I have a confession. For some of you it may be a big one, and for others it’s no biggie at all. But I feel like this secret has been weighing on me so much the past few years that I should get it all out in the open and in public.
Don’t worry: I didn’t commit a crime and I’m not bankrupt!
Here we go: for the past few years, I have become a voracious reader of ROMANCE. Ugh, so good to get that off my chest!
Yes, I’m talking about that multi-colored, swoon-worthy section of the bookstore with the broad chests and bodices that barely cover the regions of the body that matter to such a genre. Just one glance at my Kindle library might have you clutching your pearls.
Now, some of you may be thinking, oh my god girl that’s nothing. But those who know me know that I love to write fiction and I love to read fantasy and sci-fi most often, especially in the past when I used to trade paperbacks and follow these genres like the crazed fan that I was! (Live long and prosper, Jim Butcher). For others, I may be the last person you expected to jump willingly down this rabbit hole.
They say that your taste buds change every seven years. I can safely say that this saying applies to my reading habits as well.
Something shifted a few years ago, and I noticed that I started selecting books based not only on their adventurous plots, but at the prospect of the two leads becoming romantically involved. Nothing wrong with that, right? But as I got older, my curiosity had started to get the best of me. What if I read a book where the romance was the center of the plot?
This was also the time in my life when I was out of college, was working, and had time to date seriously. I had long held to the belief that romance books were trashy erotica for housewives or other bored women, something that had to be hidden from public view behind magazines and false book jackets.
Guys, I was wrong. I was SO wrong. But I’ve never been happier to be wrong. Until today, I was concerned about how I could express the benefits of reading romance, that culturally forbidden genre. I took a moment for some deep thought, and came up with a list of what reading romance has done for me and why it shouldn’t be a shameful thing to explore.
Romance helped me become more optimistic.
Let’s face it, this world can be a shitty place (especially in the past couple days). It doesn’t help that we’re also living in one of the most depressed populations in the world. We all have ways of coping and searching for that silver lining, and I’ll admit that I’ve been overwhelmed by feelings of loneliness, regret, and self-doubt. But since I picked up more romance novels, it helps to remind me that the world is not as disappointing as it seems. Many of these stories are circumstances of happenstance, but all of them are Shakespearean comedies: characters at a low point in their lives who are searching for meaning and connection, and end up finding love.
If you’ve ever seen the rom-com movie “He’s Just Not That Into You”, Ginnifer Goodwin’s character Gigi is constantly on the hunt for the perfect man to a comical degree. It’s not that she’s picky, she just struggles to find a guy that fits into her life. And when she finally finds that person in Justin Long’s character, he rejects her and calls her a fool for being naive about believing in “true love”. As a viewer I was all set to believe love was dead but instead of hanging her head, Gigi replied that in spite of all her romantic failures she would keep trying and would always be one step closer to finding love than he will ever be. It’s a powerful moment from a forgotten movie, but it left an impression on me during that awkward high-school-to-adulthood age.
Looking back on this scene was what catapulted me into trying romance novels: if I never picked it up, how would I know if I liked it? By understanding the plights of love that these characters are going through, it’s a constant reminder that my life is not hopeless and that I will always be one step closer to finding love.
Romance makes relationships look real. *gasp*
Nobody teaches you how to be a good partner, but a well-written romance novel can teach by example. There is also no such thing as a perfect relationship, and a romance novel is filled with nothing but the problems that the two leads face as a couple and as regular people. Even before they’re in a relationship, a romance novel can humanize them to you. You watch them struggle with being loyal, being a responsible adults, dealing with parents, in-laws, death, infidelity, starting over in a new city, trust, friendship, financial debt, running a business, expectations and I could go on and on and on.
Just like real life, romance novels are not filled with back-to-back sex scenes, as most may assume. Good romance writers intercut these moments of intimacy with moments of hardship, bringing characters together through that adversity. And that’s how it is in real life: understanding your partner through their struggles and helping them achieve personal growth without expectations. I don’t read that “50 Shades of Grey” bullshit, ok?
