I ask myself frequently why I like romance so much. Even after running this site for more than five years, I still ask myself what has me enthralled with romance. And it’s a topic we’ve visited before – Candy wrote about genre constraints back in 2008 and asked why romance’s genre constraints are met with such derision when other genres have similar defining constructs.
There is an intricate combination of factors that encourage my return to more romance after I finish reading a novel. Something about the space within those constraints keeps me coming back again and again. What is it about the happy ending, the tension of courtship, the tension in general that I admire? Jane wrote recently at Dear Author (and I cannot find the specific link, dang it) that there is a certain freedom in reading romance, knowing that no matter how painful the anguish, it is going to be ok in the end. I totally agree with the idea that each novel in the romance genre represents a safe space for readers to enjoy without apprehension. To echo Lisa Kleypas’ statements from the Bosoms, there are few things more reassuring than having the hero say, from your happiness to your orgasm, he’s on it.
But it’s more than the safe space and assurance of the happy ending, and the female autonomy and self actualization that I adore, but until I was driving and pondering recently I didn’t have the language to describe what it is that hooks me.
On the website “It made my day,” (which is awesome) someone wrote recently about being told that for health reasons she needed to quit her job – giving her a reason to quit that felt like sweet relief. My first thought was, “Why not look for another job merely because that one was making you sick and unhappy?” But, holy smoke, I could totally relate to the sweet, savage relief of having the unpleasant choice and the responsibility for making that choice removed entirely by external directions from an external authority. It is comforting in a scary situation when facing a terrifying change to give someone else the responsibility for your making a choice that will make you happy – and others unhappy. I think this is due in part to the fact that women, to speak in huge generalization, are not encouraged to choose things that make themselves happy that might otherwise affect others. While everyone else on the plane is putting their own masks on first then assisting others, women are encouraged in a million subtle ways to hold their breath until everyone else is breathing free, THEN put on their own masks (if they’re conscious at that point).
Choosing everyone else first, or placing one’s desires on the side line is not what romance is about. It’s not about shirking choices and being a coward. Reading a book where everything comes easily to the heroine or hero is very frustrating, but so is a book where the hero or heroine don’t actually do anything to acquire what it is that they desire.
But reading a good romance does include certainty, and as a corollary, it includes an absence of regrets as well. It means never doubting that the hero and heroine are meant to be together, believing that they will not ever doubt their choice in one another. Romance means reading in a space where, in that world, whatever world it is for that time with those people, the most important choices are the perfect choices, and they will all work out for the best. Romance means never doubting or second guessing one’s choices at the end. WOW. That is some liberating genre constraint right there.
A hero at the end of a romance leaves no doubt that this is the partner for him. A heroine never looks at the hero and thinks, “I wonder what my life would be like if I’d done something different. I wonder if I’m with the wrong guy.” Romance means never doubting the big life choices – which is a bit of a twist on self actualization. The hero and heroine end up exactly where and with the person they ought to be with.
That’s the other element of romance that continually fascinates me: the role of fate and predestination that appears in romances. From the wang as divining rod to the hardening nipples that point her in the direction of The Perfect Guy, there are always signs of some vague external influence leading the protagonists together. It’s not just attraction, it’s Attraction. Like North-Pole magetized nipples pointing the direction of the uncontrollable hard-on. And it doesn’t have to be nipples, either. It could be the sense that after one meeting she’s known him all her life, or an indescribable feeling that this woman is somehow different. There is a thread of predetermination that appears frequently, in various forms. I remain fascinated by the forms that “a little destiny” appears in different romances, and the way that choices made are never doubted. And so I keep going back for more.
What keeps you returning to romance? Do you think there’s a regular appearance of fate in romances or do you think I’m out of my gourd? Does the certainty ever bore you or do you like the safe space of happiness? Have you ever had a really difficult choice removed by external factors – and was it a relief? Would that make a good romance novel (I’m sure it’s been written already)?