What’s your favorite thing about reading romance?

Cute ginger cat is sleeping in the bed on warm blanket. Cold autumn or winter weekend while reading a book and drinking warm coffee or tea. Hygge concept. Text on the pages is not recognizable.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.

A silver bar pendant that reads on each side read Books, drink tea, take naps, be happyTara: 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.

A gold key perched between the cover and first page of a book.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.

Bath tub with flower petals and lemon slices. Book, candles and beauty product on a tray. Organic spa relaxation in luxury Bali outdoor bathroom.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? 


General Bitching...

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  1. 1

    So much yes to all these reasons. Right now, for the first time in ages, romance is 90% of my reading. It calms my highly reactive nervous system and creates a sense of safety in my psyche that allows me to do the work necessary to keep healing from childhood/adolescent trauma. It’s absolutely necessary for my well-being.

  2. 2
    Jill Q. says:

    I’m paraphrasing Jennifer Crusie here, but I think of romances as being based in emotional justice.

    Mysteries are about justice on a societal level. An injustice is committed. The protagonists make it right. Bad guys face some consequences (they better or I’m not reading another one of your books). So there’s a feeling that the initial crime that kicked off the story was not totally in vain.

    In romances, you know people’s emotional suffering is not in vain. In a romance, if the characters do the emotional work and growing they need to do and put their hearts on the line, they will be rewarded with love in a form that is meaningful to *them*. So it doesn’t have to mean marriage or babies, or monogamy. It could mean all of those things. It could mean some of those things. It could mean none of those things. As long as i rings true to the character, I’m happy to follow the author where they want to go.

    I also agree with Maya that I love that women in romance novels won’t be just an ornament or a prop for some dude and his growth. So sick of those stories.

  3. 3
    kkw says:

    I like the structure, the genre conventions, the patterns. The more limitations there are, the more I’m fascinated by artistic expression within the rules. I’m not great at explaining it, but it’s why I tend to like ballet more than modern dance. I mean, like, blank verse has its challenges as well clearly, and when it’s done well I appreciate most any art form, but when someone can express that same originality within a rigid rhyme/meter scheme I find it extremely gratifying and impressive to see.
    And romance as a genre has so many rules! You know exactly what’s going to happen, and generally when. How an author plays within those restrictions is just endlessly delightful to me.

  4. 4
    DiscoDollyDeb says:

    I like how wide the genre is with so many sub-genres, so many tropes, so inclusive when it comes to genders, preferences, kinks, and how the HEA will be achieved and defined. Most of all, I love the fact that there is an entire universe of books written primarily by women for women and about the interior emotional of the MCs. No “mansplaining” necessary or accepted!

  5. 5

    It’s funny because I’m editing a romance where there is so much mental lusting it’s exhausting, and I just explained while it’s nice to see the attraction, a good, sigh-worthy romance is more than attraction, more than sex – it’s about connection. Two people overcoming all to be together because they are connected in meaningful ways not because they are gorgeous or sexy or great in bed.

    She has a plus sized heroine which is awesome (as I am plus sized) and a gorgeous guy who finds the heroine’s curves sexy and that’s great. But there’s got to be more than 90,000 words of mental lusting. I’ve been enjoying sweet romances more because of that connection – because it is not just about sex. For me, romance is so much more then sexy times. I want my authors to dig deeper in their stories to make that connection – even in the books where sex plays a bigger part.

    I know there are books and I know there are readers who love these books and that’s great where sex is the connection. That is never going to be enough for me and that’s why I love romance – I can find my catnip, my type of romance where connection is just as strong as sex and it isn’t just about appearance. I think, for me, that’s the big thing. Sure, I love my attractive characters but if the author does a good job, that is not the focus as they fall in love – it’s the icing on the cake of their connection.

  6. 6
    cleo says:

    My answer to this question has changed over the years (and decades). One constant is that I like art that I can connect to emotionally and intellectually and that’s something I can find in romance. Romance is a genre that values emotional connection – not just between characters on the page, but between the reader and the story.

  7. 7
    Ren Benton says:

    I started reading romance at an inappropriately early age because I could get a big paper sack of them at any garage sale for a quarter. I stuck with them because I grew up in an incredibly toxic environment and it was revelatory that people could like each other and want to be together and treat each other with decency. I’m less a product of my environment because books helped shape me, and the majority of them for a lot of years were romances.

  8. 8
    Heather M says:

    Agree with it all, but I think the biggest thing for me is that I always know there will be a happy ending. When I started reading romance, that was not something I knew I needed, but it’s really become a breath of relief to know I can escape to a book for a time, and when I’ve put in all the work and time of reading, I will come away with a happy ending.

    And not to get too deep into personal territory, but reading romance helped me figure out some things about myself that I’d probably still be struggling through otherwise, and provides a way to experience certain emotions that I just don’t experience in real life.