Romance lets you explore parts unknown.
Okay, I’ll admit: the sex scenes can be pretty steamy. Contrary to belief, they’re not all about describing the act itself. That’d be really boring. It’s all about the interplay of emotions that the characters are feeling in the moment. There’s a lot more drama and emotion in the story besides the sensations of sex, and as a reader it plays with all those funny chemicals in your brain.
Romance is also a safe space to explore fantasies, and it doesn’t require a monthly subscription to a website. You’ve probably read all the news articles of how couples engaged in more creative sex when the “50 Shades of Grey” hype train was well underway, and that’s no accident. In spite of that terrible book, these couples were inspired to reignite that flame with their partner and all it took was a few pages of text, and imagination took care of the rest. Reading about certain sex acts and play between two loving characters can be just as informative to your likes and dislikes as watching porn. Plus, it comes without the risk of someone accidentally walking in on you while a video is playing.
Romance can inspire you to get out there.
Digital killed the video star, and online dating is the hot thing to do now. We’ve never had access to more potential partners than now in history, and yet a majority of us are still sitting at home swiping instead of hitting the town with our friends or attending social gatherings. Now, I’m not saying digital dating is a bad thing. In fact, I’ve had two relationships that started with a dating app. But since I started reading romance, I’m less shy in public than I used to be. I learned that I can trust myself to be more conversational, that rarely will someone reject me outright when looking for simple conversation. We’re all a little lonely inside, so it’s okay to approach others and it’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t work out.
Romance can be cathartic.
Scrolling through my Kindle library, I can point out which books have made me cry. There’s only a few of them and they’re very special to me. But you may be surprised that most of them were romance novels. It’s because these books in particular connected with me on such a level that watching the characters go through their challenges was like going through my own release.
The most recent one that achieved this fountain of tears was about a character who realizes he’s in love with his friend, but is also still grieving his father’s death. There are supernatural elements at play as well as a mystery, but near the climax of the story he goes to purgatory and sees his father. The scene that unfolded was a son desperately begging to go with his father to the afterlife and his father denying him and sending him back to the real world. Having experienced losses in my own family tree, this scene broke me emotionally. These were emotions that I was still processing but reading this scene, and then watching the two leads unite over the enormity of this moment, gave me a sense of peace that I had been searching for.
I’ve come across romance novels that were fated to be with me at certain points of my life in the past few years. They’ve helped me overcome a lot of self-doubt, and I’ve become a more empathetic person. Even though they were fictional characters, I never felt that I was alone in my experiences and romantic failures.
Romance is hard to categorize…but that’s what makes it fun!
Never judge a book by it’s cover, they say. But I totally understand if you’re having doubts about purchasing books with half-dressed simpering maidens and brawny men on the covers.
The greatest joy I’ve found in this genre is that it’s not all historical romances and modern takes, like the shelves would have you believe. I’ve read some fantastic romance sci-fi, fantasy realism, ancient history, and westerns. As I’ve said before, these aren’t bodice-rippers and back-to-back horizontal gymnastics. Good romance writers make compelling stories and believable relationships that you can root for, by taking advantage of the environment, circumstances, and the decisions that characters make outside of the bedroom.
Read Outside the Box!
Thanks for reading this far, even if you may not agree with me. I just realized that I shouldn’t keep something that makes me happy bottled up inside me and my Kindle library, and wanted to share it with the world! If I have succeeded in convincing you to give romance a try, I implore you to check out eBooks online first. You have the safety of somewhat anonymity to browse through the genre and find something that interests you. Grab a sample and see if you like it.
I have become a lifelong fan of the genre and even follow certain writers on social media. I even reached out to a few of them for advice on writing, and they’ve all been the kindest people I’ve ever corresponded with.
Want to learn more about defense of romance? Check out this Washington Post article!