We’ve all heard the stereotype: Romance novels are poorly written mommy porn. Strange, isn’t it? We’re told that the most important things in life are the relationships we build with others—with our families, our spouses, our friends—and when in our old age we look back on our lives, what matters most is loving and being loved in return. Yet when that ideal is packaged in a product created by mostly women, for an audience of mostly women, suddenly it’s deserving of mockery. Hello, sexism.
In truth, romance novels can teach us a lot about how to live a happy, fulfilling life. Here are just a few examples:
- Surround yourself with supportive people
“Women helped each other in ways small and large every day, without thinking, and that was what kept them going even when the world came up with new and exciting ways to crush them.” —Let Us Dream, Alyssa Cole
One of my favorite things about romance novels is the relationships that aren’t romantic. In these stories, friendships are deep and meaningful. Behind every strong woman is another strong woman telling her to pull her head out of her butt. No one has to go through the hard times alone, and this is just as true for the men as the women. Surrounding yourself with true friends and being a true friend in return is one of the hallmarks of romance novels.
- There are two sides to every story
“To err is human. To forgive, absolutely galling.” —Tempt Me at Twilight, Lisa Kleypas
Romance novels are unique in that they are often told from multiple POVs. The characters might suffer through miscommunications and misunderstandings, but the reader sees everything clearly. We don’t have the luxury of thinking there is only one right way. Thanks to taking a deep dive in the psyche of both main characters, we know that there is a little bit of right and a little bit of wrong in all of us.
- Everyone deserves love
“You can be strong and have moments of incredible despair, when everything feels like it’s collapsing in on you, and yes, when you feel like you want to die. Those moments are not weaknesses. They are simply moments. And they are not you.” –Hate to Want You, Alisha Rai
Despite their reputation as “fluff,” many romance novels tackle darker topics such as depression and other mental health issues, grief, childhood traumas running that run the gamut from death of a parent to abuse of all kinds—and the wounds we don’t suffer ourselves, but instead inflict upon others. Through it all, the message is clear: We can grow. We can make amends. We can forgive others and ourselves. We all deserve love. Even werewolves.
- Everything is all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it isn’t the end.
“Eddy dreamed of owning her own restaurant. It was a common belief that women like her, the descendant of slaves, had no right to dream.” —Forbidden, Beverly Jenkins
Romance novels come in all subgenres: fantasy, paranormal, sci-fi, historical, contemporary, and everything in between. No matter the setting, one rule remains the same: There must be a happily ever after (HEA). No HEA? Then it’s not a romance.
This rule has an (undeserved) bad reputation. I’ve heard it all over the years: that it’s lazy writing, formulaic, unrealistic. What nonsense. It might be formulaic, but guess what, all stories are. Is it really easier to write a believable happy ending than a tragic one? Look around you. It’s madness out there. Disease, poverty, racism, sexism, war. Tragedy is easy. Fighting through all the hard things to earn happiness? That’s hard. But in romance and in life, it is possible.
Romance, like fairy tales, teach us that monsters don’t just exist. They can be defeated.
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