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Romantic reading? …not so much.

Written by Kirsten on February 17th, 2011

Today’s Booking Through Thursday had me pretty well stumped, which I found interesting. I mean, I know I’m not a big fan of capital R “Romance,” but you’d think, being the complete sap that I am, I’d be able to rattle off plenty of examples of beautifully “romantic” reads.

Ummmm…. No.

The first one that came to mind was Message in a Bottle. Really, though, there was only one bit of the book that stood out in my memory (which was left out of the movie – boy, did that burn my biscuits), and that doesn’t seem to make it a fair contender.

Next up, Tipping the Velvet. A better choice, as it’s one of the few books I’ve read with a storyline that somewhat parallels my own love life (queer, butch-femme, the way one of the relationships develops), but still, the romance I found compelling in that one is only really covered in a small bit of the book. That doesn’t count, right?

So I visited my trusty LibraryThing catalog. Surely something in my 4-5 star range will be more…. romance-y. But really, the “love stories” that exist as sub-plots in the books I love are messed up. Like, seriously codependent, or abusive in some way, or otherwise unhealthy. What gives? So this got me thinking about how “romance” is portrayed in books and media.

As for me, yes, I have a tendency toward codependence. Yes, I have stayed too long in an abusive relationship. Yes, I have plenty of work to do in therapy to make sure I’m the healthiest “me” I can be, in general and for my partner. But I don’t elevate my behaviors to “devotion” or “truly in love” or “unconditional” or whatever other crap is used as justification for ignoring our own needs because of a partner. Almost every book I’ve ever read with some romantic thread has an example of one of these unhealthy behaviors masked as something desirable. Is that just because of the genres I read, or is it across the board? Are we unsatisfied with healthy relationships because we aren’t throwing aside our lives to prove our love, like we see in books, film, and television?


13 Comments so far ↓

  1. I think it’s the word “romance” that’s the problem for me. Many people seem to equate romance with codependence (Twilight anyone?). It’s therefore going to be hard to find that right balance of romance in many contemporary books. Instead, when I think of romance I think of Gilbert and Anne in the Anne of Green Gables series. If forced to choose a romantic contemporary couple, I think I’d have to go with Joe Morelli and Stephanie Plum; who fight and make up but always remain friends and always have their own lives (sometimes to a fault).

    • Kirsten says:

      Good call on Anne and Gilbert! I really should re-read my obnibus; you know it was years before I knew that Anne’s House of Dreams wasn’t book 3, because the volume I got as a kid has 1, 2, and 5?
      I think codependence has a lot of cleverly disguised faces in relationships, both fictional and real life, and most people don’t recognize it. It’s hard work trying to rid yourself of the tendencies when they’re engrained in you.

  2. “Almost every book I’ve ever read with some romantic thread has an example of one of these unhealthy behaviors masked as something desirable.”

    –I can totally equate with this. There is a lot of unhealthy behavior in romantic novels. In the ones I can think of there always seems to be some sort of underhanded behavior (hiding, deceit, etc). I don’t know why it’s like that, but it always appears to be that way.

  3. Lori says:

    This was actually a difficult question for me. I just couldn’t choose one. Check out my answer for this week’s Booking Through Thursday.

    • Kirsten says:

      You’ve definitely got me beat on the paranormal tip! I admit to enjoying the Twilight series, but it’s really the only recent paranormal stuff I’ve read (besides PC/Kristen Cast’s “Marked,” which I felt was a waste of two hours of my life). I may have to look into this and see if I can find something that isn’t too “tweeny” or too romance-y, because I do enjoy the lore and mythology.

  4. Eva says:

    I tend to avoid novels when romance is the main thing with them, but a good romance in an otherwise good book is a bonus :-)

    • Kirsten says:

      I think my problem with “unofficial” romance sub plots is when a few lines every few chapters reads like soft porn; I find it to be awkward and a distraction. That’s the one thing I’m not crazy about in the Soulless series – there are few enough amorous scenes, but lines like (paraphrasing), “a certain amount of wetness that was not caused by the rain”? Really? I mean, I’m all for some good erotica (though it’s damned hard to find), but that just seems out of place in an otherwise clever and witty novel.

  5. I agree about how romance is portrayed in books, music, movies, etc.

    Co-dependent relationships are all too familiar, and the one I’ve mentioned in my post is no different.


  6. Marie says:

    I know what you mean. I think it may be because it’s how a lot of people experience love, and because dysfunction can stimulate drama. A book about a healthy relationship would probably be pretty boring. :-)

    • Kirsten says:

      Ha, ain’t that the truth. I know my therapist and I have talked a lot – a LOT – about how those of us accustomed to “chaos,” even if it’s not necessarily negative, have a really hard time when things are calm and peaceful. Those are supposed to be welcome feelings, but they make me restless and nervous. I’m working on that :)

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