Why Do Male Rom-Com Leads Ask Their Partners To Choose Between Them And Their Dreams?

The most empowering portrayal of a woman should be somebody who can have both.
PHOTO: (GERALD) How To Be Yours/ABS-CBN Star Cinema, (DANIEL) The Hows Of us/ABS-CBN Star Cinema

Filipino romantic comedies have evolved in leaps and bounds in the past decade—from formulaic plots and predictable endings to poetic writing, actors breaking away from their cherished love-team partners to explore other pairings, and scenes being set in great cities around the world. Audiences are tired of seeing couples kiss and make up in the end. It's far more compelling to witness an ending that leaves us high and dry, left to pick up the pieces with a friend after you've waltzed listlessly out of the cinema arm-in-arm.

Ultimately, though, Pinoy rom-coms all strive to send the same message: that love is never as simple as we yearn for it to be. Directors play with themes like timing, loss, and second chances to weave together stories that are as devastating as they are swoon-worthy. But there's one recurring plot point that seems to permeate these modern tales: Guy meets girl. Guy and girl fall in love. Girl has dreams of her own. Guy makes girl choose between their relationship or her dreams. What's the deal?

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In a staggering majority of these films, it's the men asking the women to compromise their careers. And I'm tired of it.

The much-awaited trailer for Hello, Love, Goodbye (in theaters July 31) sees fresh new pair Kathryn Bernardo and Alden Richards exchanging the following lines:

"Whatever I give you is not enough to make you stay?"

"Ginawa mo 'yon para pilitin akong piliin ka?"

"Kung mahal mo ako, bakit hindi ako ang piliin mo?"

"Kung mahal mo ako, bakit pinapapili mo ako?"

Similar scenes have unfolded in other movies. In The Hows of Us, the slacker Primo (Daniel Padilla) forces George (Kathryn) to put her medical career on the backburner. How to Be Yours tells the story of Anj (Bea Alonzo) and Nino (Gerald Anderson)—as Anj gets closer to her dream of becoming a high-end chef, Nino feels left behind in his own career, and tensions arise. And in Never Not Love You, Joanne's (Nadine Lustre) decision to leave Gio (James Reid) in London to come home and further her career is ultimately what causes them to drift apart.

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All of these stories are rooted in real life. I say this from experience, and I'm sure you can, too. I've had to let go of somebody who jetted off to the States to pursue his dreams. I've also had to ask for emotional support from my current partner as I moved on to a better job—but where we would see each other less often. My gripe with this love-or-career trope isn't rooted in its being realistic, because it is. It's rooted in the fact that in a staggering majority of these films, it's the men asking the women to compromise their careers. And I'm tired of it.

Society is becoming increasingly conscious of the feminist perspective. We're seeing more and more working women in movies, and it's a welcome change. But when the inevitable question of "love or career" pops up, I can't help but feel slighted on behalf of the audience. It's a relatable dilemma, sure, but at this point, it's become an all-too-convenient plot device to introduce conflict into stories—stories that, romance notwithstanding, seem to normalize the idea that women always have to choose. And that when they do, there's always a trade-off.

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Either the leading lady chooses the man and protects the relationship, or they make the bold move of continuing on in their career and watching their love life blow to smithereens. But—hear me out here—wouldn't the most empowering portrayal of a woman be somebody who can do both?

In real life, some college students joke, "Laude before landi!" or "GWA before jowa!" But many others are quick to rebut, claiming that time management and good communication between a couple is key…and it's true. You don't actually have to choose between one or the other, as long as you're responsible enough to keep your priorities balanced.

It's become an all-too-convenient plot device to introduce conflict into stories that seem to normalize the idea that women always have to choose. And that when they do, there's always a trade-off.

But it's just a movie, you might say. And movies are meant to be dramatic. You're absolutely right! Nothing wrong with a little exaggerated conflict to raise the stakes. But as an audience, we're allowed to expect more from Filipino directors and writers. And that means wanting stories where the burden of salvaging the relationship doesn't always fall on the girl. That means hoping for stories where great love and a promising career can coexist (but not without its challenges, mind you—we're not looking for a fairytale here). Ultimately, that means more films where we see teams like LizQuen or MayWard portray couples navigating less-explored romantic conflicts: unplanned pregnancies, religious differences, interracial relationships, the list goes on and on.

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We're allowed to want diversity in our stories, but of course, we're also allowed to sit back and enjoy these rom-coms for what they are. After all, we can't always be movie critics. Sometimes we just want to huddle into our couches, have a good cry as the leading actors enact their tearful goodbye, and then move right on to the next film in our queue. When all is said and done, though, Kathryn's HLG character is right. If somebody loves you, then they should never make you choose. If that's not a good takeaway, I don't know what is.

Follow Chandra on Twitter and Instagram.

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