Your hands brush while reaching for the same avocado at Whole Foods and it’s love at first sight. You lock eyes at an art gallery and elope that day. You spill coffee on him on your way to work, he finds your klutziness impossibly charming, and you live happily ever after.
It’s called a meet-cute—a scenario in which potential romantic partners meet in an especially adorable, whimsical, impossibly romantic way—and though romantic comedies would have you believe that this is how people meet and fall in love all the time in real life, you yourself can probably attest to that not being the case. Go ahead—run the numbers. I’ll do it too—out of 10 couples in my life (ages ranging from mid-twenties to mid-eighties), three met on an online dating site, one met at a matchmaking event, four met at school or work, and two met through friends. That’s not to say these couples didn’t go on to have romantic dates and relationships with the people they met at the office or on Match.com—it just means that perhaps “it comes when you least expect it” should just apply to things like identity theft and unplanned pregnancy, and not to love.
A 2011 Zagat survey of 2,029 daters backs up my findings—25 percent of men and women preferred to meet someone through friends and family; 24 percent between hobbies, activities, bars, and other places; 20 percent online and at singles events; 15 percent at work or school; and 14 percent through “random encounters.” Yet Hollywood—I’m looking at you, Katherine Heigl—would have us believe that love doesn’t happen on dating sites or setups through friends—it happens when you’re forced to work with a misogynistic pig who turns out to be your perfect match; when you have a one night stand with a clueless schlub who turns out to be your perfect match; when a tragic accident brings you together with a rude man-child who turns out to be your perfect match; when you spend half a movie doing a trying-on-bridesmaid-dresses montage and bright orange taffeta turns out to be your perfect match.
So why do the powers that be keep churning out these pre-packaged, ready-to-consume scenarios that are the movie plot equivalent of cheese in an aerosol can? And what’s with the awkward apologetic shrug we make when someone asks how we met our significant other and the answer is speed dating? (Yep, I’ve seen it and I’ve done it too, despite my meet-cute track record actually being a little horrifying. A snippet: the cute guy I met on the subway turned out to be a con artist who literally ran out on the check after dinner).
A look at box office numbers makes me think that the answer is uncomfortably simple: Hollywood keeps churning it out because we keep eating it up. And the more we eat cheese in an aerosol can—whether we do it loud and proud or guiltily on the couch, in the dark, and in alarming quantities—the more we think that cheese in an aerosol can is how all cheese should be. And the more cheese in an aerosol can feels downright normal, the more we want—and the more we want (and pay for), the more we get.
My solution? I’m going on a diet—my brain could use the break from improbable scenarios, unlikeable leading men, easily-impressed leading ladies, and meet-cute scenarios that have little resemblance to reality. In the meantime, go ahead and ask me how I met my significant other—the story involves online dating and isn’t particularly unique…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.