How romance novels ruined me

I discovered romance novels before I discovered dating. I’m not sure I even understood the concept of “dating” when I read my first romance. I knew people got married. How they got to that point was a bit of a mystery. It still is, to tell the truth.

Once dating was on the table, however, I’ll admit I went in to it with some unrealistic expectations thanks to Harlequin and Avon. Where were my flowers? My chocolates? My billionaire-in-disguise who saved homeless children while developing the cure for cancer and negotiating peace in war torn countries in their spare time? And don’t forget the virginal ingénue waiting to be saved…well…from a life of virginity. Let’s face it – not only did my penchant for romance novels set me up for disappointment, it created an ideal no real person could live up to.

Luckily romance novels have evolved a bit. At least where the virginal ingénue is concerned. You don’t read many modern day romances where the heroine is a virgin and she’s just as often to start the romance journey firmly in the “I-don’t-need-or-want-a-man” category.

Our heroes still tend to be very alpha-centric and favor the independently wealthy. They have flaws, though even those tend to be the kind that make you go, “Awwww isn’t that cute?” They aren’t leaving the toilet seat up or ignoring the garbage piled up in the corner. They aren’t closet alcoholics and porn addicts. They aren’t apathetic about what to do on a date night. Can you imagine this conversation between our H/H in a romance novel?

Her: Our work schedules have been really hectic, what with you saving the world and me fighting for peace, justice and the American way. What do you want to do on our date night tomorrow?

Him: I don’t care. Just don’t make me wear a tie. Or listen to opera. Or attend your great-great-grandmother’s 93rd birthday party. Or go to dinner with your mom at a restaurant with cloth napkins. Or even paper napkins.

Doesn’t do much for the romance does it? But it does harken to reality sadly.

I don’t mean to dis on the guys. Real life date night is just as likely to go this way:

Him: Date night, darling! How about we order in and spend the night exploring each other’s bodies.

Her: Drop anchor, Columbus. I have headache.

Real life is complicated and messy and hardly a romance novel, and while I get that romance novels are meant to be an escape, I think they can be dangerous to our expectation of what romance really is. Romance is what weaves together the realities of life. It’s usually captured in stolen moments. It’s often too brief. It’s often sacrificed at the altar of soccer games and ballet practice and midnight shifts and unexpected car repairs.

The novels that do tend to show this messier side of life either 1) aren’t a romance or 2) aren’t well received by readers.

In my first book, Sex and Insensibility, I have my hero suddenly playing daddy to three kids. I don’t play it up as much as I would have liked because of reason number two above, but I hope I show that romance is still possible, even necessary, when life gets complicated. This is one of my favorite scenes.

Will had never felt like crying so much in his life. “Malice, honey, please,” he begged his niece, who stood forlornly in front of the two doors to the diner’s restrooms. She bounced from foot to foot, doing what could only be called the pee-pee dance and shaking her head vigorously. “I can’t go in there with you. You can come with me in the men’s room, but I can’t go in the ladies’ room.”

“Need some help?”

Will looked up to see Lara peeking around the corner and, except when she was naked, couldn’t think of a more welcome sight.

Life is not perfect. Neither is romance. What makes it perfect are the two people who decide to accept the good and bad, the ups and downs and all the in-betweens.

That’s a romance I’d like to read more of.




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