Or Romantic Comedies, for that matter…
This Sunday, I watched a romantic comedy because the TV was on and I was too lazy to get off the couch and turn it off. Hugh Grant starred as a bumbling art auctioneer who fell in love with the daughter of a mob kingpin. Before I knew it, people were staging a wedding and faking their deaths, and I was thanking God that life isn’t like romantic comedies.
When I was a teenager I’d haul romances out of the library by the stack. Now I’d rather read the Encyclopedia Britannica or Crime and Punishment (which is both a crime and a punishment). The movie got me thinking: what about romance novels ticks me off the most?
1. Perfection Beyond that of Mortals
Not ALL of us can fall in love with a ripped highlander who has flowing blond hair, or a gorgeous billionaire businessman, or a cowboy with abs that roll like the prairies. Where is the hero who lives in his mom’s basement and plays four hours of video games every day (in the real world you can hardly move without meeting one of those)? How about the guy who’s working his butt off to pay off his student loan? And the only man with an average face and a slight potbelly is the hero’s best friend.
Not ALL of us ladies have a cataract of black curls, lips like spun scarlet silk (Listen to me. I’ll make a romance novelist yet) and work as marketing executives, fashion designers and fitness trainers. When will they write romances with women who drive beater cars, waitress on weekends to pay the bills, and wear Wal-Mart jeans? What about a girl who carries extra pounds with grace and doesn’t let her weight stop her from looking gorgeous?
Sidebar: I’ve yet to see a romance novel with a hipster man on the cover. Have you?
2. The Ultimate Betrayal
You know it’s coming. The highlander is from the wrong clan, a sworn enemy. The billionaire is caught with another woman. The cowboy succumbs to the scars of his past and pushes his cowgirl away.
Will the heroine give her man the benefit of the doubt?
Will they talk it out like mature human beings? Will they communicate so that the billionaire can explain that he was just taking his sister out to lunch, and they hadn’t seen each other in weeks so he was giving her a hug?
That would be too easy.
For all their professions of true love, trust isn’t a priority in romance novels or movies. “Love” will conquer the two hundred lies they’ve told each other. Love will magically make their clan rivalries disappear. True love conquers all.
Well, yes. But true love means hard work, baby. To love someone means to accept their big bad flaws and serve them and edify them even when you’re pretty sure you hate them. Storming off stage and plotting crazy revenge doesn’t come in to play.
3. The Sex
I’ve got to say it. I hate, HATE the sex scenes. Call me a prude if you will. I read mostly Christian fiction as a youngster, but I stumbled upon my first mainstream romance novel when I was young—eleven or twelve, I think. It didn’t take long for me to find the obligatory steamy scene. I can still remember it in vivid detail.
If I’d been an adult, would it have been better?
I don’t want my real, human, lover to have to compete with a hundred fictional highlanders, billionaires and cowboys. I’m no expert, but wise people have told me that, like anything else, intimacy takes work. It’s not mind-blowing the first time. But that’s not what the romance novel will teach you.
Those scenes feed our selfish desires and fantasies. They’re porn in written form.
“Oh, but it advances the plot.” Okay, I’ll give you that. Generally I’ll accept small amounts of sexual content because they are necessary to the plot.
But play by play in meticulous detail? Absolutely unnecessary! Entire books devoted to ‘erotica’? I don’t see how any good can come from that.
The rational mind knows the difference between fiction and fact, but the subconscious believes what it sees or projects upon the screen of the imagination. Though I thought they were just ‘harmless entertainment,’ the stacks of romances changed how I thought of love, myself, and men–and not for the better. In spite of years of reading and studying healthy relationships, I still haven’t expunged them from my brain.
I Still Love Romance
Ultimately, what makes me angry about these romance novels is the ‘something for nothing’ mentality. They give the idea that love is an accident. You ‘fall’ in love, and bam! Fireworks! Happily ever after!
It would be hypocritical to say that I hate romance. On the contrary. I can’t write a story without it. But I’ve tried to build two things into my stories: sacrifice and uncertainty. What begins in attraction progresses to shared experiences, setting aside pride, conquering fears, and putting the other person above their own comfort. There is no perfect circumstance. Life is not fair, and at the end of the story, the characters are not riding off into the sunset. They’re standing side by side, staring into the face of the next storm.
I’ve got no judgement for you if you love romance novels. I believe humans (ladies, especially) are hardwired to enjoy a good love story. Just ask yourself. Is this story really good?