  9. 9
    Arijo says:

    I read romance for the acceptance, for the “unconditionnal” part of unconditionnal love. When main characters accept and love (and support) each other no matter their foibles and dysfonctions. We have a saying around here, loosely translated it’s “each dishtowel finds it’s own rag”. The more non-conform, outlier, strange and atypical the rag is, the more I like when s/he clicks with another being.

  10. 10
    Kate K.F. says:

    Romances give me hope and all kinds of feelings and I know that even if I have a good cry, things will end up okay. I love the trope of two people helping the other become the best version of themselves and dealing with challenges, that’s the kind of fic I try to write too. They’re books I can sink into which is why I try not to read new romances before bed as they keep me up far too late.

    My new job hasn’t left me as much reading time as I had last year but waiting for me this weekend is the new Loretta Chase book.

  11. 11
    Darlynne says:

    All of this times 100. Also Carrie S’s observation: “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.” Amen.

  12. 12
    Kareni says:

    Quite simply, my favorite thing about reading romance is the guaranteed happy ending. (Eating chocolate while reading a romance is a bonus.)

  13. 13
    Margaret says:

    I agree with everything said above but wanted to add a personal comment about how romance made a huge impact on my life, and I can’t help but hope maybe on others as well. I grew up exposed to bad relationships: my parents had a toxic marriage and I watched garbage happen among many of my friends’ parents. But I started reading romance way too early (like so many of us!!) and the idea stuck in my head that relationships could be based on real love, real honest communication, and real commitment. I got it in my head that I wouldn’t settle for anything else, even if that meant forgoing romance all together. Maybe it was just luck, but I found all of that in the man I married. I was suspicious at first, and kept waiting for things to go south, but they didn’t, and this year will make more years together than many, many of the Smart Bitches have been alive. I know of several romance writers who are part of enduring relationshps, so there might be a pattern here somewhere.

  14. 14
    ECSpurlock says:

    Yes to all of the above. As a clinical depressive, romance is my safe space. Historical romance, in particular, helps me distance myself from unpleasant realities that tend to snowball in a mind that is already prepped for disaster, and replace them with calmer and brighter feelings. They help me to adjust my expectations so that I do not automatically assume that every person I meet will be an asshat and every man a predatory douchebag, that there are also kind and reasonable people of all genders out there. And finally no matter how bad the stakes are for the characters, they usually do not involve a world-ending catastrophe, and I can be assured that somehow everything will work out. If it can work out for them, it can work out for me.

  15. 15
    leftcoaster says:

    I mostly read romances to get from books what I can’t get in real life–guaranteed happy endings for everyone. EVERYONE. ANYONE. My brain loves that serotonin hit, cuz it sure as fuck isn’t getting it from the world around me, quite the opposite. It balances out all the heartbreak happening real time and makes me feel hopeful about the future.

  16. 16
    chacha1 says:

    All of the above. Would ‘heart’ this entire post and all comments. I’ve been reading romance for almost 45 years, and writing romance for thirty. It gives me, to be honest, things I don’t always get in real life: happy endings for people I care about, dreams made real and ambitions achieved, the right sex at the right time. 🙂 I love that romance permeates genre fiction; I can find a great love story everywhere from SF to F to mystery, and even in things that might be classified as horror. I love that the first novels (as we know them) written were romances. I have learned so much from romance novels, and from the people who write them.

  17. 17
    Carrie G says:

    I’d like to say “Hell yes!” to everything the SB community has said here. It’s about connection, happy endings, feeling sexy, feeling emotions, seeing how other people handle situations, learning about different emotions and responses, learning respect and acceptance though a shared story, and more

    Right now, this past year, it has really been about the happy endings and being in a community that more and more celebrates diversity. I need that assurance I can go through tough times and make it out alive, and romances help me with that.

  18. 18
    FashionablyEvil says:

    Ooh, I really resonate with the comment about mysteries and romances both fitting a sense of justice—I cannot deal with books where the bad guy doesn’t get what’s coming or there isn’t a happy ending. (I mean, I can, but I read it very sparingly and when I am in the right head space.) There is enough terrible stuff in the world and I can read the news if I want to read about pain, suffering, and injustice. I do not want it in my entertainment! I want to believe that things can be better, fairer, more just. That’s where I want to spend my leisure time.

  19. 19
    LMC says:

    The IPad was the gateway drug. It wasn’t the “shame” of reading romance, but easy access to Kindle or library books available at all hours of the day. I was a romance reader, then tapered off. Then the election 4 years ago, my husband having cancer, child with a disability, even before the pandemic, I needed something I knew was going to turn out okay. It is a wonderful escape with such a wide variety that I can find something that fits my mood. Better than booze. (Although often a great combo!)

