Are romance novels really romantic?
Lately, books have been leaving me more confused about life than helping me to seek clarity. But I guess that is more of a sign of growth than anything.
The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams has a premise I enjoy very much on the surface: a bunch of dudes sitting around reading romance in order to figure out what the women in their lives actually feel. How guys in real life haven’t figured this out by now is a mystery to me.
And then I started thinking. Not every romance novel or movie (in fact, most of them) should be the model of what women want. Actually, most women do want a lot of these lowkey toxic behaviors and that’s problematic in itself. Just think about Twilight and Edward’s manipulative, stalking, controlling self. *major eye roll*
I’ve read (and written about) many problematic romance faves and ones that I can’t help being irked by. One in particular is Faker by Sarah Smith. Like the guy, Tate, outwardly doesn’t seem like a bad guy, but he still does some toxic stuff around jealousy and pushing boundaries (not necessarily physical boundaries, but emotional ones). And the age-old “show disdain for the person you secretly like.”
It was a while ago when I read this book, but I remember having a strong visceral reaction at the time about Tate’s behavior. Does the fact that I’m having trouble recalling what I didn’t like about his behavior say that the behavior wasn’t that bad, and I need to stop overreacting (wow, I sound like someone trying to defend microaggressions)?
This leads me back to The Bromance Book Club. Is manipulating your relationship and ignoring your partner’s wishes the best way to win someone back? I get that both parties still have feelings for each other, but one party starts out as firm in wanting to end the relationship and the other party blatantly disrespects those wishes and uses tactics of getting what they want by manipulating the other’s vulnerabilities. That screams love, right?
These thoughts have been causing conflict within myself lately. Am I overly sensitive because I do a lot of education on consent and healthy relationships? People are human and you have to be willing to walk the delicate line of their imperfections and what you love about them, right? If these books show how sensitive and romantic these guys are, is it right for us to overlook the red flags as long as their love outweighs the bad?
Romance novels are typically written by [white] women for [white] women, at least the “mainstream” ones are. The “urban” romances get me worked up in an entirely different way, often glorifying hyper-toxic masculinity as a model of what a real man you should want.
And because romances novels are typically written by women, I compare woman liking them to the chicken and egg debate. Which came first: women independently finding their own desire in a world that has had such a strong, patriarchal grip on them, or a few women being allowed to share with other women what their desires can look like?
Are romance novels an accurate reflection of what women want in relationships, or do women like (and come to value) these red flags because romance novels tell us they are desirable?
Here’s my two cents: Everyone, regardless of gender, should just be themselves (and not try to shape yourself based on what you think society is telling you to be), respect other people (and consent), and actively work on improving yourself, not for anyone else’s sake, but for your own.
Give me all the romance novels like that!