Unhappily Ever After?

With the memory of another Valentine’s Day slowing fading, this is a good time to consider the possible effects that romance novels may be having on our perceptions of reality as human beings. A romance novel is a literary genre rooted in the western culture of English-speaking countries. These novels place their primary focus on the romantic attraction and resulting relationship between two people, which must have an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”

The basic theme is about man meeting woman. Or, sometimes the romance is between same sex partners. They fall in love and inevitably discord enters the picture to drive them apart. After a series of misunderstandings, love conquers all and they are reunited, with the implication of living happily ever
after.

Bestselling author Nora Roberts sums up the genre, saying: “The books are about the celebration of falling in love and emotion and commitment and all of those things we really want.” It might surprise many, but the romantic genre is big business. Over 50 million women in the United States alone read romance fiction. In North America, romance novels are the most popular genre in modern literature, comprising almost 55% of all paperback books sold in 2010. This is more than
literary fiction and mystery thrillers. The genre is also popular in Europe and Australia and romance novels appear in 90 languages.

The modern romance genre first appeared in 1972 with publication of Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower, the first single-title romance novel to be published as an original paperback.  The genre boomed in the two decades which followed with the “bodice rippers” novels featuring barechested, swashbuckling heroes and voluptuous heroines driven by the madness of uncontrollable passion. Thankfully contemporary romance novels with more realistic plots have replaced the dramatic excesses of the “ bodice rippers” most of which reflected a quaint Victorian perspective of courtship and love.

In the past ten years, African American romances have established a firm foothold in the everexpanding contemporary romance market with writers such as JS Hawley, Donan Hill, Brenda Jackson and Candice Poarch among hundreds of others. Hispanic and Asian romantic fiction books have also begun making significant inroads in the worldwide romance market as well.

From all indications, the romance novel is alive and doing well today among women (and some men) of all backgrounds. But why do some romance addicts fantasize about idealized partners with unrealistic traits? Partners who are sensitive nurturers, with supermodel looks, deep pockets, the energy of the Energizer Bunny, high triple digit IQ’s and the altruism of Mother Theresa all rolled into one.  Could it be the excess drabness in our mundane daily lives that leaves us longing for an archetype with semi-divine qualities? Maybe it is the blurring or recasting of traditional male and female roles over time that leaves us confused and feeling incomplete? Do we try to compensate by adopting unrealistic romance novel-manufactured expectations of partners?

One wonders, exactly how much does exposure to saccharine romances influence people in having unrealistically high expectations in their romantic relationships?

Are some of us perpetual heroines or romance chasers, conditioned by the “bodice ripper” era, who cannot identify the different phases of love because of our dysfunctional beliefs? Do we yearn only for the heady, hormone-driven euphoria of the first phase, when the attraction is new and exciting? Are we grounded enough to understand that this cycle must inevitably end and love will change its expression during other phases of growth?

If some of us are unrealistic in our romantic ideals, then what role do romantic novels play in moulding our expectations? Without a doubt, the themes of romance novels are influencing the thoughts and perceptions of millions of readers around the world making them a powerful programming medium for unsuspecting minds.

Maybe it is time to take a second look at ourselves and how we impose our romance novel conditioned reality on our significant others. We may be straining our relationships in vain and placing unnecessarily heavy emotional burdens on those we claim to love. A little honest introspection might give each person the nudge he/she needs to dig deeper into a fuller self awareness. Sometimes couples can feel stuck in trying to achieve this deeper understanding of the motivations that are shaping their relationship in ways that are no longer healthy. Before it gets to a breaking point, it is a positive and proactive step to reach out to others so talking to a professional counsellor or therapist could be helpful.

2018-11-30T03:14:51+00:00