Last month I finished reading my second romance novel, “The Wedding” by Julie Garwood, and let me tell you: O. M. G.
These books–these romance novels–have changed how I look at relationships, and not in the way you’d think. After reading them, I’m actually less inclined toward a fairy tale romance and more inclined toward understanding relationships as two opposing, dramatically different individuals who are genuinely trying to make it work but who are having a hard time of it because, well, they’re human.
But, before I get to into why husbands and wives (or anyone, really) should read romance novels, let’s get three things straight:
First, let’s get off the boat that says all romance novels are chock-full of sex scenes. In both Garwood books I’ve read, the first had two such scenes, the second, one, and they weren’t untasteful, porn-type dictations–the sort that get made fun of in Friends–but romantic, affectionate tellings of the physical act of love between husband and wife (yes, the characters were married!).
While some, less sophisticated romance novels may stray in that naughty direction (Am I turning into a romance novel snob? Perhaps…), romance writing is not as, um, “dirty book” as the few lines of text Joey reads about the vicar’s daughter and the chimney sweep.
Second, let’s drop the “cool and indifferent” act and pretend for an instant we actually want to understand the opposite sex. There’s these concepts out in the world that men only watch action films and women only watch love stories; that men can’t understand women and women can’t understand men and we’re all doomed to this lifelong fate of frustration and confusion.
I hear people say all the time, “I just wish I understood him/her better” followed by a head-shaking and a shrug, as if there’s nothing to be done about it. When did people become so complacent that they gave up on inquiring about how the opposite sex thinks and what they want?
Are you the person who complains about not understanding but who makes no effort to understand? Well, YOU, you’re emotionally lazy. And a hypocrite…
hyp·o·crite \ˈhi-pə-ˌkrit\ noun : a person who claims or pretends to have certain beliefs about what is right but who behaves in a way that disagrees with those beliefs.
Thanks, Merriam-Webster, for clearing that up.
Third, let’s stop pretending that, once we have something, it doesn’t need to be continuously cared for. Do you stop maintaining your car once you go through the effort of saving up for it and buying it? Do you stop tending the lawn once it’s rooted? NO! Relationships, like anything you treasure, require regular maintenance. If you don’t maintain it, that means you’ve set foot onto a dangerous territory called “Complacency”. Even if you’re in a solid relationship, complacency starts as a hairline fracture that can go unnoticed until it’s so big you have to either learn to pole vault over it or walk away from the chasm altogether. My HUGE warning: Don’t. Become. Complacent.
Therefore, WAKE UP and pick up a romance novel, because relationships are about to get interesting again…
3 Reasons MEN should read romance novels
- Remember: women are women
- Be the hero
- More sex
I’m starting with men because they’re obviously less prone to pick up a romance novel than women are.
Most action movies can be summed up like this: good guy chases bad guy, becomes the hero, wins the girl. But, somewhere in between all that is usually a woman who is irrational, emotional, and needs constant attention, affirmation, and encouragement. Ugh. Why is she such a bother?
She’s not a bother. She’s a woman.
Never forget that women (in general) are more outwardly sensitive creatures than men, and, until we accept this, women will be viewed as necessary irritants to men’s lives instead of as valuable assets with different strengths. That mentality not only affects how men, consciously or subconsciously, treat women, but it also determines how women weigh their own importance and value.
Is she a bother, or an asset? The difference is critical.
I say ‘outwardly sensitive’ because men are equally sensitive, they just don’t show it because that’s what society has trained them to do: hide their feelings. And, hey, that’s OK. You do what you gotta do. Just don’t forget that women aren’t like that (despite what feminists would like to say).
Treat her emotions–her femininity–like a bother, and you’re essentially telling her she’s not worth being a hero for, she’s not worth saving, she’s not worth fighting for.
You’re telling her she should be more like a man, which is blatantly stupid and downright disrespectful.
In the romance novels I’ve read, the male protagonist’s struggle with this concept is all too real and all too obvious. You read his internal rationalizations on why he should be angry, experience his deep frustration at not understanding the woman’s emotional plight… but, then, he battles against his natural inclination (his selfish self) to leave her alone when she’s distraught (which is what many men do), and demands (rather loudly) that she come out of her shell and stop being afraid of him, because, dammit, he LOVES HER and just wants to be her hero and fix what’s wrong!
(Ladies: How romantic is that?)
Men: You don’t need to save babies from burning buildings and coddle puppies with broken legs to be a hero to your lady. You just need to save your girl, and sometimes that means saving her from herself.
Oh, and the sex part? Take if from The Romance Man when he says,
“I can’t believe more men don’t read these books, it’s like a blueprint for what women like, both sexually and emotionally. It’s a fuckin’ “how to” manual and men have been ignoring them for years.”
- Remember: men are men (not women)
- Be the damsel (ie Be cherish-able)
- More sex
Most romance films can be summed up like this: woman needs saving (whether she knows it or not), guy swoops in to rescue said damsel, woman wins hero’s heart.
Ladies, don’t get on your high horse. It took me a while to realize that we are our own worst enemy when it comes to relationships. Truly, we’re no better at relationships then men are. Why is that? Because feminism has stripped us of our damsel-ness.
