posted on February 13, 2020 by Sawyer North

Men Don’t Read Romance

“Men Don’t Read Romance, and That’s Fine.”

The first part of that statement is generally true. I have a problem with the second part. Before digging into the latter, though, we must address a core question: Why don’t men read romance?

My mother was a prolific reader of romance novels. She averaged perhaps a novel per week for five decades and kept only the ones she thought she might read again. When I left home, the bookshelf outside my basement bedroom contained around one thousand romance novels. Like my mother, I was a relentless reader. So, how many of her romance novels did I read? As it turns out, exactly zero. Popular psychology might claim that, as a boy, my DNA bent me toward science fiction and adventure novels, and if I had been a girl, my DNA would have pushed me toward romance novels.

I think this theory is mostly wrong.

Prior to two years ago when I announced that I had discovered romance novels, I do not recall a single instance in my life of a woman pointing me toward a pure romance novel and saying, “You should read that.” Not my mother. Not my favorite aunt. Not my sisters. Not my wife. And never had a man said to me, “I read this great romance novel; you should read it, too.” I literally cannot remember a single instance of either. Why is that?

I have a purely anecdotal, unverified opinion about why, so take it with a huge grain of salt. Here goes. Young children generally love similar books. By age six or seven, though, they begin to hear the siren’s call of certain genres that appeal to them. However, I believe they also hear strong spoken and unspoken messages about what genres are appropriate for their gender. Girls are nudged toward romance and drama. Boys are prodded toward adventure and science fiction. The message is clear: romance is feminine, and to read it challenges a boy’s masculinity. This scythe cuts both ways. Show me a woman who has loved science fiction since childhood and I will show you someone who has been wrongly told at some point and in so many words that she is odd.

Now, to the question of, “Why is this status quo not fine?” Again, I have an uneducated and unverified opinion, so consider it as you will. Romance novels at their hearts are stories of relationship dialogue. They show examples of two people kept apart by internal and external conflicts who come together through internal and external dialogue. Thus, girls who read romance novels attend a years long master class of what relationship dialogue looks like, what works best, and what is harmful. Boys, on the other hand, are schooled through their literature in the art of fixing dire problems using extreme and blunt measures.

Early in my marriage, whenever my wife and I had a disagreement, she would want to engage in extensive dialogue to examine the issue from all angles and work toward an agreeable reconciliation. I, on the other hand, just wanted to fix it. I just wanted a quick solution, which I thought could be obtained through complex logic arguments or grand gestures. In other words, I was wholly unprepared for reasonable relationship dialogue. It took me years to learn that sometimes I needed to shut up and listen sometimes and not ramrod solutions. It took me two decades to learn that the act of dialogue itself is usually the solution, because most disagreements begin as a failure of communication. (I’m looking at you, Mr. Darcy!)

Though anecdotal, I believe my experience generally describes a significant percentage of male/female relationships. Yes, there are many exceptions. However, I believe the rule of thumb that the average woman is better equipped for relationship dialogue than is the average man. I also believe that the disparity need not be as great as it is. I’m not foolish enough to think that simply reading romance novels erases our gender differences. However, I do wonder how much the lack of relationship dialogue training impacts boys. Since becoming a romance reader only late in life, I recognize how much I have benefited from what I have read in terms of my improved relationship dialogue.

If only I had started reading romance novels earlier. If only someone had said to me in my youth, “You should read this. It’s fine.”

I will be giving away $10 Amazon gift cards to three people who comment!

Sawyer North

Sawyer North

As a male writer of historical romance, I am a member of a small but fortunate fraternity. After I ignored the genre for most of my life, discovering many years ago how much I loved it proved more than simply unexpected. It was an epiphany. Reading romance has changed me as a man by eroding my introversion, improving my relationship energy, and kindling hotter the romantic flame of my life. As a writer of other genres, it was only a matter of time until I felt compelled to try my hand at historical romance. After three pedestrian manuscripts, the fourth finally found a home at Entangled Publishing. I am far more lucky than good as a writer, and strive every day to reduce that ratio.

10 thoughts on “Men Don’t Read Romance”

  1. Merry says:

    I agree that many children are told–either implicitly or explicitly–that they should read one genre over another and yes, I completely agree that it’s wrong. Just because a child is of a certain gender doesn’t mean that they can’t appreciate any sort of story. I encouraged both my son and daughter to read romance, high fantasy, and science fiction (at age-appropriate times). I also married a man who openly and proudly said that he’d grown up reading romances by Georgette Heyer.
    On the other hand, I don’t think you need to have read romance to be a good communicator and believe in talking things out–that is something we all need to learn, no matter what you read.

    1. Sawyer North says:

      Your points about encouraging children to have a wide range of reading interests, and about teaching them how to communicate well are spot on. My parents tried teaching me how to communicate, but the culture of teen males says, “let your actions do the talking, not your words.” In my case at least, these were conflicting messages that I had to sort through.

  2. Love the book cover! I’m always surprised and glad when I discover that a book I love was written by a man. You always hear about so many men are not romantic and when you discover a wonderful romance book was, in fact, written by a man, I think it’s pretty impressive!

  3. bn100 says:

    nice cover

  4. Tina Alicea says:

    🤔 Very thought provoking. I guess I’ve never really thought of the why’s other than “they’re men” lol. I have looked for romance books written by men because I’d like to hear a man’s perspective on the subject(and all that entails). I have an 8 year old son and I’m thinking when he gets older before graduating high school I need to challenge him to read a couple to get a heads up. Hopefully I’ll remember this post when he gets old enough. Anyway congratulations on your book!!! Beautiful cover! I loved the blog!

  5. Noël says:

    Good point! I think we are often told in society that men just think differently than women. Women are more verbal. But If that is so why are there so many books written by men? This is another nature versus nurture discussion.
    I think I’ll forward this to my daughter who has two midsize stepsons and a toddler boy and a toddler girl.
    Hi Katie!

  6. LiederMadchen says:

    I love this. I once, over the period of several months, brought my oldest brother from saying ‘women don’t write books I like to read’ to reading Sherrilyn Kneyon and Nora Roberts and liking them. I have been defending romance as a genre for so long and this article makes me happy.

  7. flchen1 says:

    Wow, great post, Sawyer! I do think very few people tend to push romance on ANYONE, much less boys. Romance tends to be the black sheep of reading, and gets pooh-poohed a lot, by both sexes, unfortunately. And as you said, the gender divide starts pretty early, with reading and other activities, so the chances of romance being recommended as a genre to male readers is sadly pretty low :/ But I completely agree that it has so much to recommend itself to everyone–a well-written romance is not only a satisfying story, it can be a masterclass in communication, on healthy relationships, on great sex, on how to be a loving person in community… Thanks for the great reminder on why we should be recommending romance to boys and girls alike!

  8. Great article, thank you. I can only tell from my experience, too: my partner read Jane Austen earlier than I did, and with more understanding of the literary impact, etc. I preferred Georgette Heyer‘s work, mainly for her witty dialogues. He read some of her books I had recommened to him, but didn‘t love them as I do. I think they are too artless for his taste, and there is a lack of action and adventure besides. Currenty reading your Regency Novel, I find it interesting to find in the plot a quest and – so far – quite some action. So: Do need men action and quality of writing to put up with the romance?

    1. Sawyer North says:

      Good question about what men prefer. My writing tendency is to include an action element in the plot, but I do enjoy novels where action is not an element. However, I prefer external dialogue to internal dialogue, but my wife prefers the opposite. I don’t know if that is a female/male difference of just reader preference. I’d guess the latter.

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