My affair with romance novels began during my sophomore year of college. There I was, minding my own business at a used book fair when what did I see but a romance novel with THE ACTUAL FABIO on the cover. I mean, how often do you come across a romance novel with THE ACTUAL FABIO on the cover? I thought that it was just a joke! Busty maidens falling out of their dresses and into the muscly arms of golden-tressed Fabio were exaggerations of the reality, right? WRONG. Naturally, I had to purchase it.
Straight from the 1980s – the heyday of rapey historical romance – this book was a treasure. It featured a strong heroine (which I would learn was rare for those years), zero rapes (also rare), and a hero with an understandable backstory and motivation (again, super rare). I was hooked. The sexual tension had me bouncing in my seat! The misunderstandings left me biting my nails! The happily ever after (henceforth referred to as the HEA) ending left me feeling snuggly and happy inside! This book was the literary equivalent of a chick flick – and I was hooked.
I quickly delved into the world of romance novels, and have since read little else. After discovering the hysterical Smart Bitches Trashy Books community, I knew I was home. These women, like me, loved romance novels and weren’t afraid to show it. They helped me to come to terms with the fact that my favorite genre was the much maligned (but bestselling) romance novel and that I shouldn’t be ashamed of what I love. So here they are, the reasons why I am unabashedly fond of romance novels.
#1. STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS
I’m not talking like, just ass-kicking heroines who stand up for themselves and swagger around and are full of bravado and stuff, but real, realistic women (who sometimes kick ass and take names) with fully fleshed out backstories and motivations and minds of their own. In a society that often labels strong women “bitches” or demands that their strong female characters behave like men (see this awesome article in the NYT), the romance novel heroine (especially of recent years) is unashamed of being a woman and showing emotion and maybe even crying or being irrational sometimes. Being emotional is not mutually exclusive to being strong. Being emotional is part of being human, and romance novels depict emotion in all its sniffly, shouting, sexy glory.
#2. POSITIVE DEPICTIONS OF SEX (usually).
Within recent years the sex in romance novels has gotten like, ten thousand times better. Gone are the uber-rapey alpha males who think that no means yes. Increasingly, the women in romance novels are in charge of their own sexuality. The women in romance novels have sex because they want to. They have sex because they lust after the hero. They have sex because they’re in love with the hero. They have sex because they’re in touch with their own desires and and aren’t ashamed of what’s between their legs. Sex in romance novels can be hard and fast or slow and sweet (or overly verbose and filled with purple prose) but what it always comes down to is a man and a woman being honest with each other about what they want and who they are. And THAT is what makes sex good, people.
#3. MEN WITH CHARACTER
A great hero in a romance novel is not a perfect being. He may have chiseled abs or bulging biceps or a classically handsome face, but he usually has a pretty strong character flaw that he has to grow out of before he deserves the heroine. Maybe he’s a commitment-phobe. Maybe he’s overly protective. Maybe he’s kind of a douche. But whatever his character flaw, by the end of the novel he has endeavored to correct it. He has recognized that he’s not perfect and isn’t afraid to apologize or grow up in order to be the man that the heroine deserves. Character isn’t about being perfect, it’s about recognizing your shortcomings and working to change them.
#4. HAPPY, COMMITTED, (usually) MONOGAMOUS RELATIONSHIPS
You do not find cheaters in romance novels. You do not find loveless marriages in romance novels. You do not find miserable relationships in romance novels. What you do find is two (sometimes three or four, depending on what you’re into) people who work hard to achieve happiness with each other. Every romance novel couple has hurdles to overcome, whether it be misunderstandings and pride (like Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice), class distinctions and lies (like Jasmine and Aladdin), or a sordid past and jealousy (like Satine and Christian in Moulin Rouge!). And since romance novels are character driven, these hurdles are often the best parts of the books. How will they ever get past their differences?!
#5. HAPPILY EVER AFTERS.
Romance novels end happy. There may have been death along the way, there may have been hurt and mistrust and possibly some angst, but at the end of a romance novel, everything is sorted out and right with the world. The hero and the heroine walk arm-in-arm off to the boudoir to begin a life of happiness and lovemaking. The ending of a romance novel gives you butterflies in your stomach and a warm cozy feeling similar to the one you get when you look at pictures of puppies and babies on the internet and trust me, it is just as addictive.
Some people argue that romance novels give women unrealistic expectations of love, sex, and men. I argue that A) they’re books, and most people who read books for fun are smart enough to realize that romance novels are idealized and not super realistic and that B) what’s wrong with wanting true love, orgasms, and a man who respects you?
Take that, haters.