Modern feminism, in its janked up state today, teaches women we’re supposed to be tough and independent, even bitchy: we don’t need car doors opened for us, we can run our own businesses, we don’t need someone to take care of us; we don’t need MEN. In some cases, this is true: A woman can run a business, make a good income, buy property, et cetera. Those are all good things, but they ignore a finer point:
Culturally, we (women) have been raised to believe we don’t (or shouldn’t) need help. Biologically, emotionally, we still do. And it’s created a generation (or two, or three) of women who are ruining relationships because of their rejection of this biological-emotional requirement.
I find myself in that spot constantly. Not sometimes. Not a lot. Constantly.
I’m a natural do-it-myselfer. As a child, I was prone to keeping to myself; I didn’t need others to entertain me. I enjoy being a Renaissance Woman, one who can just as easily catch and gut a fish as I can prepare a mad-good dinner and clean house. Also, I do things women don’t traditionally do: I kill mice, wrangle snakes in the barn, mow the lawn, pull on a pair of chest-high waders and go into the pond pulling out algae, decline coats when I’m cold, open my own doors, fix my own car, put out the trash, brave a man-stanky bathroom… In a word: I don’t ask for help nor do I demand tenderness.
I was taught that guys find this kind of tough independence attractive, which is why I never cared to turn it off before.
But, after reading these books, I’m wondering if maybe my eagerness to do everything makes my man feel like less than my hero. In my mind’s eye, I’m helping him with the chores. In his eye, maybe he thinks I don’t need him.
I’ve rejected his heroism by being the all-around tough chick I thought I was supposed to be. #facepalm
I relate a lot to LeeLoo in The Fifth Element: I’m tough and I act a good game, like I’m the “perfect being” (seriously not) made to do everything, but I’m still tender inside, and still need someone to save me. Or like Danielle in Ever After, who saves herself from the dirty Pierre le Pieu (*gag*) and exits the tower just as Prince Henry arrives to, um, rescue her? Awkward.
Like these heroines/damsels, my independence is a thorn as well as a rose, but I’m working on letting my dependency show through more. It’s really, really hard–I’m reprogramming my mind, after all–and I’m #thankful for my husband for putting up with me while I struggle to be the damsel to his heroism.
That said, I believe that, once us women let the guys be our heroes, things will be romantic again in the true sense of the word. Not a flighty, temporary romance, but a true love story. The chase will once again be on for men to win their damsels over. The complacency will fade as the challenges return, and the fire will be back, burning with fervor.
Why books are NOT the same as movies!
I used to think romance novels–with their cheesy, shirtless, Fabio-esque covers and their soft-porn type questionable titles–were beneath me. I had romance movies, after all. That was enough.
I don’t know when or how or where I happened to come in possession of “Prince Charming”, the first romance novel I’ve ever read. It might have been in a bag of 25-cent library book finds that my mother-in-love gave hubby and I last Christmas. After reading thoroughly through the Magister Trilogy and then the latest release of the Richard and Kahlan novels, I was about tired of fantasy fiction. I needed something new.
Enter “Prince Charming”.
I read it and was wowed. I finally grasped what the big deal was about these books, and it wasn’t about sex. It was about emotional satisfaction, a kind of emotional satisfaction I didn’t get from any chick flick I’d ever seen. Why was that? I asked myself. Then, it hit me:
Movies are PASSIVE experiences. We sit back and watch as everything is done for us. We’re not inside the characters’ minds, we don’t know what they’re thinking or why they’re doing what they’re doing. There’s a lot of reliance on verbalization to get real depth of character (and depth of relationship) from a movie.
If we rely on romance/action movies to help us understand the minds and hearts of the opposite sex, we’ll inadvertently take that passivity with us then become confused and angry as to why it isn’t working.
Books are INTERACTIVE experiences. We read and are given the characters’ thoughts as well as the coordinating action. If written well, the characters are rounded, very human, and, because we know what they’re thinking when they do something, we can begin to make links between external action and internal turmoil.
- Why would a man become silent and aloof when a woman frustrates him? Is it because he doesn’t care, or something else?
- Why would a woman burst into tears over a rational solution her man offered to an obvious problem? Does she think his ideas are stupid, or something else?
- Why do men (and women) sometimes see love as a weakness of character, and not a strength?
- How do differences in upbringing effect communication between lovers?
These very serious relationship questions and more were alluded to in my read of “The Wedding”. I was genuinely surprised at what I found, including a lot of opportunities for self-reflection. Like I said, I’m still working on a lot of things (one step forward, two steps back at times), but, given some perspective, I can avoid complacency by continuously working to make myself better for my husband’s sake.
Reading romance novels certainly isn’t the end-all to understanding men or women or to maintaining good relationships, but I hope you’ll take the time to read one to learn a little about when the other half wants, needs, and desires.
Just one tip for choosing a romance novel: avoid the Fabio covers and the cheesy titles (those scream of the soft porn stereotype) and maybe even try for a romance by a male author.
Final Point of Interest, for those of inquiring minds:
9% of romance readers are men and–SURPRISE!–your action stories are likely already romances!
- “The great irony is men already read books with romance in them — they just aren’t called romance novels. If you take Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity, flip it and tell it from the woman’s point of view, it would have been published as a romantic suspense novel and would have had a completely different cover, a different marketing plan… but really, Jason Bourne meets a woman, she goes along on his big spy adventure, and they wind up together, with a happily ever after on a Carribbean beach at the end…”