To some, Hugh Grant is akin to a neighbor. A close neighbor. The kind that lives across the street, is a bit of a rascal, but means well.
To others, Hugh Grant is simply an actor. British. “That one guy” in that one movie with Renee Zellweger.
But to me, Hugh Grant was my teacher. My teacher in love. My teacher in life. Sound dramatic? Let me explain.
Don’t get me wrong. My childhood was comprised of normal activities, like attending birthday parties at Chuck-E-Cheese, obsessing over light-up sneakers, and playing a abnormal amount of tether ball. But if I’m being honest, rom-coms shaped my world view for a substantial amount of time. Unlike my kindergarten friend Ashley Douglas, who carried the Tremors box around, lusting after a young, cut, Kevin Bacon, I didn’t see Hugh Grant as a boyfriend, but as a mentor of sorts. He had swagger. He had charm. And you know what? 9/10 times he got the girl. (Scratch that, 10/10 times.)
After countless hours of television, VHS after VHS, I learned the following lessons from Professor Hugh:
1) If you’re ever experiencing a fashion crisis, a crisp button down will solve your problems.
2) If you’re ever in need of a signature dance move, a pelvic thrust is worth a try.
3) If you ever have doubts about how someone’s feeling, ruffle your hair, just so, and the aforementioned person will be so dazzled that they’ll surely take your side on whatever you’re discussing. Guaranteed.
4) If you ever have a crush (the deep, all-consuming kind), make sure to keep it hidden until the perfect moment, about 20 minutes from the end of the movie. But that’s one you’ll just have to feel out.
One thing that Hugh always taught me was that the end of the movie, always, always, ends in love. Not an engagement, not a wedding, but love. Romantic love. The kind that completes both parties. The clouds open, the heavens stream down with radiant light, and suddenly, you have a natural glow. A glow that looks a lot like BECCA highlighter. The expensive kind. But you catch my drift. This is a life-changing, and life-directing love. Some might say, it’s even enlightening.
What my incredibly dashing, incredibly charming teacher failed to mention, however, was that maybe, just maybe, the love story that “completes” a person, is, in fact, the one that you have with yourself. This might sound obvious, but in a day and age that is so terribly single-phobic, it’s become less so. I used to adopt the idea that meeting your “person” gave you a sensation similar to a “brain-blast” as anyone whose watched Jimmy Neutron would know. That your spirits, being so kindred, would recognize one another in a superhuman way. Or at the very least, that both parties would become bewitched, body and soul, at first sight. (Yes, I stole that from Jane Austen, but I don’t think she’ll mind.)
As I get older and older, this trope of a soul-mate in the traditional sense starts to fade. Do not misunderstand me, I believe in love and the power therein, but I don’t believe it’s as important as we’ve been told it is. When I look at my life, the soul mates that I can recognize are the ones that actually do life with me. The relationships where we can go do something exciting, or find just as much pleasure on an old couch watching Anne of Green Gables. Those are the loves that are life-changers. Those are the people who feel like home. Like your favorite sweater.
This makes me think: where were Hugh Grant’s friends? Why was he always flying relatively solo in the countless rom-com’s in which he was cast? That friend to drive to Target with for no reason other than each others company? The one who’ll help you pick out the right furniture for your new apartment, braving the cat hair to help you find an end table? They weren’t there. And that puzzles me. Because in my life, the soul mates looked a lot less like Hugh Grants and a lot more like true, meaningful friends.
So here’s my plea to you, dear reader: don’t fall for the bullshit. Romance is fun, but have you tried close friendships? As someone who has been single for most of my life, I can genuinely tell you I know how it feels to be on the outs. To be the one friend who doesn’t have a date to Spiderman: Far From Home. And sometimes, I do feel inadequate. Like there’s something seeping from my skin that’s telling people I am not, in fact, girlfriend material. But a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days later, I remember: I’m far from alone.
Because life has taught me a lesson Hugh Grant never could: sometimes, the love of your life isn’t a person, but instead, a community. And that’s made all the difference.