As readers of romance, we are addicted to the “happily ever after”. The whole reason we keep reading the book is to get to that inevitable point and the more trials and tribulations the two protagonists go through, the better. It is an ancient literary device, and it is fun.
There is a problem though, and that occurs if the reader takes it too seriously, if they think that their reality needs to live up to same kind of standard set by the story on the page.
Many romances are full of talk about soul mates, about instant connections, about the characters having feelings for one another that they have never experienced before and never will again. Once they get together, all other people fade into the distance forever, their whole beings are forever transformed and they never look lustfully upon another person again (or at least for the rest of the novel). They find “the one” and through their newfound love, they experience the ultimate in emotional and sexual fulfilment. It simplifies the complexities of human relationships and provides an ideal that no real- life couple can ever live up to.
Falling in love is fun, being in love is fun, relationships can be very very fun, or not so much fun, depending on so many factors. Striving to meet impossible standards built up by years of reading soppy romance stories can potentially kill that fun. Don’t misunderstand me, it isn’t the book’s fault, it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is, a fiction.
Love is mysterious and impossible to define. I enjoy a good mystery, and love and attraction are the ultimate. We can try to rationalise why particular people makes us feel a certain way, but in the end, there is either a connection, a spark, or there isn’t. It doesn’t necessarily make sense, it is very rarely convenient, and it can change your life. The best romance novels acknowledge this. The best ones show the pain, the uncertainty, the doubt, the obsession, and, of course, if it happens (and it better!!) the sex. They also explore love outside the constraints of the traditional monogamous life-long partnership, and showing that love (and sex for that matter) can exist outside that paradigm, in all its glorious forms.
As for our cultural obsession with finding “the one” true love, what even is that? It means that we are all in one of three categories – that there is a soul mate waiting out there that we are yet to find, that we have met and somehow lost our soul mate, or that we are with our soul mate. The truth is obvious, there is no such thing as soul mates. The other fantasy that we are told, by some versions of the “happily ever after” tale, is that if we find the right person, our relationship will be easy because of love. Seriously, the truth is the opposite; relationships are hard because of love. They can, at times, hurt with an emotional pain far more intense than any physical pain a human can possibly experience. Love can be the most painful thing in the world, and a good romance writer knows that.
The best romance novels are the ones that give us a bit of a taste of reality. The ones that portray relationships aren’t perfect, the ones in which life gets in the way and dumps whole pile of shit on the characters, but they manage to get through it, somehow. Actually, you know what? That is hardly reality either, but it is the way we wish it could be, and that is what makes it worth reading.
I become easily bored with reading the same thing. I get sick of reading about young, perky, usually femme, stereotypically attractive women getting together. Snooze!!! I am NOT saying that we need more diverse representations of various types of women in books because it will “make a difference”, but I am saying that it does make for a more interesting read. Same goes for TV – I slept through “The L-Word” and I couldn’t connect with any of the characters in “Orange is the New Black” enough to really care what happened in the show. I have never seen a TV show featuring Lesbian characters that really impressed me, and though I have read a number of really good romances, many of which I intend to share with you on this blog, I am still looking for one that even comes close to expressing the true reality of love in all its various messy and, I suppose, indescribable forms. I suspect it is an impossible task, as it is a truly subjective experience.
So, If anyone has actually read this far through my rambling thoughts, please tell me, what do you think makes for a good romance novel? Can the reality of complicated emotions such as love be accurately described with language on a page?