Talking about romance novels, romantic comedy movies and the dismay among my romance writer friends about the fact that people called Sleepless in Seattle a romance even though the couple didn’t actually meet until the very end of the movie reminded me that there was actually kind of a trend in the 90s and early 2000s of rom-coms in which the couple didn’t meet until the end.
There was Sleepless in Seattle, of course, in which she heard him on the radio and became fascinated and wrote to him, and he eventually became interested in the idea of her. In between, there were a number of little signs that they were meant for each other, so we knew they would get along when they met. We just never saw them actually interact.
There was a movie called The Night We Never Met, which was about a man and a woman sharing a New York apartment on different days. He had certain days of the week and she had the other days (I don’t remember the exact reason — maybe they were both in other relationships and had a place to escape to for alone time? It’s been a long time since I saw it), so they never actually met until the end, but they did things like leave notes or gifts for each other.
There was Til There Was You, which involved a man and a woman going through life having near misses in which they almost met but didn’t, though we saw they were meant for each other, until finally they met at the end.
Sliding Doors sort of does that in one of the timelines. We see them getting to know each other in one timeline, but in the other timeline there are a lot of near misses, where they’re in the same place at the same time (in a place where we saw them together in the other timeline) but don’t meet until the end.
In Serendipity, they meet at the beginning, but then part with no way to find each other again. The rest of the movie is about them trying to find each other, and they aren’t reunited until the ending.
In The Very Thought of You, there are multiple guys who’ve met this woman and all think they’re the one who hit it off with her, and we see the story from each of their perspectives, but I don’t think she and the hero actually run into each other again until near the end.
You might be able to count The Truth About Cats and Dogs, in which they talk on the phone but don’t meet in person until the end (she’s afraid of what he’ll think of her when he meets her, and there’s a case of mistaken identity, so she lets him think her more attractive friend is really her).
I have a sense that there was at least another one, but I can’t think of the title or who was in it to be able to look it up. I guess that’s not too many films, but it’s a weirdly specific structure to all come within about 10 years, and I don’t know that there were many like that before that decade. Or maybe I was just aware of them during that decade because I was hanging out with a lot of romance writers then and heard all the complaints about the rom-coms that weren’t actually romances because the heroes and heroines didn’t meet until the end.
Although you couldn’t sell that plot as a Romance to an American publisher, the “near miss” or “bad timing” plot is a whole subgenre of British romances/women’s fiction/chick lit. There are the ones where they do meet early in the book, but it’s always a case of bad timing whenever they run into each other, so they don’t actually get together until the end, after years of near misses and chance encounters. I think I’ve read a couple in which we get her story and his story in parallel, and we can see that they’d be great for each other, but they have to work out their stuff individually before they’re ready for each other, and then they meet at the happy ending. I’ve also read at least one home swap book, kind of like The Holiday, but instead of falling in love with someone they meet at the location they’re visiting, they fall in love with the person they swap with while texting about things they have to deal with in each other’s homes and from things they learn about each other.
I actually enjoy this kind of story. It’s a fun change of pace, and it’s kind of reassuring to see how things work out in the right way at the right time. Plus, you don’t have to sit through the characters bickering constantly before they fall in love. There’s no love/hate thing.
And now, of course, I’m trying to figure out how I could do this kind of story. With magic, of course.