5 Things You've Seen in Rom-Coms That Are Actually Stalking

May 11th 2016

Lucy Tiven

In Hollywood blockbusters, there's nothing more romantic than a grand gesture — particularly if the object of affection is a woman, and she has made it clear that she isn't interested. After the bumbling hero makes an uninvited visit to his ex-girlfriend's home to declare his everlasting love, she doesn't file a criminal complaint; she swoons and reconciles with him before the credits roll.

Romantic comedies tell us that aggressive persistence is measures of love. But in reality, they often constitute stalking and harassment.

A February study published at the University of Michigan and reported by The Cut looked at how rom-coms influenced the way women perceived male behavior. It found that women who watched romantic comedies that rewarded or elevated aggressive romantic pursuit were more likely to find it acceptable in real life. They also had less serious views about stalking.

Here are five things you've see in romantic comedies that are actually stalking.

1. Hiring a love coach to gather information about a woman you've admired from afar and teach you how to woo her.

In "Hitch," romantic consultant Alex "Hitch" Hitchens (Will Smith) assists investor Albert Brennaman (Kevin James) in his quest to win the affections of his client, Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta).

Hitch's "date doctor" tricks are virtually indistinguishable from those of any pickup artist who teaches men how to "win" women over based on archaic and mostly sexist dating stereotypes — ignoring the reality that some women do not want or need to be "won." His method also includes digging into women's backgrounds in order to deceive them by faking common interests and experiences.

Hitch uses similarly unsettling tactics to seduce his own love interest, Sara Melas (Eva Mendes). When Hitch meets Sarah, she tells him never to call her, so he mails a walkie-talkie to her office to ask her out. How charming!

Mendes' character begrudgingly agrees to go out with Smith's. He takes her on a private tour of Ellis Island on their first date — an idea inspired by creepy and unwarranted in-depth research into her family history, as The Atlantic reported.

2. Breaking and entering.

In "Twilight," hunky vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) admits that he has been climbing through the bedroom window of his female love interest, Bella (Kristen Stewart), "for the past couple months" because he likes to watch her sleep. Her response? A steamy first kiss.

To state the obvious, entering someone's house without her permission is not romantic; it is intrusive, creepy, and illegal.

3. Showing up at your best friend's house to proclaim your love to his wife with a series of flash cards.

Love may be all around us — as the final scene of "Love Actually" suggests — but in the film, it always seems to pop up in the most unpleasant possible ways.

Mark (Andrew Lincoln) decides to declare his love for his best friend's wife, Juliet (Keira Knightley), with a set of cue cards that say things like "To me, you are perfect" and "My wasted heart will love you" while he plays "Silent Night" on a boom box.

This is only one of many gross invasions of privacy depicted as endearing romantic gestures in "Love Actually." Jamie (Colin Firth) also "spends painstaking hours learning Portuguese and flies to France to propose to his housekeeper, Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz), whom he doesn’t know at all," NME pointed out.

Stalking isn't cool — even on Christmas.

4. The boom box.

If a delusional ex-lover has ever shown up at your window in the middle of the night with a boom box, you can thank Cameron Crowe. Crowe's 1989 classic "Say Anything" — adapted from a novel by Nick Hornby — taught generations of men that women want nothing more than to be awakened by Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” — or whatever song was playing the first time they had sex.

Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) does just this and refuses to leave when Diane Court (Ione Skye) tells him to.

5. Hiring a private detective to track down a person from your past.

It's truly amazing how many movies and TV shows suggest that tracking down a high school crush and interrupting her adult life is a perfectly normal way to begin a relationship.

In "There's Something About Mary," Ted (Ben Stiller) hires a P.I. to find his high school crush, Mary (Cameron Diaz), 13 years after he last saw her.

It's perfectly natural to Google or Facebook-search the odd old flame or adolescent crush out of curiosity, but Ted goes more than a little overboard.

Female stalkers also get their due.

Not all of Hollywood's creepy romance contingent is made up of men. Some female stalkers — such as Audrey Tautou in "Amélie" and Audrey Hepburn in "Love in the Afternoon" — get the romantic comedy treatment.

Still, it's more common for female stalkers to be depicted in a menacing way than their male counterparts. In popular movies such as "Horrible Bosses," "Swimfan," and "The Crush," women who obsessively pursue their love interests turn violent when things don't pan out.

The aggressive-yet-lovable male hero who won't take no for an answer is a fixture of rom-coms. Female stalkers turn up more frequently in thrillers and absurdist comedies: They are shown as being hypersexualized and characterized as terrifying or mentally unstable.

15 percent of women experience stalking during their lifetimes.

Stalking is a crime under federal law and the laws of 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories. Some 7.5 million people are stalked each year in the United States, according to a fact sheet published by the National Center for Victims of Crime, which was updated in January 2015.

About 6 percent of men and 15 percent of women "have experienced stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime, in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed," the National Center for Victims of Crime reported:

• 46 percent of stalking victims fear not knowing what will happen next.

• 29 percent of stalking victims fear the stalking will never stop.

• One in eight employed stalking victims loses time from work as a result of their victimization, and more than half lose five days of work or more.

• One in seven stalking victims moves as a result of their victimization.

• The prevalence of anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction, and severe depression is much higher among stalking victims than the general population, especially if the stalking involves being followed or having one’s property destroyed.

About 44 percent of male victims and 61 percent of female ones reported being stalked by an intimate partner, according to the report.

You can learn more about stalking laws, victimization, and resources at the National Center for Victims of Crime.