The problem with romance novels

{by Mary of Giving Up on Perfect}

We sat shoulder to shoulder in a tiny dorm room around a tiny TV, watching one of our favorite movies. Just as Johnny marched over to Baby and pulled her out of the corner, our friend Jared walked in the room.

As he took in the room, looking from one girl to the next . . . to the next . . . to the next, he said, “What is wrong with you guys?”

Blinking, we looked up at him and realization dawned. Every single one of us was staring at the screen with a [ridiculous] dreamy look in our eyes. It was like we were in a trance.

The same kind of romance trance I slip into when I read romance novels.

The kind where my eyes glaze over and I forget that what I’m reading is make-believe. It might be grown-up make-believe, but it’s no closer to real life than the magic fairies and flying carpets my daughter sees in Disney movies.

For most of my life, I prided myself on being “a romantic.” I dreamed of receiving gigantic bouquets of roses and daisies, song lyrics made me melt, and I pretended to adore Shakespeare. I ate up any hint of love – or what I thought was love.

But surely it must be! After all, my boyfriend – who eventually became my husband – gave me roses. And wrote sweet letters that included lyrics from our favorite songs. And endured a Shakespeare play amidst mosquitoes and humidity.

The problem is that romance novels (and romantic comedies . . . and fairy tales in general) don’t tell you the rest of the story.

First of all, most relationships don’t follow such a wild path, from meet cute to starry-eyed, tingling toes dates to dramatic tear-them-apart situation to brave, bold, courageous move from The Hero to heart-stopping kiss . . . and fade to black.

Sometimes, you just meet a guy and think he’s all right. Sometimes, you don’t necessarily have the hots for him right away, but he’s got a car and nobody else is asking you out. Sometimes you go on predictable dates and have uninspired conversations with a startling lack of clever quips.

That’s what my first (and only) romance looked like. So you know what I did? I created drama.

I overreacted to every slight and insult. I prolonged misunderstandings and vowed to make him pay for every twinge of hurt I felt. I sobbed while listening to “How Do I Live Without You” and wrote flowery letters professing my undying love until my hand cramped.

Honestly, I deserved to be dumped. But I lucked out. Mark either didn’t know any better or just overlooked my craziness. Because despite my adolescent behavior (for the record, I was an adolescent), he married me.

And that’s where the love story ends, right?

Not exactly. Even though, while you’re spending every waking (and some sleeping) second planning the most beautiful, special, wonderful wedding EVER, it seems like the wedding is the goal, it’s not.

It’s just the beginning of a true love story.

Unfortunately, I didn’t know anything about true love. I didn’t know about compromise and respect and trust and forgiveness. I knew about flowers and chocolates and surprise dates and grand gestures.

Imagine my surprise when married life wasn’t an endless parade of love notes and slow dances and secret getaways. Imagine my disappointment when marriage wasn’t what I expected, wasn’t what I hoped for, wasn’t what I deserved.

SCREECH! {That’s the sound effect for tires squealing.} Hold on! Why did I think I deserved such lavish and loving treatment?

Here’s why: a lifelong diet of romance novels (with a side of feminist influences and a mostly doting boyfriend) had led me to believe that I could behave however I wanted to and still get everything I wanted in return.

I developed a classic case of He needs to change. He’s the problem. I deserve better.

Now, I’m not saying my husband is or was perfect. But had I spent more time showing him love and respect, and less time coming up with reason why he didn’t deserve those things as much as I did, I might have enjoyed the first several years of our marriage more.

My grasp on reality and perspective on love didn’t change overnight. I started realizing maybe I’d had some things wrong when we visited a marriage counselor a few times. And things looked different after we watched several of our couple friends go through divorce. Of course, having a child changes a lot of people, and it certainly changed us.

And now, I have no desire to read a romance novel.

Haha! Just kidding. That’s not true. I still enjoy romance. Most the books I read these days – at least the fiction – are mysteries with a romantic aspect. And you probably won’t ever rip me away from watching Sleepless in Seattle or even The Wedding Planner on cable.

But I read and watch those things with a grain of salt now. Or, as my patient husband says, with a salt lick.

Because the love described in romance novels isn’t real. And it can be dangerous if you start believing that’s how things ought to be.

And that is the problem with romance novels.

Mary writes with heart at Giving Up On Perfect
She’s a contributor at (in)courage
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Featured by Story Editor Robin Dance | @PensieveRobin

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7 Comments to “The problem with romance novels”

  1. Jendi says:

    Yesterday was my 13th wedding anniversary and I quite agree with you! I was blessed to grow up in an environment that taught me being in love is much different than loving each other. I do love chick flicks and christian fiction, but I know that they are an escape for me and not reality – kind of like having a maid clean the hotel room – it’s not gonna happen every day. My idea of romance and love has changed as well. Taking out the trash every week isn’t usually portrayed in movies, but it’s one way my man shows his love for me and that gives it an aspect of romance. :)

    I’d like to tentatively mention one more thing – I read Fascinating Womanhood by Helen Andelin early in my marriage. While it made me mad at first – I kept reading and ended up with a lot to think about. I believe reading that book helped me and my marriage.
    Jendi recently posted..Sunday Quote On Reading The Bible

  2. SO many women put SO much emphasis on “romance”. Its like they set themselves up for disappointment…I’ve watched friends complain cuz their boyfriend/spouse doesn’t ever take them out for a romantic dinner, or a romantic evening, or that they never send them flowers… But the thing about REAL romance? Is that its a fleeting moment between two people who have a real connection… Its not going to last an entire evening, or a month or your entire relationship. But if you’re lucky enough to find the right person, you’ll still get those little glances from across the room that mean he’s thinking about you, or the little snack he went out of his way to get you cuz he knows you like it. In the mean time I say that instead of a “romantic dinner”, go out and do something fun that you both enjoy doing together. And while you’re laughing and actually having fun in each other’s company you might just get that unexpected kiss that takes your breath away. :)
    Colleen – Mommy Always Wins recently posted..Wordless Wednesday- Fearless

  3. Robin Dance says:

    There's a problem with romance novels??? Interesting perspective from @MaryCarver at @Storybleed today: Chime in!

  4. RT @PensieveRobin: There's a problem with romance novels?Interesting perspective from @MaryCarver at @Storybleed today:

  5. Jessie says:

    The problem with romance novels | Story Bleed Magazine via @storybleed

  6. The problem with romance novels

  7. elijah says:

    Once in my life I have been addicted to romance novel..and bleeds…it makes you cry…it make you think of the story in different makes you fall in love…
    elijah recently posted..How to Deal With A Narcissist