I didn’t move towards reading romance for years. I thought it would be the final nail in the coffin for a future relationship. And no, I was not worried about the negative stereotypes and deriding that romance readers and authors often face. All my life, I’ve been a hopeless romantic. I am a sucker for a happy ending. I daydream, long and pine in the fashion of my favorite Austen heroines.
But just as much as I’ve embraced that side of myself, I’ve also feared giving in to it completely. Relatives and friends alike have warned me how being so fanciful would backfire on me in the future.
“You need to be ready to settle,” an aunt told me once. “There’s no Prince Charming out there.”
In the moment, I laughed it off, but the thought has haunted me ever since. I’m not sure I know how to properly settle. I’ve been terrified for years of building false hopes up in my mind, to the point that any man who entered my life would fall short against a romantic figure that doesn’t even exist. Thus, I held romance novels as the last thing I needed to keep out of my stronghold. If I didn’t succumb to those, I’d be able to appropriately settle when the time came and I needed to settle down with a real man.
That didn’t work out as well as I thought. But as it turns out, it didn’t matter. I could have my cake and eat it too, no matter what people assumed about me or romances in general. The romance titles that currently circulate on library shelves, and decorate my nightstand, counter all their misgivings about the genre and what it provides to readers like me.
In a time where romance authors find it crucial to impress ideas of consent and realistic relationships, I feel like some titles are actually preparing me for a future relationship: reminding me that I deserve better from a relationship than just someone who says, “Here I am, ready to be married,” without any attraction between us.
Romantic portrayals of partners’ interactions with, and respect for, each other have helped me as I am asked, “What type of man are you looking for?”
This might sound odd, particularly if you’re thinking of classic “bodice rippers” with dubious consent and supposedly “manly” heroes. However, authors such as Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan, and Alyssa Cole, to name three, write romances where heroines are not merely choosing men for their eligibility: they are choosing them from their hearts.
For instance, one title of Courtney Milan’s that I repeatedly return to is the fourth installment in her Brothers Sinister series, The Countess Conspiracy. Without spoiling: the lengths to which the male lead goes to protect and support his beloved, particularly as a reformed rake, are heartwarming as well as eye-opening. It’s always a book that makes me set it aside feeling that I need a man like that – someone who wants me to be able to stand on my own two feet, while also being aware of my traumas.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that a man needs to do all the heavy lifting in a heterosexual relationship. A woman is not a wilting flower. In the same title, the heroine similarly does a lot to shield her romantic interest from the cruel assumptions of their surrounding society, and does her best to make it clear that no matter what, she is there to defend and stand by him. That, to me, is couple goals.
I’ve appreciated the demonstration of growth in relationships. You need to actively work within relationships, and nothing and no one is perfect. Even if my relationship problems aren’t going to be as dramatic as the ones found in romance novels (and I hope I never have to be rescued from a coach of kidnappers in the middle of the night, even if true love is involved), just seeing instances where communication is stressed upon helps me calibrate my own expectations.
Yes, a lot goes smoothly in romance novels that would be harder to overcome in real life. But, the majority of the titles I read point out very real obstacles that couples can expect, from hostile in-laws to a realization that you may love someone but not appreciate every decision they make.
Considering that I’m still single, there’s still time left to see how much – and how accurately – romances have prepared me for a relationship. But for now, I am content in feeling as though I’m being given more reasonable expectations and reassured that my instinct of not settling is one that is admirable and not ridiculous.