I've been building up a good old-fashioned frothing rant about romance novels. I fully admit that as a teenager living at home, romance novels were about the juiciest things I could get to read, with the most sex. Sure, my mom tried to keep me from reading any of the "explicit" ones, but she was about as successful at that as she was in keeping me from reading her abnormal psych textbooks sitting on the living-room shelves, with all kinds of awful graphic sex and rape and mutilation stuff in them. Which is to say not successful at all. Duh, if you're going to tell a kid she can't read something, take it out of the living-room!
Anyway, romance novels. I used to just suck them up. They had History in them, and Sex. No more potent combination existed in my adolescent mind. Somewhere around my sophomore year of high school, it occurred to me that I could probably write romances; they're so formulaic, all you have to do is write one, and then change bits and pieces and names forever, and you're got yourself a series. Even now, I sometimes contemplate writing them; it would be so easy. But I just can't bring myself to sell my soul to that particular devil, since I hate them so much.
Here's what I hate: the heroine is always about 15 when the book starts. She's no older than 18 or 19 when she meets the hero. She's immature, "not fully into womanhood" at the start, but ends up curvy yet slender, with waist-length hair of auburn, mahogany, gold, or ebony. Her eyes are sapphire, emerald, topaz, or amethyst; never brown or black. She speaks several languages, plays chess, is a fabulous horsewoman, and usually knows how to fence because her father wanted a son, and never really loved her so she was a tomboy to gain his affection. She's a hoyden, a spitfire, a hellion; varying degrees of out-of-control, intelligent, and very passionate. She wants nothing more than to prove that she's worthy of love. She may have kissed a local sweetheart once or twice, but no spit was exchanged and she's definitely a virgin.
The hero, on the other hand, is always about thirty-something, has never been in love, has had several mistresses (no STDs though, apparently), is ruggedly handsome: tall, dark, mysterious, cold, and commanding. Usually he's had money and power all his life, always with some kind of title (Duke and Earl are most popular), but no one has ever loved him. He's a rake, a cad, a user, never thinking of anyone but himself. His father was cold and demanding, and taught him that love makes you weak. His parents' shameless extra-marital affairs confirmed his suspicions that love was a lie. For some reason he ends up with Hoyden Girl. He wants her. He feels nothing emotional for her, but she does get under his skin.
So she's smart and beautiful, yet seems to think this guy is the best she can do? Accurate for an 18-year old girl, I suppose, but not satisfying to me as a reader, hoping that she could actually be smart about something other than languages and chess. And why is he giving her the time of day anyway, when he's got courtesans and mistresses just dripping off of him? I'm not buying that he "just likes a challenge."
The stereotypes bug me, but I could probably just let it go, if it wasn't for the myths that the stories perpetuate about love and romance; that's what really makes me froth. The girl has never been kissed and has been raised as a proper, modest maiden. Yet after two kisses from the hero, she's "drugged insensible" and doesn't even notice when he starts taking her clothes off. Or, if they're already married, she's scared of their wedding night, but soon is burning with desire for him. She's too scared to even look at his naked body, but her tentative touches to his chest drive him wild. There's no lube, no preparation, just some kissing and some breast-fondling, and bam! he's "breaching her virgin door." That is, unless he rapes her outright because he thinks she was cheating on him, and only realizes she was a virgin when he sees the blood on his thighs later. The foreplay is always several chapters previous to the actual intercourse.
(She always bleeds all over the place. I checked with my friends when I lost my cherry; apparently little-to-no bleeding is the usual case, especially in women who are active. You know, who ride horses or, say, fence. YMMV of course.)
The sex is almost laughable - she's always so responsive that she cllimaxes moments before he does, with no additional stimulation. True, clitoral orgasms are only one kind of orgasm, but I'm thinking a g-spot type orgasm on your first time at intercourse with someone who hasn't really prepared you is probably not so very likely. With heroic effort, he holds off his orgasm until she's done because he's a good lover (although he have no proof of that other than this Herculean task). And as they're coming down, he refuses to say he loves her. Duh, even college guys know to lie about that after sex. How did Hero get so many chicks in the sack if he can't even lie?
Finally, even if it was rape, she forgives him, because she's so damn understanding. Later there's another sort of misunderstanding and they say awful things to each other. Maybe he forces her again (but it's not rape this time, because by now they're married) and she gets pregnant. Possibly he thinks the kid is someone else's, but by the time the baby is born, Love Has Conquored All and they live happily ever after, and they all end with some line about how "reformed rakes make the best husbands."
Why is that? Because they're good in bed and filthy rich? And once you've taught them it's acceptable for them to have some emotions, everything will be perfect?
It just makes me ill.
As a teenager, I knew the physical descriptions and plots were unrealistic and I could deal with that. And granted, I was na´ve and dumb in a lot of ways. But I really thought love and romance and sex would be like that, at least sort of. A few kisses and SWOON. Orgasm from penetration only. Passion and arguing and risking life and grand romance. But, surprise surprise, life wasn't like that. And the relationships where it WAS like that SUCKED.
I blame trashy romances for convincing women (since most men don't read this stuff) that that is how love is supposed to be - grand and passionate and tempestuous and overwhelming. And it's not. Despite the fact that we grow out of it eventually, just think how much happier young women (and men) would be, if every girl wasn't drooling over the dark, mysterious, aloof boy that she just KNOWS she could transform into a loving, caring man and live happily ever after with. Maybe girls would date those geeky, nice boys instead, and think of how happy everyone would be then!
Unfortunately, some end up scarred for life. I know someone who has a great SO but thinks she's maybe missing out on grand passion. I keep wanting to declare that grand passion wears out! It flares and disappears. I'ts not realistic to expect to sustain that kind of drama in an adult relationship. And why would you truly even want to? Relationships take enough effort and energy without siphoning it all away into meaningless angst.
Passion is great, but romance-novel levels of passion are simply naive. And that shouldn't be such a tragedy. I just wish there were more "romances" out there that show couples who have interests in common, respect each other, and enjoy each other's company. Then the frenzied fucking is even better! Those are the kind of books that should be out there, validating real adult relationships!
Passion and sex are fantastic. So is companionship. And love is a very real force. Romance, though, is just a myth, and a dangerous one that that.
Columns by Wanton Hussy