I'm a sucker for most romantic comedies, even if they are typically formulaic: The chance meeting of soul mates. Chemistry ignites passion. True love overcomes all hurdles. And, predictably, they live happily ever after.

Despite several decades of feminist rants against Cinderella-style dreams, variations of that same formula still play out in dozens of modern chick flicks—including the brand-new A Cinderella Story, with Hilary Duff as a modern adolescent searching for—and, of course, finding—her Prince Charming … all just in time to help pre-teens break free from the throes of summer boredom.

It's easy for Christians to rail against violence, foul language and gratuitous sex in film, but a good romantic comedy seems to fly below the radar of moral outrage. Instead, we seem to give tacit approval to most of this genre's films.

Now, I'm not arguing that violence and foul language are good for one's Christian walk. But if I encounter them in a movie, I generally don't walk out of the theater with an urge to blow up the concession stand (unless the wait for popcorn was unreasonably long). Nor do I find a string of expletives subtly working their way into my conversations as a result of exposure to bad language.

I do, however, find that so many romantic comedies seem to have an insidiously strong influence on me and on my friends—both male and female—with all kinds of messages that are out-of-sync with God's teachings about love, relationships and marriage.

For one thing, love in the movies is pure emotion. You see a stranger across a crowded room and somehow you know. Or, in the case of Sleepless in Seattle, you don't even have to be in the same room; opposite sides of the country will do just fine. In Sleepless, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks never even film a single scene together until the very last shot of the movie!

More than a feeling

Watching these films, Christians are bombarded with the message that love is about physical attraction. Love is about how you feel. Love just happens, and pure emotion is enough to carry you through to a happily-ever-after. There's little demonstration of love that looks below the surface and grows out of a deep respect for someone who shares your beliefs and common values.

If love is all about finding your one true north who'll make you feel incredible, then it's no wonder that so many marriages—and Christian marriages fall apart at the same rate that non-Christian marriages do—break up when the feelings start to ebb. I worry that romantic movies perpetuate the idea that if you don't feel in love anymore, that you've made a mistake and your real soul mate must still be out there somewhere.

Rare is the romantic movie that gets beyond the falling-in-love stage to show a couple learning how to live in a marriage after the rush of romantic love begins to dim. Where are the movies that serve as instructive models to couples on how to cherish and love each other in the midst of loads of laundry, demanding work deadlines and the sleep deprivation brought on by infants and young children? (The Notebook, now in theaters, is a rare exception, showing the longevity of unconditional married love, all the way through old age.)

Romantic comedies often also foster other misconceptions that subtly shape our values. The Bible says we are to build one another up, to treat each other with honor, and even be willing to lay our lives down as Christ did for his church. But in the movies, screenwriters feel obliged to come up with smart and sassy scripts, and as a result, couples often fall in love over verbal jousting matches, fierce competition, and constant tension—and we're supposed to read it as attraction to one another. Look no further than You've Got Mail, Laws of Attraction, Runaway Bride, or The Thomas Crown Affair. I could fill up this entire column with examples of love in the guise of hostility.

Redeeming 'bad boys'?

Another misconception promoted by too many movies is that love can save the "bad boy." The exciting, desirable heroes are often ill-mannered, commitment-phobic, rebellious boys/men who are struggling to overcome extreme dysfunctions from their family background. They meet the right girl, whose love works a life-changing miracle—turning the bad boy into a tender, caring gentleman.

I have no doubt that love, as Edwin Markham wrote, can draw a circle that can take him in, but why condition women to think that they should be looking for someone to rescue?

I think of my three young daughters and wonder how hard it'll be to counter the messages in movies (and the rest of the culture) that instead of being entranced by the rebel and thrill-seeker, my daughters should look for men who are deeply honorable, respectful, caring and kind. In the movies, men come up with witty conversation and flirtatious quips. In real life, the most wonderful words my husband said to me recently were: "I'll take the baby downstairs so you can sleep." Wow, now that's a great guy.

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Even though I've been married to a wonderful man for 10 years, it's hard to go to a romantic film and not be a bit wistful for the rush of young love—which is where most romantic films invest their time. Love starts off that way, but then mellows and ripens and deepens.

I think I'll always love happily-ever-afters. I just wish that more of them provided the framework for building these kinds of relationships. We need romantic films that show us how to live our lives with grace, consideration and thoughtfulness, that show romances built on trust, faithfulness and forgiveness.

Now that would be some love story.

Shelly Ngo is Director of Publications and Information Resources for World Vision, a Christian relief organization. She and her husband and four children live in the Seattle suburbs.