Of the many lies and deceptions promulgated by the genre of romantic comedy (the charm of Hugh Grant, the coolness of stalking) none have been as insidious as the morning makeout sesh. Any rom-com lover can point to an endless reel of scenes wherein lovers awake to a warm morning light, roll over straight from deep sleep and begin sucking face. Perhaps the couple stare into each the eyes briefly and with profundity. And then suck face. Whatever minor adjustments are made, in each of those moments, we — the viewer — stare incredulously at the screen, unable to ignore the truth: their breath must be awful.
Morning breath, also called buffalo breath, is the result of a nighttime of nocturnal microbial activity within the closed system of your mouth cavity. When you sleep, your saliva sleeps too. Saliva is, of course the great washer away of volatile sulfur compounds, so-called VSCs, which are responsible for terrible terrible breath. But you never see Meg Ryan talking about VSCs in the morning or Sam Claflin giving his pearly whites a good scrub before open-mouth kissing in the dawn. Claire and Jamie Fraser never once discuss haliotis in “Outlander” and that’s crazy because dental hygiene was even worse back in the days of the Jacobin revolution.
I suppose there are clear reasons why this convenient untruth is reinforced. Feature films tend to be between 95 to 125 minutes long. Within that period, a couple must meet, fall in love, have some crisis and then make up. Proper brushing lasts anywhere between two to three minutes and that is not even including flossing. So the brisk travel through major plot points all but precludes any cinema verité dental hygiene sequence, akin to the famous frittata scene in “The Big Night.”
There are other peculiar barriers to a proper dental hygiene ritual in romantic comedies. (Though, morning breath is often inevitable, whether one brushes or not.) And that is that most romantic comedies focus on the beginning stages of a relationship. Anyone in a long term relationship can immediately ascertain why. It is the fun before the slog.
But what that means, besides delightful contretemps and the frisson of new love, is that it would be unlikely the toothbrush of either protagonist would be on the premises of the other. And to have an extra toothbrush by one’s sink, just in case one falls into bed unexpectedly, is one of those reasonable details that can’t help be analyzed as strange. Sort of like when you walk into your therapist’s office and the Georgia O’Keeffe painting is crooked every time. Adjusting it, as you must, you can’t help but feel the clinical gaze of your shrink. Right?
But while I understand why the truth is inconvenient, the real-life effects remain insidious. For the fruit of thinking that making out in the morning without first brushing one’s teeth, an erroneous thought instilled by very attractive people doing it on the reg, is bitter disappointment when one tries it at home. Of course, if one is looking toward romantic comedies as a template for a true relationship, there are probably other more profound problems at work. But unlike, say, cultivating a friendship with an annoyingly quirky sidekick or running through an airport after a late-in-the-game change d’avis, waking up together is something that happens almost every day. And so that chance to try such a misguided display of affection, to go morning-breath-to-morning-breath, is ample to the point of inescapable.
Yet I suppose if one can take anything true from the genre, it is that love is resilient. That doesn’t mean, in this case, one should subject one’s beloved to gross morning breath but that one’s beloved can wait the five minutes it takes to get rid of it.