How Dating Is Different In Movies Than It Is In Real Life

How Dating Is Different In Movies Than It Is In Real Life ©iStock/AleksandarNakic

If rom-coms you watched as a teenager had you dreaming of one day going on some amazingly romantic dates, you were probably sorely disappointed by reality. Dating in real life is pretty much nothing like the movies, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. It’s all a matter of perspective.

  1. A romantic dinner is just plain awkward. When you’re getting to know each other, you’ll spend more time chatting than actually enjoying the meal. Then you’re stuck sneaking off to make sure your food hasn’t ended up all over your outfit and/or face. If the guy ends up being a stone-cold weirdo, there’s no escaping him halfway through. Plus, prepare for a doggy bag that you’re awkwardly carrying at the end of the night, making a kiss at your door seem strange.
  2. Anything elaborate for a first date would be overwhelming. If you’ve seen The Millionaire Matchmaker, you’ve seen plenty of helicopter/cooking class/salsa dancing dates that seem romantic but would be awkward IRL. Admit it — unless you were extremely into him, if a guy showed up at your door with a dozen roses and plans to whisk you away in his private heliopter, you would be just a little bit freaked. You don’t want a date that’s just a quick hookup in disguise, but something in the middle is ideal.
  3. No one ever gets inappropriately drunk onscreen. In movie dating, no one ever has a few too many cocktails. In fact, if you do watch The Millionaire Matchmaker Patti Stanger warns against having more than two cocktails. On a real date, you probably have a glass of wine to unwind at home, and if it goes well a few more drinks, especially if you’re bar hopping. By the end of the night, you’re ready to rage but also regretting going rogue.
  4. Real first dates usually take place at bars. While a “dive bar” might be overkill, it’s not like the bars you’re venturing to when you meet Tindermen are exactly elegant. You don’t expect a fancy dinner, but when drinks are dirt cheap and you wonder if you caught something in the bathroom you’re not exactly in the mood for love.
  5. A kiss on your porch can get weird. If a date has seemed promising, by the end of the night you’re wondering how it’ll end. Maybe you’ll have your first kiss or he’ll plan your next date before this one is over. So there you are, lurking on your stoop, or at a subway stop, or in a taxi cab, making out. If you hate PDA, it’s always going to feel a little strange kissing a stranger out in the open.
  6. Dressing up is overrated, especially if you’re coming from the office. Most first dates happen on weeknights when you’re heading home from the office and exhausted. While you’ll freshen up your makeup, you’re not exactly going to change into a little black dress on a random Wednesday. In the movies, everyone on a date is in a slinky dress that real humans can’t afford with super high heels. If you greeted a date in that at a lowkey bar, he would probably be completely freaked out and wonder if you were going to a black-tie event later in the evening.
  7. Just because he seems into you doesn’t guarantee a second date. In the magical world of movie-land, when a guy seems super into the leading lady and guarantees that he’ll take her somewhere special soon, it actually happens. In the real world, a guy might say a whole slew of things and then forget about you the next time he’s on Tinder.
  8. In the movies, a first date equals a long-lasting relationship. Movies mean a first date leads to an even more romantic second date and then a montage with adorable activities and perfect pop songs. In the real world, guys think a first date makes you available for an anytime hookup. It’s weird because they obviously know what dating looks like, but they’d rather send a “u up” text than grab a meal.
  9. No guy ever tries to “Netflix and chill” after a first date in the movies. After a first date that’s kind of gone well (and some that haven’t at all), it’s expected that a guy will ask you to go home with him. This can be particularly awkward if you weren’t feeling the date and even more awkward if you wanted him to try just a little bit harder. It’s always weird when a dude you were planning on starting a relationship with casually sees if you want to get a drink at his place after a first date. You have to wonder if anyone waits at least until the second date for the propositioning to begin.

Why it’s good that dating is nothing like the movies

  1. You’re a complex person, not a 2D character. Movies always present women as simplistic beings with a singular interest: getting the guy at all costs. They’ll change who they are, how they look, the way they think — anything to win the leading man over. In reality, women are so much more complex and have more important things to do than chasing down men. Thank your lucky stars that you’re nothing like the cardboard cutouts portrayed in rom-coms.
  2. Couples in rom-coms are never tested. The biggest issue in the movies is usually that one or both leading stars are usually dating someone else but realize they love each other. Their “issues” just aren’t relevant in real life. When you’re in a relationship with someone, things are going to go wrong sometimes. The longer you’ll together, the more challenges you’ll face together — losing loved ones, getting laid off from work, moving jobs, etc. Rom-com couples just aren’t relatable in this way.
  3. Happy endings are a journey, not an easily won finish line. At the end of a rom-com, it’s understood that the couple is finally together and they’re now all but guaranteed their happy ending simply by entering into a relationship with one another. It goes without saying that this isn’t how life works. In reality, “happy endings” are a long-term journey, not a one-stop experience. And isn’t that how it should be?
  4. You’re not a cliche. Dating in the movies tends to follow the same formula and that misses out on all the wonderful nuances of what love is really like. You don’t want to be the manic pixie dream girl of any guy’s fantasies, nor do you want the relationships you grew up idolizing in movies because you have so much more complexity and uniqueness about you. Embrace that.

Romantic movies that do dating a bit more justice

While there aren’t many of them out there, movies do exist that delve a little deeper into the realities of love. Here are a few to check out the next time you’re hanging out on the couch.

  1. When Harry Met Sally This one is a classic for a reason — and not just for fans of the rom-com genre. It’s well-written, funny, and full of heart. Plus, who doesn’t love a bit of Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal? If you’ve ever wondered if men and women can be just friends, well, When Harry Met Sally wants to know the answer to the same question and asks it in some really thought-provoking ways.
  2. Crazy Stupid Love In many ways, this movie doesn’t actually seem like it should be categorized as a rom-com because it’s about so much more under the surface. However, its portrayal of love and relationships makes it an incredibly worthwhile watch.
  3. The Proposal Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds have great chemistry in this movie and Bullock’s character is actually three-dimensional and badass. Maybe this movie is so good because it was directed by a woman (Anne Fletcher). Whatever the reason, this is a must-watch.
  4. Sleeping with Other People Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie are amazing in this movie. What makes it so good is that it turns all the misogynstic BS you usually see in rom-coms on its head and presents dating in a really (hilariously) honest way. This one is totally underrated.
  5. Friends with Benefits You’ve probably seen this one already, as no one could stop talking about it when it came out. That’s probably largely because Justin Timberlake plays one of the leads, but also because it’s just a really sweet and extremely honest movie that talks about dating in a way not a lot of other movies do (and certainly didn’t at the time).
  6. Silver Linings Playbook Humans are flawed and messy and so are relationships. That’s what this movie (and Jennifer Lawerence and Bradley Cooper) do so well. Cooper plays a man with bipolar disorder who’s released from a psychiatric hospital and his relationship with a young widow (Lawrence) and how they find their way back to themselves through each other. It’s so good, I want to go re-watch it right now.
  7. Knocked Up You wouldn’t think a Judd Apatow movie has any deep and meaningful messages to share, but that’s certainly not the case. Knocked Up is all about a pregnancy that results from a drunken one-night stand between a successful woman on her way up in the world and a slacker with no real ambition. How they navigate their situation is hilarious but heartwarming. This is definitely a classic.


Margaret is a freelance writer who covers pop culture and fashion in New York City and currently writes for Page Six's Style section. Her work has been featured in Teen Vogue, xoJane, and Racked. She tweets about her crippling caffeine addiction and teen TV obsession here: @margaretabrams