Why I Can't Stop Reading Romance Novels
It is February. Oh yes, people. It is that magical time of year where we all are forced to watch strangers passionately make out in public, and there’s nothing on your newsfeeds other than your friends passionately making out in public. Roses and teddy bears line every shelf of CVS, and like anyone else who is single, it can feel exhausting. Sometime last February, I pulled myself away from the torture of watching 27 Dresses for the third day in a row, and made my way over to one of my favorite places : the library. Sexy, I know.
On this day, I wasn’t looking for anything specific like I typically do. I was wandering around aimlessly looking for anything that caught my eye. Along the “New” section, I came across “The Wedding Date”, a romance novel by Jasmine Guillory I’d heard everyone talking about, but wasn’t particularly keen on reading myself. Rolling my eyes I picked it up off the shelf. This was the exact thing I’d come here to escape, yet here was the novel embodiment of love, red cover and all, mocking me and my singleness. Romance novels have never the best reputation in the literary world (because anything women like can’t be good, right). And I was admittedly avoiding anymore weepy romantic consumption. But something about this book called out to me. So I checked it out, figuring I’d see what the hype was all about and drag myself through it.
I read it in 24 hours. I was left in a complete pile of soppy sentimental mush. It had all the makings of a great rom com : the unrealistic meet cute, a sweet but kinda insecure protagonist, a leading man who wasn’t overbearingly macho or condescending,
miscommunication, and out of this world sexual chemistry (I mean, I was BLUSHING.)
But none of those things were the reason I couldn’t put this book down. It was because unlike the rom-com movies I love to hate-watch, it felt like I was kind of learning something along the way. About communication and perception and what I actually found sexy and what I didn’t. There’s something about the visualization of movies, where everyone is so perfect (and white), that it’s not ever something I could learn from. It was a starting point for figuring out exactly what romance meant to me. And I needed to know more.
Thus began my deep dive into contemporary romance novels. From the latest Reese Witherspoon book club recommendations, to the old beat up erotic ones we’re all too embarrassed to read in public, I consumed these novels like I was starving for water in the desert.
Of course, they’re all different. Some are bad, but honestly, bad in that way that’s still somehow good and leaves you with the aching feeling of wanting more. It was literature that I had never considered could teach me something or expand my ways of thinking.
Through these books, I was really able to pick up on what I actually thought love looked like, and how it looked so different for different people. My life isn’t made up of whirlwind romances, but it is made up of messy and complicated relationships which many of them honed in on quite accurately. It gave me time to reflect on what my love story would sound like. I heard myself in many of the conversations I read. How valid (or with hindsight, how wrong) I may have been in some situations. How the other side of my argument sounded to someone else. For some, there were love interests who I thought were repulsive, misogynistic assholes. There were romantic gestures that made me want to throw up. Fights I knew I could never look past. But it also showed me how much value I placed on characters who showed their partners mutual respect. How upfront communication actually makes me quite nervous and that I might be kinda bad at it. That there is maybe nothing I find more attractive in a person than consistency (nothing worse than a leading man who only wants the girl when she finds someone else). It gave me the opportunity to question what genuine connection sounded like to me, in direct comparison to what I was reading.
As someone who knows next to nothing about love, I wasn’t expecting to be so enraptured with romance novels. In real life, love can be messy and ugly and I expected that romance novels were these fantasies of what we can’t really have. There is no guaranteed happy ending, big weepy emotional kisses in the rain, or declarations of love at the airport. It’s painful, with no guarantee that the effort put in will amount to anything. Being able to live in this universe, where these two people could have their happily ever even after going through some real shit, gave me faith that you can still find love even in this overly complicated real world.
I’m not saying that reading romance is going to make you the Dr. Phil of relationships, because it won’t. They are still for the most part, candy to feed the part of yourself that wants to believe that love can be simple and perfect which it never will be. And as much as we all pretend that the concept of love in film, movies, books is always so overrated or cheesy, there’s a reason the genre never goes away. It’s a persistent constant in all of the content we consume, the thing that everyone since the beginning of time has been looking for.
But it might reveal some truths about yourself and about the way you think of love. And if not, at least it’ll leave you feeling warm, and fuzzy, and like love maybe could exist this Valentine’s Day.