In Chuck Klostermann's satire/humor piece "Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs," he lambastes John Cusack as singlehandedly destroying and rendering futile the efforts of all men in the United States to behave in a romantic fashion toward women. Squeezing into her seat at the multiplex, caramel popcorn and a 32 oz. Diet Coke in hand, the average American woman who wears a size 14 watches Sarah Jessica Parker find the truest love in Manhattan. Teenage couples finding themselves alone in parked cars in dark shadows switch on the radio in desperate searches for an "our song" that will define their magical moment - romance cannot happen in silence; it must have a soundtrack. Depending on who you ask, the sound of romance might be the Philadelphia Orchestra on a summer night as heard from lawn seats. It could be a German language dance song at an '80s night. Perhaps it's the most cliché of love songs, "Hey There Delilah" by the Plain White Ts as heard on Top 40 radio in a car somewhere. There is a carefully weighted order in which things must be done; falling in love is like building chemical compounds out of toothpicks and balls of clay.
The only thing that's for sure is that domestic violence victims aside, all women are completely jaded by mass and indie media when it comes to defining romance. The classical dateable guy in the '50s that everyone desired was a charming guy to bring home to your parents who opened the car door for you and paid for your dinner, blah blah blah. Chicks swooned over Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable and John Wayne. This idyllic and possibly nonexistent "perfect man" archetype oozed over and under the free love of the '60s and '70s into the hedonistic and complex '80s, where we saw a shift from "respectable" to "hunky and damaged" with Harrison Ford protagonists, coked-up yet sexy party villains, and affairs galore. The '80s, undeniably the turning point of modernity in Western society, gave us a ball of clay to mold to how we see fit through the '90s and into the millennial years starting with 20~. The formulaic romantic comedy (I dislike "rom-com" for obvious reasons) perfected its chemical compound-like structure.
Nowadays, everyone enters a first date expecting witty and gender-appropriate banter just like in the movies and TV. Carrie from "Sex and the City" and her courtship with Mr. Big are a star example of the bloated expectations and ideals today's woman searches vainly for. Song lyrics have moved increasingly from direct feelings to descriptions of situations that could be construed as romantic. Roy Orbison sang frankly about crying over you. New Order turned up the heat with open-to-interpretation allusions of a bizarre love triangle. Lady GaGa - well, she likes that fucked up shit and probably enjoys being spanked with hot irons. Social networking profiles offer universes of insight on what we want. Like me, I'm willing to bet at least 33% of the girls on your friends list have included this quote somewhere in their profiles:
“Find a guy who calls you beautiful instead of hot, who calls you back when you hang up on him, who will lie under the stars and listen to your heartbeat, or will stay awake just to watch you sleep... wait for the boy who kisses your forehead, who wants to show you off to the world when you are in sweats, who holds your hand in front of his friends, who thinks you're just as pretty without makeup on. One who is constantly reminding you of how much he cares and how lucky his is to have you.... The one who turns to his friends and says, 'that's her.'”
Now, think long and hard about the most romantic scenarios you've experienced - those moments where you felt so adored that you almost peed. Ten bucks says the thought "it's like a movie!" popped up in your head. Which brings me to my final question: did romance inspire media, or did media invent romance?