  20. 20
    denise says:

    I love the journey to the HEA, knowing the HEA is guaranteed helps through all the ups and downs and twists in the story.

  21. 21
    Ellie says:

    I honestly don’t read as much romances as I grow older, I for sure have less patience for certain tropes. But it is the happy ending that draws me, and frankly, this community. Romance readers are the most empathetic and tolerant community I’ve found, and the deep and intelligent discussions keep me coming back.

  22. 22
    Star says:

    One of the things the last year has made me confront is that I have a different, and more difficult, relationship with romance novels than most of the rest of the community seems to, based on posts and comments (which might not be a representative sample, of course). I think what I’m really looking for in romance is what @kkw put so well: someone taking a fairly rigid set of rules and creating something original from them. And also something that explains the mysterious alchemy whereby the psychologies of two separate people merge into a relationship with a psychology of its own. The problem is that, in all honesty, I don’t really find that most books deliver that for me.

    So… my favourite thing about reading romance is sort of meta. It’s that I’ve learned a lot about our society through the genre: what we think “romantic” is; what we think “happy” is; how we think things should work; the narratives we tell about women, men, other people, children, gender, sex, love, and so much more. Usually we only get one piece of the story, the male part, and a rather specific kind of male part at that; but from romance novels we get other pieces, pieces that are usually missing, and when you put these pieces together with the more dominant narrative, suddenly the fabric shifts and things make more sense. And then I also learn things about myself as well, how I fit or do not fit into those narratives, and that is also helpful and valuable, depressing as it is. Romance is not my favourite genre, but I think it’s the one I’ve learned the most from, and I value that.

  23. 23
    Mikey says:

    Wait. There’s one thing I don’t get. The part about how Sneezy “can generally trust a romance to centre […]celebrate consent”.

    I mean, sure, there’s lots of romance novels where there’s clear consent, but there’s also quite a lot of them where, for instance, the guy forces a kiss on the girl (to pick a mild example).

    Not judging anybody’s tastes, I just don’t understand the thing about being able to trust romance to celebrate consent, when there are so many romance novels where things are, on some level, clearly nonconsensual.

  24. 24
    Jeannette says:

    Romances at their most basic are about people who end up with someone(s) else and not alone. Especially in uncertain times and when the world appears to be falling apart it is good to read stories that make me laugh, and cry, and end up good in the end. I also enjoy getting an insight into lives and minds of people that I will never meet in real life. And romances give those insights without talking down to the reader.

  25. 25
    Stefanie Magura says:


    Can this be the latest featured content? I ask because I think this is an interesting question and I’d like to see more comments. It seems like there were comments for a little while and there haven’t been any for a few days.

  26. 26
    SB Sarah says:

    Sure thing!

  27. 27
    Stefanie Magura says:

    I think I’m going to echo some of the answers listed above. I have begun reading romance and stuck with it because nothing catastrophic happens to the main characters in the end. If something terrible does happen within the story, these characters have someone to share the burdens of that with and in the end the characters arrive at a place in their lives which is optimistic and they can share that optimism with someone else.

    I think that these books have the potential to model healthy relationship dynamics whether sexual, romantic, platonic, or familial, and even in cases where the reader feels that specific examples do not, that reader can potentially have a safe space to step back and think about why that might be. Even though these characters are lifelike, the characters are not real and they cannot step out of the pages of a book to tell you the reader that what you think of their relationship is right or wrong. This means that you the reader have the possibility of figuring out what you want in your relationships.

  28. 28
    Ruth L says:

    I think the explanation that romances are about women rings true for me. When I look back, I realize that I always strongly preferred books about women or with strong female characters. I remember in my science fiction reading days putting down Asimov’s Foundation trilogy because women were almost completely absent from the society. And I remember even in grade school going through all the YA biographies of women in the library.

    In middle school I read a ton of YA “girls books” and historical novels with female main characters, including “Jade,” by Sally Watson, about a rebellious girl who runs away from her stultifying wealthy early-18th century Southern family — taking her slaves, whom she wants to free — and in the end becomes a pirate who attacks slavers (Sally Watson is amazing, and some of her books are back in print). In high school I read a lot of gothics (Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart).

    But about romances being a safe space … I’ve been known to put down a book part way through when I can see something terrible is going to happen to the characters and I’m really invested in them (did that just yesterday). I’m quick to put down books where the author tortures the characters in a way I find gratuitous. And I hate series with cliffhangers where they get the couple together, then rip them apart, especially if it’s over a stupid misunderstanding (if I see a stupid misunderstanding being set up, I’ll often skip over it). I apparently want my romances to be REALLY safe spaces.

  29. 29
    Ma McG says:

    I echo liking that they’re women centered and that I can trust that things will work out for the protagonists.

