Friday, September 7, 2012


Yesterday Malinda Lo (@malindalo) tweeted about "disparaging remarks about girls' interest in romance" and followed it with, "Love (the point of romance!) is the most important experience any human being will ever have. Girls are right to think it's important."

I've had a note on my desk for a while to blog about the belittling of romance, and Malinda's comments reminded me of it. They also reminded me about the belittling of girls, but that's a topic for another post. One problem at a time. (I do note that I have met guys who are also interested in romance, and I'm sure they've heard belittling remarks about romance, too.)

We human beings are famously afraid of our own vulnerabilities, and we often get squicked out by our own desire to have someone hold us or show us we are cherished or tell us we are loved. Whereas some of our other desires--such as to see our enemies humbled--make us feel powerful, and we give them much freer rein in books and movies. It's no secret that we're far more tolerant of violence than of sex in our artwork. Not only that, we often see love stories as--well, mushy. Or frivolous. Cute but not vital.

But I'm with Malinda on the importance of romance. There are some romance-related questions that are central to most of our lives:
Does this person love me? Do I love him/her? How do I know? How can I be sure? If I am sure, how do I show it?
Is this person right for me?
How quickly should this relationship develop? How do I balance my needs and the other person's? What does a good relationship look like?
If I love someone who doesn't love me (or doesn't anymore), how do I cope?
If my love and I can't be together for externally-imposed reasons, how do we deal with that?

The answers to these questions change the directions of people's lives. And of course novels themselves don't do that, but they enable us to explore these feelings and questions in situations where our own futures are not at stake. Even in the most fun, escapist romance, we're trying on some of these emotions and decisions, toying with what-ifs, using our imagination to help define happiness.


  1. I've heard some disparaging of romance, which is lame. Love is important.

    On the other hand, depending on what they criticize, I can see their point. Most of what I hear from young women my own age is that they hate romance books where all the girl cares about, in the whole world, is her man. Or where she drops all her other interests to be with/obsess over her boy. Like she needs a relationship to feel validated. And instead of lovely stories where protag learns to love herself *and* love someone else, you get Twilight, where this kind of imbalanced relationship is glorified. When I hear people complain about romance, *that's* usually the kind of "romance" they mean.

    1. Like any topic, romance can be badly written--but it can be beautifully written also.
      I think the girl-needs-guy-as-a-reason-to-exist story is on the decline (thankfully)--or at least it's not the only story out there. And romances like Pride & Prejudice, where the heroine is loved *because* she is her own person, have been remarkably enduring.
      Yet the desire to be adored is a powerful one, and will probably always have a wish-fulfillment place in our literature.

  2. I agree with the healthy balance aspect of the romance. As teens, girls tend to dive in so deep and risk losing self, friends, everyone, just for the status of that relationship. I think this type of love is what gets ragged on.

    I, however, love when we see girls not only finding romance, but in the process becoming bigger for it. Because, really, that's how it's supposed to happen. IMHO.

    Great post Jennifer.

    1. Thanks!
      The best real-life romances are those that enhance our lives, rather than substituting for our lives. And I agree, I like to see that in books. But I also like to see books explore the ways in which romance can go wrong--because, alas, there are so many ways!

  3. Love your post!
    I wanted to add:
    At the risk of getting everyone's panties in a twist... I agree that girls should develop their own sense of self aside from their BF or true love or crush, whatever... I have two daughters, 17 and 14 years old. So I’m there, especially with my eldest. She has a boyfriend who she thinks she can’t live without. Yet, she’s still planning a future that may not include him (whew!).

    But as a YA author, I also think you have to be somewhat realistic and realize there is a huge percentage of girls (and guys) who want to believe they're the most important person/thing to someone else. They've been overlooked, put down, ignored, and hurt by people in their lives and they just want to feel that they're important to another person.

    Exploring that feeling through romance in novels is one way to get that giddy, excited, over the top feeling they may not get in the real world at the moment.

    We all want to be special, so special that somewhere there is at least one person in the world who thinks they can't live without us.
    So give Bella and Edward a break and realize novels don't all have to teach lessons or push girls to think a certain way about life. Sometimes it's okay for a novel to be read solely for purpose of entertainment. Entertainment that gets heart rates up, imaginations revving, and breath taken away.

    1. Thanks, Kelley!
      I responded to the above comments before I read yours, and one of the replies I gave was, "Yet the desire to be adored is a powerful one, and will probably always have a wish-fulfillment place in our literature."

      An extremely interesting question to me is: to what extent does our literature reflect reality; to what extent does it encourage us to seek a better reality and lead better lives; and to what extent does it reflect our existing inner desires, healthy or not? And following up on that last question: are there some desires we have that are healthy when they exist in the realm of fantasy and only unhealthy if we try to live them, and do we all know the difference? (I think this question comes up a lot with violent video games too, about the difference between fantasy violence and real violence.)

      I don't know the answers. But I am glad that there are many different kinds of romantic stories out there: some reflecting relationships I would admire in real life, others reflecting relationships I would run from!

    2. Sorry -- I didn't mean to disparage the whimsy and excitement that goes along with romance and feeling loved. That is wonderful. I picked on Twilight though because Bella had friends, interests, skills, and dreams before she met Edward...that she completely dropped after meeting him. Having seen this happen to 2 of my friends -- one of whom completely ruined her life for this loser who was, and I quote, "The Edward to my Bella" -- I guess I'm a little more sensitive to fictional portrayals of dysfunctional relationships that are glorified as perfect.

      Meh. Maybe it's all just wish fulfillment and it doesn't really matter. But I would rather read something like Fury, another paranormal where this girl basically butchers a longstanding friendship to be with a boy...and then realizes he's not the dream guy she thought he was. But to each their own! Like Jennifer said, there's a romance out there for everybody.

    3. Thanks, Laura, and I think the point you've raised, about girls sacrificing their own interests for "love," is a good one for book clubs to discuss when they read a romance--to ask what, if anything, a fictional heroine has sacrificed, and then to ask if they or their friends make those sacrifices in real life.

    4. That's a great question for a book group! :) Another one -- is the hero/heroine really in love, or in love with love? How do they realize the difference and what do they learn about the other person/themselves?

      Even if books don't set out to "teach a lesson," they still hopefully make you think about these things. :)

  4. I love this! I like that those questions can be explored in novels and enhance other people's lives by helping them -- even subconsciously -- to think things through a little more when they are faced with hard decisions and situations.

    1. To me, that's one of the big pleasures of reading fiction.

  5. As an adult romance author, I love this. As part of a writing partnership with an upcoming YA romance release, I double love this... so much so that I shared it on FB and am trying to Tumbl it with my new and limited social media skills :-). Well said, Jennifer. Long live romance... and the beauty and meaning it brings to our lives. It's important for girls/women of all ages to know what a healthy romance looks like.