I think romantic comedies are fantasy films at their core—even without wizards, flying dragons, or other elements of lore. Hear me out. Rom-com protagonists are essentially pawns of the universe, two completely unsuspecting characters who are led to the right place at the right time till they are side by side. Regardless of whether they reach for the same pair of cashmere gloves, or vibe to every indie boy’s favorite obscure ‘80s band in an elevator, this chance encounter—more commonly referred to as the “meet-cute”—marks the official beginning of their love story. It ultimately leaves an impression and leads to happily ever after. If that isn’t the work of cosmic forces or celestial beings, then I don’t know what is.
But similar to mythical creatures and magical kingdoms, meet-cutes don’t seem to exist in real life. Well, for me, at least. When the world was still somewhat normal, I religiously frequented several bookstores on weekends yet failed to find a bespectacled boy with curly hair and kind eyes in the poetry section. I’d lock eyes with a guy on the opposite side of my crowded school cafeteria, only for him to quickly avert his gaze and beat me to the only vacant table in the room. And since I was never the type to go out of my way to meet new people, I seemed to lose all candor and wit every time I was introduced to a member of the opposite sex—not because I was dumbfounded by how attractive they were, but because I simply had no idea how to act around them.
While some may argue that this is nothing but a side effect of my introversion, there’s no denying that the meet-cute is good as gone thanks to the rapid digitalization of the world. Technology has simplified and streamlined many existing processes, eliminating the need for certain kinds of in-person interactions. Now that there’s an app for almost anything, a modern-day Anna Scott wouldn’t have to drop by William Thacker’s Notting Hill shop to buy a book, nor would Pretty Woman’s Edward Lewis need to ask the beautiful girl on the street for directions back to his Beverly Hills hotel. With a myriad of options easily accessible to us through mere swiping and tapping, it’s become increasingly difficult to peel our eyes away from our screens when we could be scanning the room for prospects or making small talk with the stranger next to us. Had Before Sunrise starred Gen-Z teens, I have a sinking feeling that Jesse would have been too busy drafting an Instagram caption about his excursion around Europe to pay attention to Celine, thus ending their beautiful whirlwind romance before it could begin.
In recent times, the internet has also paved the way for our growing awareness of women’s experiences of assault. Not only has it made us wary of sketchy strangers who have the gall to approach us in public places, but it’s also discouraged us from shooting our shot for fear of looking like the creep in the situation. Accordingly, it’s no surprise that online dating has increased in popularity, with 39% of heterosexual couples and 65% of those in same-sex relationships reporting that they are more likely to meet through apps and websites than in-person chance encounters or meetings set up by mutual friends. Platforms such as Tinder, Bumble, and Grindr often provide users with a package deal of convenience and added confidence, which just doesn’t occur naturally in real-life situations.
Despite my knowledge of its impressive advantages and success rates, I never felt compelled to try out online dating—even in the middle of a pandemic that has left me with no choice. Instead, I continued to hold out for a real-life moment that would make sparks fly or unleash a flurry of butterflies in my stomach. Having grown up in a house filled with fairy tale books and chick-flick DVDs, I was sold on the idea that destiny had handpicked my soulmate at birth and one day, we would be drawn to each other in the most memorable of ways and unexpected of moments.
But instead of waiting for the meet-cute to miraculously resurrect (or making futile attempts to revive it by violating community quarantine regulations), I guess it’s about time I mourn its death and start moving on. I’ve realized that placing my faith in the powers that be served as the perfect excuse to stay in my comfort zone. Why bother actively seeking out anybody if I was going to be led to the person of my dreams anyway, no matter what I did? What was the point in getting to know anyone I didn’t fall in love at first sight with, if there was no surefire guarantee our relationship would go anywhere?
I remained a passive player when it came to affairs of the heart—and in my attempts to dodge discomfort, pain, and rejection, I failed to consider the myriad of ways in which love can blossom. I don’t have to look far for proof—my own parents struggle to recall the specifics of their first meeting yet have been married for the past 23 years.
Of course, this realization doesn’t come with an instant change of heart: acknowledging my tendency to play it safe doesn’t exactly prepare me for the task of getting rid of it. But hopefully, now that I’m aware that the meet-cute isn’t responsible for the romance I have yet to experience, I can learn to take my life into my own hands. After all, if there is one thing more powerful than fate, it’s my own free choice.