Jennifer's Journal


Friday, July 06, 2007

Marriage and Romance

Someone sent a clipping to me recently.  It was titled "Is there harm in women reading romance novels?" 
The gist of the argument was that some "women can become dangerously unbalanced by these books' entrancing but distorted messages."  That they contain unattainable romantic ideals "which really do promote dissatisfaction with their relationships."
First, let's be clear.  Romance novels are adventure novels for women.  All adventure novels feature a protagonist who endures trials and tribulations, learning and growing/changing on the way to achieving something they desire, which is usually defined as a "worthwhile goal".  The difference is that in a romance the protagonist is female and her goal isn't to save the ranch, the town or the world--though these elements can be present--but rather to form a relationship which will endure and help perpetuate the human species.  In men's adventure, there is usually a female character who gives him moral support and/or great sex.  Romance novels have a similar aspect.  Both types of novels are escapist fare.  These are fantasies, people!
I've never understood why people assume that your average, intelligent female reader can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality.  Does anyone actually think that a man watching a James Bond movie is so out of touch with reality that he will expect his wife to look and act like Pussy Galore?  He may have a wistful moment about it, but he knows the difference.  His wife may read about a dashing highwayman who carries off the heroine and teaches her a thing or two about love and intimacy, but that doesn't mean she wants the same experience.  It might be exciting to think about, but the reality would be scary and downright uncomfortable.
What we have here is a classic chicken and egg situation.  Which comes first, reading romance novels and becoming disappointed in marriage, or becoming disappointed in marriage and reading romance novels in hope of finding the missing emotional excitement?  Think of it like this: Which comes first, John Q. Public reading about dangerous adventures in the South Seas and becoming disappointed with his boring job and home life, or John becoming disappointed with the sameness of everything and picking up a book to find the exciting adventure he craves?  What I wonder is how many marriages have been saved because the wife was able to satisfy her longings for adventure and romance by delving into a book.
And here's another question for you:  If 64 million women read at least one romance novel last year, as established by statistics from Romance Writers of America, what is missing from their relationships that these books are so seductive?  We have, I think, lost the concept of the great-love-affair-that-will-last-for-all-time.  Romance has become trivialized by over commercialization; men avoid romantic gestures because it makes them appear influenced by advertising instead of acting on their own deep sense of commitment.  Sex has lost its mystery and power, being reduced to little more than an itch that can be scratched far too casually by anyone, anywhere, any time.  The idea behind the great romances of literature and opera, that someone might actually sacrifice everything for love, even die for it, has become almost laughable.
Romance novels celebrate love and romance and the emotions engendered by them.  They put these things in their correct perspective as the magic ingredients without which the human species might well cease to exist.  They contain no car chases, no blood and guts, no fiery explosions that threaten the world; they are about woman who save themselves and those they love and experience honest feelings that are honestly expressed.  For women who are tired of male oriented movies, male oriented sports, male oriented news events, it's like stepping into a softer, saner world.  Who wouldn't want to escape into it, at least for as long as it takes to catch our breaths and face reality again?  

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