What’s wrong with romance? Branded by detractors as impossibly idealistic fantasy-fulfillment, romantic fiction is still the world’s most popular genre, according to most marketing pundits today. Though one constant in stories across the ages, romance as well as romantic fiction have provoked many misconceptions (more than 5, I’m sure!) and garnered some bad press in both Christian and secular circles.
Frequently, writers are accused of creating fiction with unrealistic characters and improbable plot lines. Either way “too good” unreal or way “too bad” unreal. Today I’d like to consider 3 (of 5) mistakes all of us (readers and writers) tend to make about love and romance in books…and in real life.
Misconception 1: Romance is Sex
When I was a teen, some guys used to refer to the “harlot” romances published by a certain imprint. Let me point out that, because of the extremes romantic fiction has swung to, yesterday’s steamy paperbacks get labeled merely cheesy and juvenile today.
This week the daily book deals invading my inbox seem inordinately occupied with one-night stands, bodice-ripper regencies, and SEALs and bad boy bikers sporting overdeveloped pectorals. When I signed up, I’m sure I checked the ‘romance’ category, not erotica, little suspecting that anybody could confuse the two. But romance isn’t what’s shows up on my doorstep.
Many of these vulgar offerings are labeled New Adult, an intriguing ‘new’ category which provides a bridge between the teen/young adult genre and college-age young adult fiction.
This is an important connection and holds vast potential to impact this generation of new adults. Except for my first and/or second book, most of my work fits in this category. Writers have not only an exceptional opportunity, but also a sober responsibility.
However, many NA books focus exclusively on sex, and sex without relationship, blurring—no, obliterating—the line between romance and erotica. The truth is, romance and sex aren’t synonymous and true love is so much, much more.
Misconception 2: Romance is Not Sex
On the other hand, sexual tension exists and needs to be handled in a God-honoring way. I’m sorry to burst our old-lady bubbles, but even the godliest of romantic love includes some eros along with the agape.
I believe it’s a huge mistake to ignore the positive power of sex. Why on earth should we wish to pretend we’re prim sexless beings? To clean up the crude, must we turn cozy into unutterably bland?
Older Christians who attempt to neither talk about sex nor think about it only convince the young that we understand nothing and have no wisdom to share. The only effective way to deal with the topic is to face it.
In my opening (YA) book, I deliberately scratched the kissing (for specific reasons), but not in the second, Pursuit of the Pudú Deer, which I would describe as leaning toward NA. Could we approach the chemistry of romance in a balanced and healthy way, as believers with a human nature and a new nature in Christ?
Misconception 3: Romance is Problematic
Why do we insist on complicating things? Sure, in books, I get it. As Shakespeare’s character Lysander said in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” Agreed. If everything were smooth sailing, the point of the story would vanish. A romance novel often keeps the two protagonists apart in agony for the greater part of the time.
But while real-life romance may be as fragile as a rose, it’s not nearly as thorny as we like to make it. Like a writer dragging out a sappy love saga for the sake of editorial page requirements, many problems crop up where few actually exist.
In Chile, many youth manufacture rather creative obstacles: They haven’t finished their bachelor’s…or master’s…or doctorate yet. They can’t afford an all-stops-pulled wedding or a furnished house. They can’t find the right job. Their mother needs them.
And the solution? Keep their girlfriend or boyfriend on hold for years, even a decade. No wonder young couples eventually break up or hook up at the end of a figurative shotgun. You wouldn’t believe the excuses I’ve heard. “We’re still praying about it.” Really? Maybe it’s time to take the plunge.
And it’s not that I don’t think we should pray about our love lives. It’s that sometimes super-spirituality provides an easy out, a way to devise difficulties in order to delay commitment and focus on ourselves.
In addition, North American Christians have tiptoed through the dramatic landmines of the dating vs. courtship debate and back again twenty years later. After jumping through endless hoops to arrive at perfection and please church or family leaders, many youth have just opted for cynicism about the whole romance scene.
Or, on the other hand, they don’t marry at all. From what they’ve seen, most love is temporary. Romance is inevitably doomed from the start. Marriage looks like a flawed social construct that went out fashion with pillbox hats and nylon stockings in church.
The New Old Clue to Problems Old and New
But here’s what God says: “Love…does not insist on its own way…Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things…(and) never ends…” (I Cor.13:4-8).
God wants people together. He believes in love and marriage—after all, He invented them. The biggest hindrance to romance is us.
(To be continued next week…)
What’s your opinion? What’s wrong or right about romance or romantic fiction for you?