Does true romance really exist? Or is it just the stuff and nonsense of romance novels?
I do believe in romance, or I wouldn’t write romance novels. Having said that, I have to admit there are a few qualifications that go along with that attestation. A romance is a story where people connect in a way that’s beyond that of the common-place and casual. I think we dream about making that profound connection with another person. It brings us out of ourselves; let’s us see the world in a whole new way. It seems to me that’s what readers want in a romance—to vicariously experience that moment of intense connection, to feel alive, to see oneself as unique and beautiful through the eyes of another.
But is romance escapism? Wouldn’t it be better to see the world for what it is—a place where war and famine exists, where people daily take advantage, lie and steal from one another? As a child, we slowly learn the lesson that ‘life isn’t fair.’ What’s more, life can be ugly, cold and harsh. By the time we’re adults, we’re wary about being seen as a pushover…someone who’s foolish enough to believe in dreams. We know from firsthand experience that if a political candidate should mention the word ‘dream’ in their speech, they’ll be attacked by their hard-nosed opponent as being weak or unsubstantial.
But it’s mainly because life can be harsh (or routine and boring) that the romance novel has its appeal. Almost everyone knows the thrill of going to a movie theatre and escaping for a few hours to a place of excitement, romance and adventure.
Of course, there’s always the risk that a person mistakes the ‘escape’ for ‘reality.’ This is one of the main criticisms about the romance novel. Sure, most of us recognize the fantasy elements…but what about the person who actually expects a knight in shining armor or an alpha (or two) with smoking pistols in their pocket to come strutting through their bedroom door?
What if she’s unable to see the cute, hopeful guy who’s into her big-time because she’s waiting for some amalgamation of every romance hero she’s every read?
For me, this isn’t much of an argument against romance novels. It does happen, and it’s unfortunate. But I can’t help but notice that people watch Clint Eastwood, Angelina Jolie or Harrison Ford incessantly, and rarely do they become convinced they’re a bad-ass who is going to save the world. That’s because the action-adventure hero is as much a fantasy as the romantic hero (and of course, these two roles blend together nicely.) It’s a ‘type,’ a myth that we as human beings recognize as easily as the warrior-hero or the brave, beautiful princess.
So back to my original question, “Does romance really exist?” I know that it does—just like other virtues, such as heroism, courage and altruism really exist. It’s an ideal, one that we should strive for in our relationships; not just passively wait for like a princess in a tower.
Romance is also a feeling. Sure, it’s something that happens between two people, but it’s also a person’s actions or a place that evokes a feeling of heightened awareness of oneself…the infinite possibilities of life. There’s a certain glamour to romance…a sense of something higher. It doesn’t have to be huge to be romantic. I have a scene in my upcoming Berkley time travel called DARING TIME where the early twentieth century heroine dances by herself, imagining being in her lover’s arms. It’s set in a lovely old ballroom and her satin, ermine-bordered dress swishes along the polished wood floor. That’s romance to me.
Romance lives. Sometimes it might even look and feel like a romance-novel-romance. Oftentimes, it’s as diverse, quirky, or quiet as the people who are romancing. Bolder, idealized romances in novels don’t take away from the beauty of that. Everyone has the ability to be the hero and heroine of their own life, to inject the dream into everyday existence…even if it is in some small, personal way.
So what do you think? Does romance exist in your life?