I became fascinated with romance novels in the seventh grade. To be honest, the initial lure was probably the fact that I was sternly told that I couldn’t read them. This, of course, sparked a flame of rebellion in my 13 year-old soul and led to my stealthily stealing an entire box full of the lurid books from my grandmother’s basement. I spent many of my teenage years furtively seeking secret places where I could read in peace, and not have to pretend that I was reading some endless work of haunt- ing prose that ends in tragedy and where all the characters die in the end – yuck! I’m 21 years-old now, and supposedly an adult, but it seems that I am no less fascinated by romance novels than I was eight years ago as a young girl. And no less criticized for it.
In my experience, admitting that you are a reader of the romance genre is an open invitation for people to mock you for your “unsophisticated” reading choices, especially when you are a young woman in college. Apparently, it seems that society cannot comprehend the notion that a woman who can intelligently discuss French philosophy and speak three languages can also enjoy reading about grand love stories. For some reason, even people who have never even bothered to crack the cover of a romance novel and investigate the story behind the racy cover, think that it is in their purview to judge what I read. To be fair, I have read some awful romances – just as I have read some terrible mysteries, poorly written works of literature, and horrible tomes of non-fiction. However, I honestly cannot think of a genre more appropriate than romance for a college student to read, regardless of gender.
Most people think of a romance reader as some lonely woman sitting under the covers eating bon-bons and bemoaning the fact that there just seems to be no eligible guys around. This image cannot be further from the truth. Not only do romance readers come in all shapes, sizes, and relationship statuses, they also come from all education backgrounds. One of the more prolific romance novel authors, Eloisa James, is a college professor in her downtime, and Elizabeth Essex, another writer, is a nautical archaeologist with multiple scholarly, academic works under her belt. The romance industry is also one of the primary reasons why we can still hold a paper book in our hands and not have to rely solely on an e-reader for supposedly more superior book preferences. According to BookStats and the Romance Writers of America (RWA) website, romances in 2013 brought in over $1.05 billion, and is one the large reasons why the paper book publishing industry hasn’t been completely obliterated by the Kindle and Nook.
The lure of the romance novel is not the fact that it contains the “per- fect guy” or a “cheesy love story”; in fact, it’s often quite the opposite. Anybody who has read a wide variety of romance would know that the stories are actually about growth, and facing the challenges that life presents head on. The characters find love, yes, but it’s usually only after fac- ing difficult and life-altering circumstances; I can’t tell you how many romance novels I’ve read that deal with hard issues like rape, discrimina- tion, the death of loved ones, career failures, and much more. Ultimately, the romance novel presents situations in which the characters have to somehow face their demons and dig deep to find an inner strength in themselves to move forward and take that daring leap into love. Romance novels present us with the idea that we shouldn’t settle for anything less than what we hope and dream for, that we should hold ourselves and our partners to high standards. I cannot think of any better lessons for a college student who is struggling to deal with issues of both life and love. In the words of author Kristan Higgins, “[Romance novels] speak of the strongest and most universal yearning there is – to belong. To be accept- ed. To be loved.” These ideas couldn’t be more applicable than they are to the typical college student, a budding adult who is away from home and yearning to find his or her place in the world.
Sure, romance novels may always end with a Happily-Ever-After, but why is that a bad thing? Should we as students not strive to obtain a happy and satisfied life, regardless of if we have a partner to take that journey with? It is inevitable that there will be struggles along the way, but just like a romance novel character, there is no reason why we in the real world cannot dig deep to find our inner strengths and in the end, find the Happily-Ever-After that suits our own needs and desires.