Queen of Tears
Netflix's Queen of Tears: Kim Soo Hyun and Kim Ji-Won's romantic drama on marital discord became the highest-rated show in South Korea. Image Credit: Netflix Korea/ Instagram

Dragons, dystopias, and superheroes might rule the box-office roost, but sometimes all we crave is a soft romance, with a dramatic flair. What makes romance such a timeless genre, one that continues to resonate even amidst the spectacle of modern entertainment?

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For instance, Netflix’s lavish Regency drama Bridgerton, dripping with diamond corsets and carriage confessions, returned for a Season 3 and racked up 45.05 million views with just four episodes of release. While fans are dissecting all possible conceivable angles in the show on social media, one particular scene is going viral: A man professing his love to his best friend. "I prefer sleep because that is where I might find you," he tells her. This confession upholds the show’s legacy of heart-stopping moments, as fans concur. Never has the line ‘you are the bane of my existence’ sounded so poetic.

Bridgerton Season 3
Nicola Coughlan and Luke Newton in a still from Netflix's Regency drama Bridgerton, which racked up 45.05 million views with just four episodes of release. Image Credit: Netflix/ Instagram

Leaving aside the allure of the exquisite ballrooms and curly hair dos, let’s move to the Korean domain, where romance reigns with an iron fist. Last month, the drama Queen of Tears, became the highest rated drama in South Korea. It had all the storylines that a diehard romantic could wish for. A couple finding love again in a fractured marriage? Bring it on. Amnesia bouts? Bring the tissues. A rampaging boar, car accidents, gunfights and a stressful surgery later, there’s still a promise of a happy ending.

‘Just like a sugar craving…’

Regardless of whether it’s a period drama, Hollywood romcom, or Korean dramas, the romantic genre with all its tropes, varieties and trademark mush, still sells.

“It’s an escape,” says Rashi Khanna, a Dubai-based public relations professional. “After a long day, I would rather lose myself in a romantic comedy than watch a distressing crime thriller. Romantic shows and films just make you feel so good, warm and comfortable,” she says. Khanna adds that these films offer a temporary escape because they are idyllic and predictable.

"It's like a sugar craving that needs to be satisfied,” as Meredith Greene, an Abu Dhabi-based American expat and entrepreneur explains. There’s a wholesome sweetness and softness around romantic films, especially the romantic comedies that cannot be replicated in other genres she says. “It just overwhelms me. I always wait for the love confessions, the typical airport run, or the rain conversations. I don’t care about the story sometimes or how predictable it is. Does it make me feel good and happy? That’s all that matters,” she admits.

When it comes to ‘escaping’ with romances, the romantic comedies seem to be a strong preference.

The comfort in romantic comedies

Hollywood stars Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts had us believe that a world-famous actress could fall in love with an ordinary bookstore owner in Notting Hill. Almost two decades later, Anne Hathaway’s The Idea Of You, showed that if you just accidentally walk into a world-famous rockstar’s trailer, he might be so enamoured that he buys your entire art gallery and then takes you on a world tour.

There’s a sense of magical incredulity and predictability that is associated with romantic comedies. Yet, most of us, aren’t complaining. Usually, many of these films aren’t trying to teach you anything, explains Darrell James, a psychologist and relationship therapist. “They just talk about love, and how true love conquers all. It frees us from our troubles, daily strife, and takes us straight into a comforting space, where there’s no real responsibility or risk,” she says. These kind of romantic comedies just feel fulfilling. They follow a similar algorithm: Meeting of cute people, a few problems, and the promise of overcoming challenges.

Anne Hathaway
Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine in the romantic drama, The Idea of You. Image Credit: Amazon Prime/ Instagram

“Witnessing these positive outcomes can provide a sense of comfort and reassurance in the face of real-life uncertainties,” she says. Despite knowing they won't solve real-life problems, these films offer temporary stress relief. They provoke a variety of nostalgic emotions, possibly making us relive the better moments of our past relationships, she says.

