What’s so special about the romance genre? Do the readers live in a fantasy world to escape their own mundane existence? Are they unwilling to look for love in the real world, preferring the illusion of fiction instead? Do they have unrealistic expectations of relationships? Many have made these claims and more—I believe unfairly so. And it doesn’t stop the romance reader from picking up that next book. That romance reader being me.
To say I am a romance novel fan is an understatement. If I read fiction, it has to have at least an element of romance in it. And I’m not the only one. Romance as a genre accounts for around 25% of the total fiction market, and despite economic downturns. Why is that?
Two people—usually shown on the cover so we know who they are at the outset—fall in love and get together. There’s no real mystery here. They hook up. On the surface the romance genre sounds like the height of cliché. It’s so ‘formulaic.’ So ‘pedantic.’ And yet I keep reading and writing them, and will for as long as I can. Sure there’s some element of fantasy reading about those happily-ever-afters—everyone is hard-bodied and drop-dead gorgeous—but that’s just part of the fun. That’s part of the ‘what-ifs.’
For me personally, the wonder of an unfolding romance in the pages of a book is about that special moment when someone chooses another above all others—and the feeling is mutual. It’s the ultimate choice. No one has to get together. These days our parents probably aren’t arranging our marriages. We get to explore and discover and eventually let that special someone know our hearts are open to that next step. And that same someone just might respond in kind.
Of course there are all kinds of obstacles that delay the inevitable. But what’s true love if it can’t overcome each and every one? When the trials, tribulations, and misunderstandings clear up, the characters arrive on the edge of a precipice that will change everything. An entire future hinges on that moment of connection—a future that will not occur if they remain apart. So romance is infinitely personal—and on a broader scale—just plain epic. That deeply personal decision impacts the entire human family and binds us to something bigger than ourselves.
It’s exhilarating to live that moment over and over again through the stories of different characters in just about any time period or culture. It appeals to our common humanity and gives us hope for the future. Yes, mankind is savage and often ugly. But when two people fall in love, the emotions are so powerful, the potential so limitless, it gives us glimpses that maybe, just maybe, we’re not so bad after all.
How about some science to go with the mush? Granted, there’s a lot of hand-wringing that says romance novels are bad for the psyche, but such studies seem to always be done at the behest of non-romance novel readers. Meanwhile spouses of romance readers reap a real benefit between the sheets—having upwards of 74% more fun than non-romance readers. Let’s face it, a heart-melting romance just puts us girls in the mood.
Romance novels can help us work out real-world issues in a safe place. We can visualize consequences of actions better when played out between the pages of a book. Knowing there’s a good chance of a happy ending also makes reading a novel a way to reduce stress from the pressures of everyday life. Everyone has an escape, a release valve. This one is legal, you can’t catch a disease or get pregnant, and provides an interactive rather than passive activity. Win! For me personally, romance novels were my escape when my kids were little. My stack of novels at the side of the couch saved my sanity. Reading romances practically saves lives! And the kids saw mom reading so much, they had to have books of their own. Today they are devoted readers.
Well…a girl can dream, can’t she? Yes, she can. Because she reads romance.
So get your romance on with some of the best: Weddings on Main Street. Who knows, it might just save the world.