Dating Advice From ’80s Rom Coms

Beneath their sugar-coated exteriors, romantic comedies of the 1980s can teach millennials a great deal about what to look for in relationships.

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Romantic Comedy films don’t sweep up accolades during awards season, but viewers have enjoyed simple “girl meets boy” stories for years! Often dismissed by critics, they are loved by movie-goers – including this movie fan.

The last 30 years could be considered the golden era for romantic comedies with the release of When Harry Met Sally, The Wedding Singer and Valentine’s Day. The 1980s saw an uptick in the number of romantic comedies produced and signaled a renaissance for the genre. It’s easy to see what makes these films so well-loved – who doesn’t want a sweet story with a chance meeting and an (eventual) happy ending?

As the mantra goes, popularity does not equal quality or substance. That said, I believe that if you look beyond the sugary shell, the inner layers of romantic comedies – especially those of my beloved ’80s – are rich in texture with just the right amount of flavor. You can learn a lot from watching two people fall in love in 90 minutes, and I’m here as your guide through such lessons.

Never sacrifice your own identity for anyone –  from Pretty in Pink (1986)
Pretty in Pink is an age-old tale of lovers from different social classes. Andie (Molly Ringwald) is a ambitious teenager taking care of her unemployed and unmotivated father following her mother’s abandonment. Blane (Andrew McCarthy) is a rich playboy surrounded by a group of snobbish friends and posh cars.

While both characters are clearly attracted to one another, their separate bands of friends are unhappy with the connection between them. Blane eventually finds the expectation of his “popular” world too much to bear and follows his friends’ advice about distancing himself from Andie. Rather than remain bitter about her failed relationship, Andie decides to go alone to her senior prom wearing a dress of her own creation.

Blane redeems himself at the end of the film after having been influenced one too many times by his friends. Unlike her high school paramour, Andie has a style all her own. She is driven by what she feels is right and what feels good to her. Just like Blane, movie-watchers should take note of Andie’s fearlessness and self-assuredness.

The unexpected might be just what you need – from Moonstruck (1987)
When widowed Loretta (Cher) accepts her fiancé Johnny’s (Danny Aiello) proposal for marriage, she also becomes responsible for inviting his eccentric and estranged brother, Ronny (Nicholas Cage), to the wedding. While Loretta finds security with her fiancé, she finds fire (literally, the man works at a bakery) in Ronny.

Though she tries to deny the sparks between them (even slapping Ronny across the face after a declaration of love), Loretta must decide between what is safe and what feels right. Her intentions to marry Johnny then conflict with what frightens her the most – that true love exists and she is deserving of it. If your plans fall through, you must always believe that something else is waiting for you – and accept that there may be difficult choices to be made in order to live the life that is right for you.

Love Conquers All – from The Princess Bride (1987)
Have I mentioned this is my all-time favorite movie? It’s a comedy-romance-swashbuckling-tragedy-adventure set in a faraway land long long ago and it is wonderful (though my family disagrees…pay no attention to them). I could go on all day about how much this movie (and the book it was adapted from) has to teach us but as Mandy Patinkin’s character states “there is too much..let me sum up.”

The princess (Robin Wright) is a reluctant bride whose one true love was supposedly murdered by pirates. When they are finally reunited, she must make the agonizing decision to marry her betrothed in order to save her darling Westley’s (Cary Elwes) life. She resigns herself to a life without love so that the one person she cares for can be spared.

Westley forgives Buttercup (That’s her given name. Really.) for promising to marry the corrupt Prince Humperdink (Chris Sarandon), and why shouldn’t he? She had the courage to keep going when she thought her one true love was dead! She went into the fire swamp with him and nearly died! She stood up to her lying fiancé and would not let his power or anger intimidate her! The other lesson to be learned from this movie is that love is truly a partnership, and success depends upon the effort of both parties. From cooking dinner to fighting off rodents of unusual size, teamwork is essential to any relationship.

Anything worthwhile takes time – from When Harry Met Sally (1989)
On the outermost layer of this romantic comedy is the fallacy that men and women can never be exclusively friends. On the inner layers, you will find that the tale of two friends (played by Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan) is actually a simple story of timing. Timing is perhaps the most important ingredient in the recipe of our lives – and it has to be just right. Both Harry and Sally go through several relationships throughout the course of the movie only to come back to each other. Some might say this was a failure of timing on their part, but I think the sweet ending (just the way we like them) proves that love is well worth the wait.
Follow your heart – from Say Anything.. (1989)
Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) is my ideal man. He’s passionate about everything! From “the sport of the future” (kickboxing) to “looking for a dare to be great situation,” Lloyd does everything with an unwavering sense of optimism (until his heart is ripped to shreds, more on that later). When he falls for the beautiful and brainy Diane (Ione Skye), Lloyd tries to prove his worth to her overprotective father (John Mahoney) who distrusts him completely, labeling him a “distraction” from his daughter’s goals. Diane takes a cue from her father the moment she feels things are getting too serious between them.

Though initially heartbroken, Lloyd finds the strength to forgive Diane and spends a night outside her window, a love song blaring from his boom box (one of the best romantic scenes from any ’80s movie). Many of us have felt the pressure to succeed and when coupled with new feeling of attraction and love, the situation can become almost unbearable. While there is certainly nothing wrong with chasing after your ambitions and using your powerful brain, your heart needs use too, and its instincts should be followed in combination with logic and planning. Be like Lloyd, not Diane…sorry Diane.

So maybe you thought that all you could get from romantic comedies are false expectations about love; that it would be easy and there would be fireworks and pop ballads playing every time you sit close to your partner. Romantic comedies have a lot to teach us if we only look past the endless kisses in the rain and the last minute airport dashes (let’s face it, TSA has put the kibosh on that one). Love may not always play out like it does on the silver screen, but we can try and learn from the many mistakes made by the star-crossed lovers of 1980s cinema.

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