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Do Rom-Coms Promote Stalking?

According to gender and sexuality expert Julia R Lippman, rom-coms could be having a detrimental impact on our romantic relationships IRL.

In her study for the University of Michigan, I Did It Because I Never Stopped Loving You, Lippman audited womens’ responses to questions about dogged, aggressive romantic male behaviour after they’d watched experts from six films covering very different themes and topics. The selection of questions included one that assessed to what extent they advocated “stalking myths". Not quite sure what we mean when we use that phrase? Lipton told Canada’s Global News that “stalking myths are false or exaggerated beliefs about stalking that minimise its seriousness, which means that someone who more strongly endorses these tends to take stalking less seriously.” She explained that women who watch films where male romantic figures engage in slightly stalkery behaviour could mean they are more likely to put up with that in real life.

On paper, rom-coms are bloody miserable, but like all things that are ‘bad’ for us, we’re utterly addicted to them. Excuse us for a moment while we be our most basic selves, but there’s a lot to love about a rom-com. The arriving to the airport too late, the looking forlorn in bad weather, and the not being asked to dance scenes that we can, probably, relate to. The inevitable neat-as-a-tied-bow ending; the house parties; the first meeting; the #tbt honeys: Freddie Prinze Jr, Heath Ledger and Jeremy Sisto (Elton in Clueless, like, duh).

But recall, if you will, that moment in Love, Actually when Keira Knightley’s husband’s best mate turns up on her doorstep with placards declaring his love for her, after fixating on her face with a camera on her wedding day. Yes, it's slightly odd. Peter Parker, anyone? He'd been leering at MJ from a distance for years. Then there's the towering romantic, albeit blood-sucking hero Edward Cullen who loves a spot of night stalking as he watches Bella sleep and says in chilling absolution: "You don’t know how long I have waited for you/ I’d rather die than stay away from you.” Don't get us started on Jacob. Oh, and what about Ben Stiller enlisting the help of a private detective to track down his high-school sweetheart in There's Something About Mary?

The line between romance and creepiness is certainly a grey area. “At their core, all these films are trading in the ‘love conquers all’ myth,” she added. The Guardian reported that research in India has suggested that Bollywood plot lines have impacted the romantic culture and to some extent normalised stalking. In January this year a 32-year-old Indian security guard escaped a jail term in Australia after his lawyer successfully argued that his stalker behaviour was down to his passion for Bollywood cinema.

That’s not to say women aren’t depicted as crazed lovers in Hollywood, too. My Best Friend’s Wedding is essentially the tale of a duplicitous woman doing the best to sabotage her best friend's marriage and in While You Were Sleeping, Sandra Bullock pretends to a whole family that she is the fiancée of a comatose man she fancies. “Love is great," says Lippman. "But so is respect for other people."