How romcoms helped me go from shy wingman to confident dater
By Josh Oldridge
Romcoms might be unrealistic, but they helped me come out of my shell.
I never liked the way I looked. My eyes are too close together, I have freckles in weird places on my face, my nose is too big – my entire head is too big, for that matter – and I’m lanky. At school and college, while some of the guys in my year were already weeknight gym-goers, hitting the creatine, and comparing biceps in the changing rooms after footie, my arms got tired carrying a four-pack of beans from the car into the house. Everywhere I looked were role models of men as strong, athletic, confident, capable, and I felt like a different breed altogether.
So I went to uni thinking I was the side character, not the hero. That is until, romcoms taught me how to take the romantic lead.
At uni there were the inevitable house parties, pre-drinks, clubs, nights out, drinking, drinking and more drinking. And flings … for some. I was not – how do I put this? – competent when it came to finding love, be that casual or longer-term. Some of my friends were total naturals. They could sit beside someone they liked the looks of at a house party, talk, make that person laugh, and gradually shuffle closer to them on the sofa. I was always the wingman. I helped out by smiling a lot, laughing at jokes and knowing when to fade into the background, too shy to admit I wanted to shuffle closer to people along the sofa too. I could usually be found from midnight onwards standing next to the fridge looking on, peeling the labels off those exquisite, allegedly authentic French lagers in stubby bottles from Lidl.
This happened time and time again and I began to worry I’d be peeling labels off beer bottles forever – the eternal wingman. What was going on?
Finding love at university is tricky for us quiet ones, particularly during a pandemic in which almost half of active single daters have put their dating lives on hold. Sometimes it seems everyone around you is basking in the glow of love and / or sexual attention, and the more attention some people receive, the more they seem to attract it. Loneliness, in physical terms, can be similarly self-perpetuating – the longer you go without intimacy, the harder it is to get up on that horse. You start to worry more about making a fool of yourself when you do engage, constantly asking yourself things like, ‘Will this make me sound weird?’ or ‘Am I making a fool of myself?’ or ‘Could I be any more boring?’ before you dare open your mouth, so that by the time you do the moment’s gone anyway. Sometimes, for a perpetual wingman, silence feels golden. Loneliness doesn’t become any less painful, but you do become more accustomed to crashing on the sofa or a crumb-riddled carpet by yourself, using a beer-soaked item of clothing you found on the floor wrapped in a Tesco carrier bag someone brought their alcohol in as a pillow (true story). Loneliness takes on an almost human form.
My loneliness morphed into a body I could snuggle up to in bed; even though it was cold, it was there. We got along. I could sink into the bosom of loneliness and it was the only person in the room I felt wouldn’t judge me. When all around me people were hurling their morals to the wayside as they joined the dots of different beds they’d slept in through the city, I could remain pure with my loneliness. Even if I yearned to join the dots myself. In sum: it got more than a little depressing.
But, if there’s one thing the indie romcoms teach us, it’s that biding your time does pay off.
I’m talking about quirky flicks usually featuring Zoe Kazan who, even in her thirties, has that remarkable ability of being able to pull off playing a straight-from-college fresher. I was starting to lose faith in this notion when, at a routine house party, I spotted a girl I thought was pretty. This was a common occurrence, but what was unusual with this girl was she sat down next to me when I’d had enough of trying to act like I could dance. We didn’t say too much at first, but then the conversation just got going. It came easily. We spoke about the music on the playlist, what we were drinking, and when I, for some reason, threw in that my flatmate kept pet chinchillas, she didn’t seem to find this random assertion weird. Nothing was uncool, nothing made her cringe. She listened to everything I said, and this was only interrupted by us stopping to sink shots from the trays of vodka jelly being passed around the kitchen. I couldn’t believe this was happening.
I couldn’t believe these moments really occurred outside the movies. Or was I thinking too far ahead?
Later on I stopped to take another breather from dancing and we sat together again. We took another vodka jelly each. I thought this could be the moment; in the romcoms we’d sink the jellies then lean in to kiss. Instead, she dropped her shot and felt obliged to immediately clean up. Then she said she was tired and left, saying we’d go into uni together the next day. In the late morning, gleefully, I messaged about heading to the library and she told me she’d already thrown up ten times since waking up. Right, yep. That made sense. She’d only put up with me because she was wasted. More so than I’d suspected at the time. But in a follow-up message she told me she’d love to go in the next day together, and we did. Then the next, and the next.
And from there, what can I say except romance has blossomed and I’m no longer the eternal wingman.
Despite uni being a place filled with similar-aged, like-minded people, loneliness is all too common amongst university students and beyond. But hold on to the belief you might have or not have in those romcoms that you will find someone and it will pay off. In retrospect, I know I shouldn’t have been so shy about looking for love. Shyness is in my nature, as is overthinking things. Those are habits that are hard to break, and I wish I’d tried harder to break them back then. But there’s one thing I’ll be forever grateful for: I’m so glad I didn’t lose hope. If I’d lost that, I wouldn’t have been at that house party. So even though the physical possibilities of dating might feel a little distant and limited at the moment, don’t lose that hope, that sense of self-belief, that willingness to keep showing up to the parties (when they finally do happen again), even if you’re only going along as somebody’s wingman or woman. For now.
Image from Love Actually.