I’m picturing that Matrix meme: What if I told you that one of my favorite songs about contemporary romance is also related to Groundhog’s Day?
Well, it’s true.
A friend who knows my love of both musicals and all-things romance shared with me the song “One Day” from the Groundhog Day The Musical soundtrack. I adore the song, not only for its commentaries around expectations related to modern romance, but also because of Barrett Doss’ amazing voice. Even if you don’t read what I write about it below, do yourself a favor and give the first five minutes a listen.
The song is witty and clever and chatty, reminiscent of self-deprecating and referential Gilmore Girls-style dialogue, and it hits on three themes that especially resonate with me as a woman and a romance writer.
1.) There’s often a disconnect between romantic expectations and reality.
In that fairytale world all the girls end up happy ever after.
Wooing their knights in shining armor….
[but then] their knights spend their nights at the bar
Or at a ball with some harlot.
I’m not bitter, it’s just better
That I don’t fall for all that romantic bullshit
Now that I’m older.
Though I don’t mind the thought of being tossed over a shoulder
And trotted off to a mansion by some ruggedly handsome man in a fireman helmet
And have him just use me for sex.
As I say – it’s a little complex.
Oh, this part made me laugh the first time I heard it. Not the first part, the suggestion that other women are chasing after a false dream, setting themselves up to be disappointed when they finally find their knight in shining armor. But the second: the admission that yeah, okay, despite this cynicism, the heroine actually wouldn’t mind being the a sex toy for a hot, rich fireman. And this won’t be the first time this character will find herself being a wee bit inconsistent with her feelings about men and romance…
2.) Many of us harbor a desire for an unreasonably perfect partner.
He’d know what to wear
He’d have a full head of hair…
And his body would be toned with those
Pecks like you get at the gym
But he won’t spend all of his time at the gym.
And he’ll love reading books,
He’ll be an excellent cook,
He’ll be good looking but not too aware of his looks.
He’ll be tender but tough,
And smart but not smug,
And attentive but not fawning,
And he’ll smell good in the morning,
and he’ll dance,
and like hiking and baking and biking
I’m not picky…
Not too much to ask for, right? Ha! This is deliciously hypocritical thinking, especially for a woman who opens up the song griping about how Barbie and other external influences pressured her into some sort of picture-perfect notion of ideal femininity as a kid (she was brought up in “taffeta dresses” and raised to be “pretty and precious.”) She didn’t like those constraints, and yet she’s acknowledging that she sometimes holds partners to the exact same impossible standards. My favorite bit from this set of lyrics is how she wants a man “with those pecks like you get at the gym,” but with the caveat that he shouldn’t spend all of his time at the gym. I’m sure the men of the world wish just as much that this was possible, but it isn’t. Much like maintaining ideal female thinness and prettiness, maintaining ideal bodily masculinity is a hell of a lot of work. Men don’t “wake up like that” anymore than women do and it ties into lots of costly, time-intensive and often miserable labor.
I think romance novels have made some real strides in showing more diverse women’s bodies, but when it comes to the heroes, there tends to still be some pretty demanding and relentless expectations about how they are built: tall, broad, thick hair, muscular, narrow waist, abs, man lines, and on and on…. I can’t deny that I’ve fallen into this trap with my own heroes so far and it’s an area I’m thinking about carefully as I imagine future characters for my books. It is a fine line between fantasy and promoting unrealistic expectations. I will say that although my heroes have tended to have stereotypically fit bodies, I have made a pledge to at least show some of the labor that goes into the maintenance of these bodies within my books. (Same for my fit female, characters, too.)
3.) It can be really difficult to shake old ideas about love and romance and what we deserve.
One day, some day my prince will come
So the fairy tale said.
Thirty years later it’s still in my head
That if I screw a frog
I will wake in a four poster bed.
Part of what I love about romance novels is that inevitable moment when a character, spurred on by the love and acceptance of the right partner, finally lets go of old myths they have about themselves: about how they can’t commit, or are incapable of love/being loved, or don’t want anything serious, etc. etc. etc. Many of us have these internal narratives, related to romance or otherwise, and they can send us into unhealthy or unproductive spirals. The promise of romance novels is that in learning to love another, we’re more honest and more gentle with ourselves, with our expectations, and with our ability to grab happiness when it’s within reach.
The whole premise of the film Groundhog Day, and presumably the musical based on it (which I haven’t seen even if I’ve mostly memorized the soundtrack by now), is that sometimes it takes one or two or a dozen chances before we get it right. We’ll screw it up, do it wrong, repeat mistakes, and fail ourselves and others before we finally see the bigger picture and the chance for a happily ever after, making the ups and downs along the way absolutely worth it. And that’s a lesson I love.
Whether that famous groundhog ends up seeing his shadow this year or not, I know I’ll have this song on repeat.