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Written by:
Wendi Friend

Romance novels… my mother lives on them. I can’t stand them.

When I first started considering writing as a career, due to my mother’s influence, I was under the impression that romance novels were the way to go. But then I read a few, and a few more, and was left with this hollow pit in my core and a sour taste of acid bubbling up from my throat.

Regardless of my reaction to reading them, the fact can’t be denied that romance sells like hotcakes. Women love this stuff… they gobble it up in huge doses and swallow it down with horny glee. Romance novels are the equivalent of soft porn designed for the woman’s libido. Cometh hither, Fabio!

It’s not difficult to find a group of women chattering about their favorite romance author, or the latest best seller, or the newest release. It’s an addiction… gotta have it. Get a book club membership. Become best friends with the librarian. It’s an addiction, an addiction to romance, an addiction to a fairy tale world that doesn’t exist, and in my opinion, is the cause of much un-due stress and unhappiness. How can something so seemingly fulfilling leave a person feeling so empty?

I’ve thought about this long and hard, and as a result, I refuse to read or write novels based solely on romance.

Let me begin at the opposite end of the spectrum and state what I feel works about romance novels.

Romance novels are extremely flowery with delicious words, and the deliciously flowery words are planted in a plush garden of daydreams and fanciful whims. The settings are exotic and described in such vivid detail that they provide the perfect escape from reality, which any “good book” should do. No problems there.

Women deserve an escape. Women deserve to experience exotic locations and, even if through character relation, women deserve (need) to feel sexy and adored; nothing wrong with that. Romance novels are portrayed with such detailed accounts of character and setting that the reader really doesn’t have to stretch themselves at all in order to envision themselves in the plot. That’s just good writing! So what’s the problem?

The problem, in my opinion, is the ability to separate fact from fiction.

I can’t speak for all women or all romance novels, so I won’t even try. However, I will account for my own experiences, which are responsible for my opinions.

I used to enjoy romance novels. Nothing makes a 6-hour plane ride fly by faster than a scrumptious tale of a remarkably chiseled Viking man, with a body to die for, who mysteriously travels through time by way of his sword, discovered centuries later by a beautiful, intelligent, young, modern-day female scientist who just happens to be void of love, passion, and intrigue.

There’s nothing more enchanting than a magical faerie male, quick-witted and sharp tongued, sleek and slick with charisma, who shows up to comfort and challenge a lost damsel in distress who traveled to Ireland to discover her roots. Oh, his charms! Oh, her desires! It’s a perfect match and a sizzling way to burn away time that would otherwise be spent in boredom or depression. So I read. I discovered my favorite romance authors and sought them out the way a starving cat scrounges for scraps. But then, I discovered a trend.

In my opinion, a good book is one that, when you close its end cover, having eagerly lapped up every word, makes you feel fuller in some way… like you’ve gained something, or like you’ve grown in some way. Finishing a good book should feel to the soul the way finishing a good meal feels to the tummy. Romance novels had the opposite effect on me, and each time I’d close the paperback snack, I’d feel like something was lacking,

Now why can’t I have a love like that? Where is my Mr. Right?

When I was single, these feelings weren’t as devastating as they were when I was married. When single, I could hold out the hope that Prince Charming would soon swoop in on his sexy steed, sweep me off my feet, and have me swooning over his every breath. And, when scanning the market for men, it was so easy to go, “Nope, not it. Not it. Not it… Next!” But then heaven have mercy on the soul with a penis who had even a hint of romance in his being. “He MUST be it! He knows romance!” It must be love!

Wedding bells (just like the fairy tale).

Well, the problem with reading romance novels when in an existing relationship is that when the book was done, I’d close the cover and begin to subconsciously compare my real life romance with the fiction I’d just stuffed myself with. The character in the book was so perfect, so smart, so witty, so creative, so sexy, and so well-built… and for goodness sakes, he never blew his nose, farted, got fat, went bald, or snored! Surely, then, I married the wrong character!

Before I’d read the romance novel, my husband (now an ex) seemed next to perfect. After I read the romance, he seemed listless and dull. Without realizing it, I began putting unreasonable expectations on my relationship by constantly dreaming of “the perfect man”.

Women, in my understanding of them, consciously know that what they’re reading is fiction, but subconsciously, they fall in love with these perfect characters and begin to feel dissatisfied in their own lives when comparing their facts to their fiction.

Observation: Most of the women I’ve encountered personally who suffer from extreme depression or dissatisfaction are the women who fill their time, minds, and hearts, with the unrealistic fantasy of “perfect romance” by reading love stories that they hope will become a reality. What’s worse is that in many cases, the women don’t stop believing in “the perfect man”. Instead, they stop believing in their own worth or beauty, or their own ability to attract such a mate. Of course, then they drive themselves mad with the ideas of the perfect female character… if I could just lose 20 pounds, if I just had bigger breasts, then I’d be lovable.

Romance has its place and its value. I don’t discredit the need for romance, or its popularity. However, I don’t believe a novel should be based on romance alone.

I don’t have a single complaint about the way romance novels are written – and they do provide a certain appeal in the way of escapism and fantasy, but in my opinion, they lack true substance and leave the reader feeling empty rather than fulfilled when the story concludes with its unrealistic and inevitable “Happily Ever After.”

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