to piss me off about the romantic comedies I grew up loving, though, was the lack of characters’ inner lives. Everything was surface-level, even sweeping declarations of love and affection. If someone was sad, it was a frowny face kind of sad, not the kind of depression or desolation that I now know can send you to your bed for whole weekends or ruin an entire summer.

That, coincidentally, started to change during my 30th year, thanks to the rise of a TV genre that Vulture calls “sad-coms.” These shows — examples of which include You’re the Worst, Billy & Billie, Catastrophe, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and BoJack Horseman — portray people and relationships a lot more accurately. Yes, even BoJack Horseman, an animated series about a world where half of the characters are animals that stand upright and act like humans, manages to capture the exquisite, torturous mix of levity and loneliness that is the human existence in a way I relate to on every level.

Here's some more pop culture I'm extremely grateful for in my 30th year: Shows like You’re the Worst, UnREAL, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend all have female main characters who deal with mental illness, but it doesn’t define them. We’ve seen mental illness on TV in the past, sure, but it’s usually portrayed with the broadest of strokes and relegated to the killers on shows like Criminal Minds. Mental illness isn’t just a paranoid schizophrenic who can be used for a compelling whodunnit. (Oh, and also, the person with paranoid schizophrenia is a person, not a disease.) In 2015, the stigma and stereotyping finally stopped on some shows.
Photo: Byron Cohen/FX.

Gretchen (Aya Cash) on You’re the Worst suffers from clinical depression, and the way in which it played out this season was heartbreakingly, cuttingly real. When her boyfriend, Jimmy (Chris Geere), can’t understand what she’s going through, it almost ruins their relationship. That’s a plotline we’ve never seen in a Kate Hudson movie, but guess what? It’s actually happened to me in my 30 years on this planet, so thank you, Stephen Falk, for putting it on TV. It’s a storyline I can accept much more readily than a bet about how a cool girl can make a guy love her and then want to dump her in less than a fortnight. Sure, I’ll always watch How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days when it’s on TV, but it’s pure fantasy.

Call me cynical or jaded, but life isn’t all blue skies, roses, and rom-coms. I still love the latter, but now that I’ve lived for three decades, I need more depth of feeling and interior life to believe what’s happening in a story along with the knowledge that the characters are truly overcoming obstacles large and small. That’s the real human experience. It’s what I see when I look at my grandparents. I don’t think I’m being overly sentimental or precious, just aware of my own emotional development and current threshold for what’s real and true. I guess this is 30.

More from TV