Valentine’s Day is today — a time to cherish the ones we love. It’s also the romcom’s favorite time of year. From When Harry Met Sally to Bridget Jones’s Diary to Crazy Rich Asians, romcoms are cultural touchstones, movies that we can all bond over.
I went a different direction with the feature for this issue, offering a personal story about a romcom I went to see once. Contributor Rebecca Holland writes about Keanu Reeves, who I’m sure we can all agree has set standards high for male romantic interests in films.
My first kiss was at the Bellefontaine movie theater
“Nathan told me that Hunter said he wants to kiss you during the movie tonight,” my best friend, Jess, said. We were in her room deciding on what we were going to wear to the movies for our first ever double date. I was nervous; my stomach swirled inside of me. Jess looked on, her brows contorted into confusion. “I thought you wanted to kiss Hunter?”
I did want to kiss Hunter — my first ever kiss at my first ever double date, but what if it went wrong? What if I was a bad kisser? What if I didn’t use enough chapstick?
“I do,” I said. “But...what if he’s a bad kisser?”
“Then you can stop,” Jess said. She looked at two different shirts — each from one of the “cool” stores: Hollister, Aeropostale, Abercrombie & Fitch. Neither of us had many clothes from those places, so we always broke out the brand names for special occasions.
I had on my own aqua blue Hollister shirt with a logo patch running down one of the sleeves.
“Wear the green one,” I said. I turned around while Jess changed her shirt. We put on makeup, which mostly consisted of trying not to poke ourselves in the eye while adding eyeliner to our waterline. I didn’t actually like wearing makeup, but didn’t want to feel childish. In under an hour I would be on my first date, after all.
Jess’s mom drove us to the theater, which was 25 minutes away. Nothing was close to where we lived, our town both a weekend getaway and miles of cornfields. Jess lived near the lake where weekenders would come with their boats to go tubing and wakeboarding in the summer. Little inns and motels dotted the area around the lake, many of the structures left over from a bygone era. In the 50s and 60s our little town was a destination spot, outfitted with an amusement park and dance hall. Eve now, people all over Western Ohio drove to our spot to cool down during sticky humid summers.
Sitting in the back of the car, we were all giggles, texting back and forth. I had just gotten a phone that had a keyboard and relished being able to tap so fast. Our phones lit up with messages from each other. Her mom looked at us in the rearview mirror every so often and shaking her head.
“You could just talk to each other, you know?” she said. Jess and I exchanged glances, giggling once more. Her mom knew we were going on a double-date, but we refused to offer parents any unnecessary information.
Jess’s mom let us out at the doors of the movie theater. We emerged from the car bundled up in coats and hats and scarves. The October night was chilly.
In front of the movie poster for Couples Retreat, we saw our dates. I waved at Hunter, feeling shy and awkward and gargantuan; I stood about 5 inches taller than him. He was the shortest boy in our glass and I was the tallest girl. My height often made me feel self-conscious, especially now that I knew we were going to kiss. I wouldn’t get to be the girl in a romcom who has to stand on her tiptoes to kiss the guy of her dreams. He’d be standing on his.
Feeling like real adults, we walked up to the ticket booth and purchased our own tickets for Couples Retreat, the only movie that seemed somewhat appealing. The movie theater in Bellefontaine leaves a lot to be desired (and I haven’t been there since 2011), but I remember it looked like it had seen better days in the way a lot of theaters in smalltowns look — somehow both well-loved and neglected, one of the only places teenagers could actually hang out without parental supervision.
The previews lit the theater as we decided on our seats — the first row. Jess and I sat next to each other with Hunter on my right and Nathan on her left. Jess gave me a look that said, “I do not want to be here.”
Nathan had come from Friday football practice — sweaty and prepubescent smelly, wearing a worn-out white t-shirt and jeans. Hunter, on the other hand, had dressed up for the occassion: a church-appropriate button down and khakis. He smelled of an old man’s cologne.
Though the movie played on the screen in front of us, I didn’t watch it. My nerves were out of control.
Jess squirmed next to me in an attempt to prevent Nathan from putting his arm around her. I did the silly middle school thing of awkwardly putting my hand in between me and Hunter, hoping he would take it in his. He did.
We turned to look at each other and in a flash of a moment, he kissed me. Just once, just a peck.
A few years ago, the media was flabbergasted, once again, by actor Keanu Reeves being nice. No, really. Photographs emerged of Reeves and female fans with his arm around their shoulder or waist as they took a picture with the superstar. But there was a detail that was different about these pictures, so different in fact that the media reported on it like crazy – Reeve’s hand was hovering.
It speaks volumes that the internet was shook, quite literally, over an actor choosing not to touch his female fans in photographs. It was somehow unprecedented. But, why? Because men see a hand on the waist, or small of the back, as gentlemanly or flattering perhaps, whereas women, well, we don’t. In that moment, starry eyed fans wanted to be close to Reeves in proximity, of course they did, but it never meant they consented to any level of physical touching, because adoration does not equal consent.
The media highlighted something revelatory in how they handled the reporting of those photographs. Because what should there have been to report, really? “Man doesn’t touch women without consent” should hardly be a newsworthy headline, and yet it was, and still is.
The love interests that Reeves plays in films have similar characteristics. In The Lake House, he shows sensitivity in being emotional vulnerable. In Always Be My Maybe, he’s unabashedly romantic and respectful. In The Matrix, he doesn’t get in the way of Trinity’s fight for what she believes in. He loves her, and he understands that she has drive, passion and her own personality, outside of him.
His characters defy the tropes we’ve been stuck with forever, the obsessively jealous Ross in Friends, the chauvinist woman-hater played by Mel Gibson in What Women Want, and the ridiculously unsupportive Nate in The Devil Wears Prada. And don’t get me started on the notion of guys watching you sleep being romantic, rather than exactly what it is – creepy.
Reeves, and the characters he plays, are actual nice guys – in the literal, not the sarcastic way. He’s sweet, caring, and respectful, and… is a guy who is actually nice to women, not only when he wants to woo them, but constantly. And really, this should be the minimum requirement that women look for in any man they see as a potential romantic interest. Like, the actual benchmark. Why should women, like myself, settle for less? I’m calling it, we need to start a trend – if he’s not Keanu Reeves tier, then he’s not worth crying over.
Need a movie to watch with your Valentine?
Nuha reviewed Book on Love. Find the film streaming on Amazon.