Romance novels get a bad rap. They’re accused of being “pure fantasy,” or giving women false expectations when it comes to real relationships. But I don’t think those accusations are completely fair, especially not in the inspirational and clean categories, and I’ll tell you why:
If the complaint is that romance novels show love being unrealistically easy, they couldn’t be more wrong. It takes an entire novel to get these two people together, and they have to overcome a lot of personal issues and external pressures in order to get there. Real life is actually a lot easier for some people: Boy meets girl, they date for 2.5 years, he finally proposes on her birthday over a nice dinner, and they plan their wedding for a year and a half in the future. Romance novels have the time span significantly shortened, but that doesn’t make it easy for the characters. If anything, the road to love is that much harder.
2. Real men really are as appealing as romance heroes…
Some worry is that women will want a fictional character over a real, flesh and blood man. What’s most appealing in a romance novel, however, is the connection between the characters, and that connection has nothing to do with him being an earl, a cowboy or a cop. The romantic tension is what makes a reader’s heart go pitter pat, and that romantic tension happens in real life, too. I have to say, on the writing side, romance novels have given me a new appreciation for my husband’s manliness. Things that might irritate me without the right perspective, make me realize how male he really is. Men talk a certain way–or don’t talk, for that matter. They express their desires a certain way. They have a lot going on under the surface that they don’t put into words. Writing a romance hero helps me to see the hero in my own man!
3. Romance novel tropes hide something deeper
The marriage of convenience, the amnesiac trying to put his life back together, the single mom who wants to do it on her own, the abandoned baby… Yes, these tropes are used over and over again, but they are used for a good reason–they go deeper into issues that readers care about. The marriage of convenience explores what makes a marriage work. Does community support make a difference? Does enforced time together make something deeper blossom? The amnesiac is a great way to explore who we really are when you strip away everything we’ve built up around us. What makes us loveable–our carefully constructed life, or something more elemental? Single moms can’t only think about themselves, and parenthood complicates a romantic relationship. How do you navigate love with kids in the mix? These tropes are used repeatedly because they hit upon our deepest desires and insecurities, and they let us get right into it without a lot of preamble.
Are romance novels fluffy and fun? Maybe! And why not? There is nothing wrong with some enjoyable reading. We do that in other literary forms, too. Fantasy is an elemental part of the reading experience, being whisked away to another life and another experience. But pure fantasy? Those are strong words. Love and relationships are alive, well and challenging in our real lives, too. And nobody–least of all a romance author!–said that love was easy.