In modern times, there’s really no option to be a damsel in distress. Instead, the big city girl boss relishes in her hustle, ambitious and ready to earn top dollar. She’s probably fueled by espresso shots, and if she’s not producing, she feels a lack of purpose. She could probably be featured in a lifestyle segment like Refinery29’s Money Diaries where readers learn what a week is like living in her big city on a moderately high income, not putting enough aside for a deposit on a home and going out for cocktails with enterprising gentlemen to try to remedy that problem.
Christmastime comes around. She, like many other women her age, tuck in for the night with a glass of wine and turn on the Hallmark Channel, a reliable friend ready for her with a non-stop spread of saccharine storylines. It’s like a warm hug for the woman who secretly (or not-so-secretly) yearns for a simpler life, free from the chaos of the real world. All of their escapist tropes from rekindled romance to holiday magic draw us in, but one trope in particular can charm even the biggest boss babes: the big city girl falling for the small town, masculine hunk.
Screenwriters keep recycling it season after season because it hits so close to home. Why? One hypothesis is that these stories fulfill women’s subconscious, primal desire for men to be authentically masculine and for a less stressful, slower pace of life focused on family and community.
The Free Market Spoke: Hallmark Tropes Triumph
Just last year alone, there were at least 164 new Christmas movies on television networks and streaming services like the Hallmark Channel, Great American Family, Lifetime, BET, Netflix, and more. What do you know, most of the storylines are romances.
Last year, Great American Family’s B&B Merry followed the storyline of a luxury travel blogger escaping to a small-town B&B and falling for the owner’s son. Then there was their A Merry Christmas Wish movie, where a New York ad exec came home to her family farm to sell it and instead got looped into organizing a Winter Wonderland, falling in love with a childhood connection along the way. Hallmark also had Christmas in Homestead, where a Hollywood starlet goes to a small town and falls in love with a single dad, and Falling Inn Love, where a corporate exec wins a New Zealand countryside inn and swoons over the town’s only restoration expert.
Hallmark and copycat production companies found a profitable formula and have capitalized on it, inspiring countless others to follow in their footsteps. Just think, the average budget per Hallmark-style movie comes in at under $2 million while the average Hollywood motion picture costs around $65 million, though the top films of recent years from the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the Star Wars Universe can average $250 million. The low-budget, warm and fuzzy Christmas movie also doesn’t require much of a marketing budget since the typical viewer will just pop one on while spending time with their families during the holiday season.
As we know, viewership skews toward females between the ages of 25-54, a group of people who are in their prime years for dating, marrying, and building a family. They’re catching up with their friends and loved ones over the holiday season and they’re likely receiving Christmas cards in the mail with happy couples, blushing newborns, and kids that just seem to grow up so fast. The storylines that center around tender, light-hearted romance where perhaps a woman either returns to her hometown and falls in love after years of striking out in the city or discovers the beauty of tight-knit communities and small town living are aspirational and wholesome.
Big City Living Leaves Us Depressed
Understandably, women watch these films and feel drawn toward the dream because the doldrums of modernity are tough to escape from in the city. Living in the city can make people depressed, feeling helpless and experiencing unchanging low moods, and may even worsen a person’s likelihood of developing psychosis. Urban dwellers have a 20% higher risk of depression, a 77% higher risk of psychosis, and a 21% higher risk of generalized anxiety disorders than rural residents.
There’s a certain irony that big cities are often lauded as epicenters for excitement. Despite being packed in like sardines, city-living might be leading people to feel lonelier than ever before.
Regardless of recent lockdown measures, Americans have been on a upward trajectory of loneliness since 2013. Then take into consideration how lockdowns changed everything for big city dwellers, like in this New York Times story about pandemic loneliness.
“New York City, where one million people live alone, was for two years an experiment in loneliness: nine million people siloed with smartphones and 24/7 home delivery, cut off from the places where they used to gather. Therapists were booked up, even as tens of thousands of New Yorkers were grieving for a best friend, a spouse, a partner, a parent,” wrote Metro reporter John Leland.
It’s already easy to get swallowed up by the hustle and bustle of the city, so I can sympathize with women who may feel like just another fish in a very big dating pond. For family-minded women, falling in love means settling down. Sure, that can involve adventure, but for the most part, that means finding stability and nesting.
Unfortunately for women looking to wed and have kids, living in cities might lead them to have worsened postpartum depression. Studies show that postpartum depression is more prevalent for city-dwelling women, but the exact reasons why are unclear. Some think it’s due to social isolation or a lack of social support, but either way it’s not necessarily peaches and cream birthing and raising a baby in the city.
Small Town Guys Scratch That Traditional Itch
It’s also worth recognizing that small town, masculine men tend to lean more conservative or libertarian in their values. The urban and rural political divide is a stark one, which political scientists and researchers have been observing grow stronger over the years. People in suburban and rural areas are more likely to want the government out of their lives and to value rugged individualism. They’re also more likely to think that society is better off if people prioritize getting married and having kids.
As such, the traditionally masculine archetypes which women see in a man and feel naturally drawn to are found in your small town guy. Though every small town guy won’t fit the bill to a tee, he’s more likely to engage in gentlemanlike behaviors and romantic gestures, stand for his values, and be reliable and ready to commit. The social conservatism of marriage is meant in the conservation sense of the term. You’re preserving a lasting social structure and you’re making a contribution toward the continuation of the nuclear family.
The sense of stability that strong, traditional marriage provides is best found in suburban and rural areas. In the Hallmark-style movies that follow this format, isn’t it interesting how the heroine’s life appears to get simpler in some ways when she leaves the big city? She can address emotional wounds, rediscover parts of herself she may have lost in the hustling madness, and engage in a happy amount of domesticity. It’s idealization for sure, and you don’t have to be larping barefoot and pregnant on a farm, but let’s be honest: Small town stories feel so good because there’s a heightened sense of comfort, community, and room for creativity.
Big cities or even living near major towns can make a woman feel like she’s constantly battling psychological warfare. She’s in traffic driving to and from her corporate job, she’s dealing with strangers in shops and the streets, and she has to be at the top of her game being mindful of her own safety. There’s never-ending noise from construction, cars tearing by and honking at one another, and people bustling from place to place. Is it any wonder why the idea of a small town romance is so enticing?
I get it, small towns can feel claustrophobic and the dating pool of men is more limited, but isn’t there a certain je ne sais quoi about escaping to a more quaint, stable life where you can tie the knot and nest to your heart’s content? Women feel drawn to this quintessential Hallmark storyline because it allows us to relish in the honest, unapologetic differences between femininity and masculinity, so if you’re growing tired of the trope, I’m sorry – don’t expect it to go anywhere anytime soon!
Don’t miss anything! Sign up for our weekly newsletter and get curated content weekly!