Every month or so, there’s an author or blogger or journalist making news by putting romance stories down. “They’re formulaic!” they say.
Uh-huh, and other genres don’t follow a formula? Mysteries regularly end with the mystery unsolved, do they? Or thrillers end with the terrorist’s plot succeeding? No? All righty then…
“They’re unrealistic!” they say. Well, sure, no one would claim marrying a vampire, sheikh, billionaire, or Lord is likely to happen. But then again, plenty of other genres contain unrealistic plot elements too.
Oh, wait… That’s not what “they” meant by unrealistic.
“They give women unrealistic expectations!” they say. Right. Because “they” believe grown women have never matured past the point of thinking they were Disney Princesses? Or is it that “they” think women are too stupid to realize that vampires, sheikhs, billionaires, or Lords aren’t any more available than Princes? How insulting.
No, too often “they” think romances are unrealistic because they end with love and a Happily Ever After. How is that unrealistic?
Do they think true love isn’t possible? Do they think love can’t be fulfilling enough to last? Do they think love isn’t, in fact, powerful enough to conquer obstacles and lead to happiness?
Now that… That’s just sad.
What Romance Stories Really Say
The message behind modern romances is that everyone—no matter our gender, race, ability level, flaws, beauty, brokenness, etc.—has the potential to find, give, and receive love. For those not in a good, healthy relationship, romance stories give hope that even someone like them deserves love. For those already in a good, healthy relationship, romance stories give reminders to appreciate the love they enjoy.
I’ve learned to ignore the naysayers because they don’t know what they’re talking about. A couple of days ago, Kassandra Lamb blogged about the misleading statistics of divorce rates.
I’m not a math person, so I won’t even pretend to understand what her numbers mean. But her point (and the point of the studies she links to) is that there are far fewer divorces than we assume (closer to a quarter or a third than to a half of all marriages).
The eagerness the media and we as a society have to proclaim love and marriage as “a dead end” or “too hard and likely to end in failure” does us all a disservice. Just as it does us a disservice to proclaim romance stories unrealistic.
Yes, this. Those are the expectations a woman might walk away with from reading a romance. Are those unrealistic?
Absolutely not. I personally know too many people who have exactly that in their real life to think it’s not possible—to think it fluffy, stupid, immature fantasy.
It’s disrespectful to call their real life situations a fantasy, as though they didn’t work damn hard for that happiness. We need to respect when things go right in relationships and not just spout inaccurate statistics that lead people to think that it’s just too hard to bother fighting for happiness.
Can Love Conquer All?
I won’t claim that love can conquer all because “all” encompasses an awful lot. Everything, in fact. *smile* And love probably couldn’t conquer things like our sun going supernova and the like. *grin*
But from my parents’ experience, I know for a fact what love can conquer. In honor of Valentine’s Day, let me share a bit about how my parents’ relationship started…
- My mom and her serious boyfriend had just “sort of” broken up when my dad walked into her life. (So right away, they’re falling into the “rebound” category. They’re doomed, right?)
- My dad wasn’t looking for a serious girlfriend because he was getting ready to move. (Yep, “not looking” and a long distance relationship if it does continue. Definitely doomed.)
- My dad leaves, comes back for a visit a couple of months later, and my mom gets pregnant. Cue the shotgun wedding. (Doomed or shot—maybe both.)
- My mom moves to be with this guy she barely knows, away from her family, friends, and all support for the first time in her life, is pregnant, and doesn’t even know how to boil water. (Gah! This sounds more like a horror movie waiting to happen than a romance novel.)
- They’re dirt-poor, and I mean that literally. Their kitchen floor actually used dirt in part. (Okay, now they’re just piling on. This can’t be real, right?)
- Every nightmare you can imagine about rats, bees, fire ants, cockroaches the size of your hand, maggots, dangerous reptiles, etc. comes true while they’re living in their little backwater shack. (In other words, my mom could qualify as “Too Stupid To Live” for not just screaming “uncle” and heading back to her parents.)
So how does this not-so-romantic story end? As I mentioned on Facebook, nearing 50 years later, this was the card my dad gave my mom a couple weeks ago:
Say it with me… Aww! *smile*
Was it easy? Nope. My dad worked two full-time jobs until I was a teen, and there were times I thought for sure they’d get a divorce.
But they persevered, they compromised, they sacrificed, they overcame, they conquered… They loved. And they still love.
What gave them the power, the determination, the very idea that their problems could be overcome? Love.
Love gave them the strength to not give in when it would have been easier to throw in the towel. Love conquered all those horror stories. They made a choice to love, and every day they keep making the choices that create their happily ever after.
Happiness Deserves Respect
Romance novels and all forms of love are too often denigrated for being formulaic, trite, and generic. As though hardship and suffering are more noble than happiness.
We see similar issues with pessimists being thought of as realists and optimists being thought of as willfully stupid or blind. It’s easy to see the suffering in the world. It’s easy to be a cynic. It takes determination and hard work to focus beyond the obvious.
Courtney Milan has a brilliant rant about the stigma of happiness (emphasis mine):
“It’s easy to wallow in misery. Anyone can do it. Everyone has. It’s hard to do something about it…
I wonder what world these people live in, where they think that throwing up one’s hands and saying, “Oh, well, life is just one unending bitter cup of misery, and then you have to pay taxes on your deathbed,” is somehow hard and worthy and nonformulaic.
No, guys. Getting up off your duff and finding some kind of sweetener to add to that bitter cup of woe? That’s hard. Walking away from something that doesn’t work? That’s easy. Anyone can walk away. It takes a real hero to stick around and try to make things better. It is a thousand times harder to solve problems than create them, and dismissing the triumph of victory trivializes the hard work and heroism that every happy person puts into being happy.”
Happiness is hard work. It would have been so much easier for my parents to walk away from each other. For my mom to throw up her hands, for my dad to not be the rock in her life.
We see this in our stories all the time. Our characters give up at the Black Moment because it’s easier. They have to make a choice to work harder in the final Act, and only then do they have a chance at success and happiness.
Romance novel writers have to make the Happily Ever After ending seem impossible. And then they have to show their characters overcoming everything and doing the impossible. Finding a way to solve the characters’ situation—that’s hard. Romance writing only looks easy because of the “happy equals easy” assumptions from society.
Life is the same way. Every single happy situation, every happy relationship, every happy family, had to overcome their own obstacles. There was no cheat sheet for how they could conquer their unique situation.
We don’t even need a cheat sheet for how to wallow and be miserable. Yet somehow happiness is seen as easier? And stories about overcoming obstacles to reach that point of happiness are seen as shallow?
So on this Valentine’s Day, I celebrate love. I celebrate romance. I celebrate those who have put in the hard work to be happy. And for those haven’t reached that happy place yet, might I recommend reading a romance novel for encouragement? *smile*
P.S. In case it needs stating, not all relationships are healthy and deserve to be fought for, and some books depict abusive situations and don’t deserve the romance label. This post is not about those exceptions.
Do you think romance novels create unrealistic expectations? How so? Do you have any stories of how love has conquered obstacles? Do you think happiness and the hard work that goes into creating it are disrespected? If so, why do you think that is? Do you want to add any points to this rant? *grin*Pin It