People emotionally relate to these televised experiences, even if they haven’t experienced them yet. “Many romantic dramas portray idealised versions of love and relationships. We can live vicariously through the characters, fulfilling our own desires for connection and happily ever afters,” she says.

The themes of unconditional love

Love in all its forms, is an overpowering and intense emotion, as the psychologists explain.

“It’s a feeling of deep affection, or attachment, intense desire and attraction towards another person,” explains Sneha John, a Dubai-based clinical psychologist at Medcare Camali Center, Jumeirah, Dubai. “When you watch it on screen, you start believing that something is worth fighting for when you encounter problems in your own relationships,” she says.

It’s a feeling of deep affection, or attachment, intense desire and attraction towards another person. When you watch it on screen, you start believing that something is worth fighting for when you encounter problems in your own relationships...

- Sneha John, clinical psychologist, Medcare Camali Center, Dubai

The theme of unconditional love resonates so deeply with most people, as it shows them a bond that transcends flaws, mistakes and obstacles, according to James. “When you witness it on screen, you feel secure and stable, even if it’s a temporary feeling. It’s the kind of safety and security we crave in reality,” she adds. It also instills in a person, a sense of hope and optimism. “You just believe that someone will love you, no matter what. And this optimistic outlook is uplifting, during difficult times.”

There’s a sense of emotional catharsis, as well, explains Bushra Khan, a Dubai-based psychologist at Wellth, a wellness clinic. “These kind of love stories are deeply moving. Witnessing unconditional love on screen can make viewers believe it's worth fighting for in their own relationships. It allows viewers to process their own emotions and feel a sense of catharsis,” she adds.

The tragic, open-ended and ‘real’ romances

Twenty Five Twenty One
Nam Joo-Hyuk and Kim Tae Ri in Twenty Five Twenty One, a Korean drama whose bittersweet ending continues to be debated till today. Image Credit: Netflix/ Instagram

It’s not just escapes and the feel-good factor that keeps people coming back for more. When it comes to romantic films, people are ready to shed a few tears in the heart-wrenching romantic tragedies. For example, Sarika Mathur, a Dubai-based public relations professional has watched the vintage Hollywood classic, Roman Holiday, just to sob uncontrollably at the bittersweet ending, as she says. “Sad romances portray heartbreak in a poetic and beautiful way. Somehow, watching the struggles and sacrifices feels like a testament to the power of love, even if it doesn't have a happy ending,” she adds.

Others like Jonathan Preston, a Dubai-based Irish expat, relishes the ‘pangs’ of pain he has every time he watches the Korean drama, Twenty Five Twenty One, which ended on a note so divisive that fans still debate it, two years later. “I love stories of unreciprocated love, yearning, lack of closure and realistic endings, too. I can relate to them, even if the conclusions aren’t the usual happy ever afters,” he says.

Romantic comedies, in particular, often focus on the theme of unconditional love, which resonates with many people because it represents an idealised version of love where partners accept each other completely, despite their flaws. This ideal is appealing because it aligns with the deep-seated human desire for acceptance and security in relationships....

- Bushra Khan, psychologist

James explains why sad romances hold appeal: They offer catharsis through heightened emotional impact. “The sadness in these stories can be more intense than in real life, allowing us to experience a cathartic release. It's like purging sadness in a controlled environment,” she adds. This touch of bittersweet flavour also prompts us to reflect on our own relationships; they evoke feelings of nostalgia, and we look back at our own good times in old relationships. “We can cry freely, feel empathy for the characters, and process our own emotions related to love and loss,” as she says.

Just a word of advice…

While watching sad or happy romances might be a form of emotional release and catharsis, psychologists explicitly warn that these are also films, and not real life. “Don’t try to follow the exact same route in the films; real life and relationships and situations are far more complex,” warns James. “You can take a few learnings from it, if needed, but don’t believe that real life unfolds the way they show in films,” she says.