    I’ll also add that I am absolutely addicted to:
    1-feeling the expression of longing that is best found in a good romance novel. Not just sexual desire or romantic love, but the elemental need to belong and be seen.
    2-the way a good romance novel will express that people have emotional cores that are often at odds with their exterior.
    3-both of these things above being centered around people who are generally decent.

    I’m weird in that I often don’t read the conclusion of even my favorite romance novels. I don’t need to see the happily ever after if I know it’s there. But I want to feel that people, underneath, want love. I love that churn.

  30. 30
    Jocelyn says:

    I echo many of the comments here. I love the certainty of a HEA, having a fun place to escape to, especially during pandemic times. I grew up in a somewhat dysfunctional household and my parents were emotionally distant. I learned about the kind of relationships I wanted to have not from my parents, but from romance novels. Relationships where the hero and heroine were partners and helped each other through difficulties. And I also love reading about families in romance novels – they might be birth families or the families the characters make for themselves. One of the things I love about Jayne Ann Krentz is reading about the primary characters’ families. I often struggle to express my feelings but I know I would be in worse shape if it weren’t for what I learned from romance novels!

  31. 31
    juhi says:

    Definitely the knowledge that things are going to turn out happily. It needn’t be a rambunctious happiness. It can be a hopeful, soft thing. But the certainty that things are not going to end just dark and dreary is the number one reason I love romance (and also middle grade and children’s books, especially fantasies). In other words, what Sarah said. 😛

    That it centers women, and their lives, especially their inner lives, with its attendant emotions and feelings, is the other reason.

  32. 32
    Midge says:

    So much of what has been said already. Knowing that there’s a HEA, and allll the feels of course! I started with romance at 12 or 13 and quickly fell for Regency romance – 99% percent of romance that I read since were Regencies (contemporaries are just too ridiculous for me – all those tycoons and fake marriage… nah). Mary Balogh is my queen. I could go for months without any and then binge on several, or I’d keep the new deliveries of pre-ordered books on my Kindle for holidays or long flights. I read a lot of different books and sometimes after a challenging read, I’d need a “palate cleanser”, so I would go for a romance.
    But since last May, this has changed completely. I’ve literally binged on a ton of romance since then, and by far the most of that has been m/m. First I bought more of my usual m/f Regency catnip stuff (I’m quite choosy!), and then I stumbled across KJ Charles’ Society of Gentlemen and Band Sinister and… from there it just spiralled! Cat Sebastian, Joanna Chambers (The Enlightenment series – I don’t know even where to start there!!!), Ava March, Keira Andrews and many, many more… still mostly historical onex, but I’ve read quite a few contemporary ones too and I mostly liked those at least a lot more than m/f contemporaries! I’m not even sure how to explain this – except that they give me allll the feels that I was craving somehow.
    I feel like now I’m ready to delve into other books again, but I can definitely not wait for the new books especially by KJ Charles and Joanna Chambers. These two have become my two new favourites among these authors.

  33. 33
    Ruth L says:

    @Midge — if you haven’t run across them already: Ella Frank’s Temptation series (contemporary m/m). So many feels! Six books worth of them. And yes, I thought that was ridiculous and no, when I was finished I didn’t think so anymore.

  34. 34
    Maureen says:

    I’m late to the discussion, but I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I got started on romance back in 1976-I was lucky enough, my first boyfriend’s mother was an avid romance reader-she had a wall full of Harlequin Romances. I would bring a bag and she let me borrow as many as I could carry home. I’ve always been an avid reader, I can’t remember not being able to read, but that kind of romance was new to me. I had to rely on libraries back then, my school didn’t have romances, and my hometown library wasn’t much better. My roommate in college liked to read romances, so we came back from Christmas break as soon as the dorms opened, and all we did for a week was read romances! We would finish one, switch-it was so fun.

    I’ve loved romance novels, and I love history-so I read a lot of historical romance for many years. I never picked up a contemporary, and I’m not sure why! This site got me to open up to all kinds of romance novels, and I’m so grateful. I love them because they are descriptive, they remind me of Austen-when people criticize her for writing about small things? That is what I love about romance. I want to know what people are eating, what kind of animals they have, what the garden looks like. That is my happy place! Add a hockey player, and it is perfection 🙂

    I love knowing there will be a happy ending. After reading Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper-and throwing that book across the room? With romance I know that things will work out. I read other novels, but romance is like Hygge to me-the comfort coziness of a good story, and a happy ending.

  35. 35
    lils says:

    Stefanie Magura said it best “I have begun reading romance and stuck with it because nothing catastrophic happens to the main characters in the end”.

    I’ve read other genres where after reading a huge three tomb series the ending is just sad. I want an ending where everyone is in a good spot, even if not at a HEA. Romance never leaves you feeling empty at the end.

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