Very simple question with a lot of answers: What’s your favorite thing about reading romance?
Sarah: I love the emotional security of reading romance: no matter how bad things get – and things can get hella bad – I trust that things will be okay in the end (and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end). A romance promises me a reassuring, safe space for my empathetic connection to the characters. Because I rest in the security of the promised HEA, I’m willing to take risks with my feelings in the context of the story. It’s very soothing.
What about you?
Catherine: Sarah’s ‘reassuring safe space for my empathetic connection to the characters’ is a big part of it. I’m someone who reads books for the people in them, and I find it hard to enjoy a book if I don’t like the characters – the real world contains plenty of people I don’t like, why would I actively spend my leisure time with them? So I’m also someone who gets heavily invested in the well-being of characters and *whispers* skips ahead to the end of the book to make sure everyone is ok. I like that I don’t need to do that in romance!
Also, it is so, so, refreshing to read a genre where I am not the Other. I am not a prize or a strange and beautiful creature whose emotions are Mysterious and Unaccountable, or any of that rubbish, I’m a person. And while there are of course plenty of excellent female characters outside the genre, it’s very relaxing to go into a story where my emotions matter and where the narrative is not subtly (or unsubtly) signalling that I am not welcome here.
Tara: So, I’d like to “yes, and…” both Sarah and Catherine’s responses. For me, those points especially ring true because I almost exclusively read f/f when I’m reading romance, with the occasional book with a nonbinary lead as I can find them (yes, that’s a pun).
Romance fiction is the only media source I trust to show queer women and nonbinary people finding their HEAs, because film and TV so often depicts their relationships ending with a breakup, death, or some other terrible social consequence. And even when there is a happy ending, sometimes you have to watch a toxic dynamic to get there *cough* Happiest Season *cough* I don’t have to worry about that with romance and can just settle back, knowing it’ll be a safe space where the girl gets the girl.
Lara: Sarah really hit the nail on the head with the ‘safe space’ thing. My feelings can get really big, really quickly. If anything, this is further amplified when reading a book. Non-romance novels involve too much anguish and pain with no promise of a reward. If I’m going to risk my emotional wellbeing for a book, I need to know that there is a safe space to land at the end of that journey. In short, I can trust romance novels to look out for me and my emotions.
Maya: I agree with all my friends above, but I also wanted to mention that I love how it centers the interiority of women. There’s a fair amount of media that I consume where it’s a gamble whether the female characters will be granted any type of inner life and I love knowing that when I pick up a romance that I will find that. I also love that self-published romance has opened the doors for authors who have otherwise been excluded from traditional publishing. There are talented writers out there whose books we would not have been able to read if not for self-publishing. I’m so grateful that romance authors have figured out ways to tell their stories and get paid for their work outside of traditional systems that very simply have not shaken themselves free of their racist and exclusionary past.
Sneezy: Aaaah, my friends are so smart and amazing, I can’t.
I agree with what everyone said. I also READ IT FOR THE SEEEEX! Hahahahaha I can generally trust a romance to centre mutual pleasure, celebrate consent, and not to shy away from sex like it’s something to be ashamed of. Society still tries its damndest to coerce women and Queer people into believing that our bodies and sexuality belongs to men, doubly when intersected with race, and that’s just not true. It’s so nice to visit places (if only in my head) where everyone I care about are perpetually safe, and not punished for owning and enjoying their bodies.
Going back to the idea that knowing everything will turn out well provides a safe space, this safety helps me nurture and protect my hope. Stories are a ride in a parallel reality. When my brain is tangled in Anxiety Brambles, and my imagination is being held captive by the Captain Catastrophize, stories help me realize possibilities I don’t have the spoons to do on my own. Things are never smooth sailings in romance novels, but they always turn out okay. These stories remind me that it’s possible for things to turn out okay. Reading about characters being brave enough to feel and build resiliency helps feel like I can do the same. They keep my imagination open in ways that are very healing, something I treasure greatly.
Plus I never had patience for stories that made emotional incompetence, misery, cardboard infidelity, or women in fridges the height of complexity. To them I say, “For fucks sake, get a good therapist and listen to women and Queer people. Your head will pop off if you keep it stuck up your ass.”
Claudia: I’ll be short — first and foremost, I love that a good romance book is a well-paced, fun read. And I also love that, at its core, a romance book is about hope: Hope that no matter what life may throw at you or how dire things seem, it’s going to turn out more than all right. And hope also in the sense of anticipation, of things changing for the best, which is very powerful to me.
Shana: Reading romance is an essential part of my self care practice. I love that there is no other reason for me to read about people falling in love, except for my own pleasure. I almost never see queer fat Black women like myself on tv, and romance meets my craving to see my community experiencing joy.
Ellen: A good romance novel makes me feel playfully safe. There is so much innovation, diversity, and creativity within the romance genre to explore, but it all takes place within the framework of genre conventions that let me feel confident that the story will focus on relationships, love will win out, and there will be a happy ending. Seeing the huge array of ways that authors engage with these conventions and the amazing variety of stories that come from the genre is amazing and wonderful to me.
Kiki: Romance encapsulates joy, and heartbreak, and growth, and forgiveness. It is a genre of designing new rooms in a house with a familiar frame. I think that romance is the best genre (when it is at its very best) to show us the truth that love and companionship and sex, really good sex, is both possible and already the reality for marginalized people. It is the most consistent genre and media to encapsulate our happiness and our wholeness.
CarrieS: A million yeses to what everyone has said. Romance has changed the way I think about sex and about my body (for the better). I love the centering of female sexual desire without shame. Additionally, I feel that the message of romance is that everyone deserves to be loved, but a person has to work to deserve to be in a relationship. This distinction, and the efforts of characters to communicate and grow, has helped me in my own relationships, romantic and otherwise.
Above all, I’m a pessimist with low-grade anxiety and romance is all about optimism and safety. These are elements I need and crave. I’m grateful to the romance genre for providing me with a safe space!
What about you? What’s your favorite thing about reading romance?