Love Hard Is Riding The Dating Wave Of Women Prioritising Themselves

Photo Courtesy of Netflix.
At the age of 14 I fell in love with a boy called Nick Darling. A name you’d expect to find in the pages of a Meg Cabot book, Nick was everything my Alex Turner-obsessed heart desired. Kind, hazel eyes; side-swept hair; dressed in a purple hoodie from Topman — I wanted, no, needed, to be his girlfriend. So I set about pursuing him in the heady, unhinged way that only teenage girls know. One afternoon in the park, as I prattled away about how much I loved the alt-indie band Hadouken!, my best friend called me out on my shit. "You only like Hadouken! because Nick likes Hadouken!" she retorted — and she was largely right. My personal interests had taken a backseat so I could be at the forefront of his mind. 
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I would like to say that this behaviour was a product of adolescent hormones but the desire to contort oneself into a person’s dream girl for a shot at romance is all too tempting. In Netflix’s newest rom-com, Love Hard, Nina Dobrev (of The Vampire Diaries fame) plays Natalie: a headstrong writer who’s not afraid to call out the sexist overtones of "Baby, It’s Cold Outside". Our protagonist finds herself on the East Coast, thousands of miles away from her LA home, ready to surprise the guy she’s been falling for after matching with him on a dating app. Tag (Darren Barnet) “is like frigging hot” in the words of her colleague and friend Kerry (Heather McMann). Shortly after arriving, she discovers that the handsome stranger that she thought she was talking to is actually a guy called Josh (Jimmy O. Yang). In comparison, Josh is 30 years old, still lives at home and received three matches on the same dating app with his own profile. “I used a picture of a standard ‘hot’ guy to see what would happen – I got 85 matches”, he says, when Natalie asks what possessed him to use Tag’s photos instead. Catfished and crushed, she goes to a local bar in an attempt to drown her sorrows, where she stumbles across the real Tag. And so her mission becomes obvious: get the guy whose photos you’re enamoured with, not the one you’ve spent hours getting to know. 
Throughout the course of the film, Josh helps Natalie to win Tag’s affection in exchange for her pretending to be his girlfriend in order to save face in front of his doting family. We see her character pretend to like a novelist she despises, swallow her vegetarianism to go on a date in a meat-heavy restaurant and hit a blunt to work up the nerve to go bobsleighing. All in all, there’s more fake acting from her character than in an entire episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
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As I watched Natalie dig herself into a deeper hole, it made me question how many of us have turned into mendacious people for, well, men. To uncover the truth, I asked my group chat. "While at uni I had this huge, HUGE crush on this guy which was borderline unhealthy," explained my friend Eman. "I was desperate to take it to the next level so on one very, very drunken night out which I knew he was at, I tried to get him back to my place by PRETENDING I HAD HIS SHOES." Jenny misguidedly replied "Thank you" after a man said it was okay that she’d slept with people before him; Genevieve recommended a book she hadn’t read to her date and then fabricated the details of the plot; Talynz spent four days getting a diving certification when in reality she was shit-scared to hold her breath underwater. All of these brilliant, accomplished, infinitely interesting women had been momentarily dumbfounded by dicksand – a phenomenon more common than I had thought.
Photo Courtesy of Netflix.
Now, masquerading as someone you’re not to win a love interest’s heart isn’t a novel plot line when it comes to rom-coms. In 2001’s Legally Blonde, Reese Witherspoon plays the image-conscious Elle Woods: a Fashion Merchandising student who’s unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend Warner (Matthew Davis) for not being “serious” enough to date. Keen to show that she’ll fit into his vision of a future in politics, Elle diligently studies to get accepted into Harvard Law School alongside him. Renée Zellweger as the titular character in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004) thoroughly embarrasses herself at boyfriend Mark’s (Colin Firth) Law Council Dinner where she attempts to appear more worldly than she is to impress his colleagues. Even Julia Roberts’ Maggie in Runaway Bride (1999)
wilfully changes how she likes her eggs in order to suit the tastes of her various partners. As is the case with all the aforementioned protagonists, there comes a turning point where the truth does out. Tired of maintaining an elaborate charade, Natalie comes clean about her actions — right in the midst of her and Josh’s engagement party, which happens to be
hosted at Tag's family restaurant. “Do you even climb? And what about Thoreau?”, Tag demands. “I hate him”, she responds earnestly.
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In that moment, we witness Natalie reclaim her agency. It’s no longer about moulding herself to suit the desires of a man with whom she has hardly anything in common. It’s about stepping into her power and honouring her true, authentic self. This attitude has become a widespread movement within contemporary dating culture, with women placing emphasis on prioritising their needs first and foremost. Traditionally, in terms of heterosexual relationships, men are positioned as the hunters or chasers; women, by extension, are to be preyed upon and discarded. We are to be wooed, hoodwinked and hustled into bed; our purpose isn’t to navigate the dating world with our own set of requirements and boundaries but to put up and shut up. 
Although its existence is contentious, the subreddit r/FemaleDatingStrategy has gained popularity over the last few years for championing female empowerment within the dating scene. Known for circulating terms such as 'Low Value Man' and 'Pick Mes' (women who they believe engage in self-defeating behaviour in order to appeal to men), the FDS community is admittedly rife with uplifting posts. From "It’s perfectly fine for you to vocalise how dope you are!" to "How I went from side character to main character in less than a year", women are using the platform to unpack toxic masculinity and collectively boost self-esteem. Similarly, on Twitter, sex-positive relationship expert Dami Olonisakin (Oloni), who hosts the highly popular Laid Bare podcast, regularly tweets messages of outspoken advice to her female-led 265k following: "Shame grown ass men who invite women back on first dates more please. Unless, you’re after a hook up of course. I believe if they’re shamed more it’ll happen less [sic]." 
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Back in February, The Cut’s much-loved Ask Polly advice column featured a submission titled: "‘I Only Want to Date Men Who’ve Been Through Therapy!" The piece echoed the thoughts of a handful of my friends, myself included. As women everywhere delve into the concept of attachment theory and dog-ear the pages of Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds Of Angry And Controlling Men, it seems that we’re done with settling for less than we deserve or adhering to what we’ve been conditioned to think is right for us.
Photo Courtesy of Netflix.
On the surface, Natalie and Tag look like a match made in heaven (mainly because they’re both conventionally very attractive). Although it’s somewhat predictable that Tag eventually gets shafted for Josh, what’s unexpected is the journey Natalie takes to land on her decision. In the closing scenes, she stumbles upon Josh’s new, genuine dating profile. After her encouragement, his bio now simply reads: "Looking for someone who can see me for who I am." Ostensibly, this acceptance of self is posited as Josh’s character arc but in reality it’s yet another feature that the two of them unexpectedly have in common. 
At the end of the film, a pastiche takes place of the famous scene between Keira Knightley’s Juliet and Andrew Lincoln’s Mark in Love, Actually (2003). Natalie stands outside Josh’s house with handwritten signs that read: "I’ve spent my entire life/Looking for the perfect guy/But there’s perfect/And there’s perfect for me." As for Nick Darling and me, we were together for two and a half years. He was my first love and someone who made me feel comfortable and confident enough to eventually be myself around. Nowadays, I’d like to think I take a more authentic approach to dating — because honesty sounds a lot better coming out of my mouth than Hadouken! lyrics ever did anyway. 

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