My Farewell to Romance Novels
The other night, sitting in Caroline’s living room after our Mormon studies discussion group (incidentally, the same night that she presented on Mormon Women and Ritual Healing), a few of us stayed after to continue discussion on roles of men and women in the church. I found myself thinking on, then talking about my personal farewell to romance novels.
Over the years, I’ve read a number of romance novels. I won’t go into specifics, but let’s just say that I’ve always had a fairly readily available stream from friends … good friends. For me, it seemed a rather harmless method of escapism, and filled some of my boredom slots. However, about five years ago, I started noticing some patterns that greatly disturbed me
I found the romance novel plot rather unvarying. When you take away the trimmings (historical vs contemporary vs futuristic vs fantasy), it’s generally the same, recycled story. Woman. Man. Attraction. Woman yields sexually to man. Woman frustrated that man does not love her. Woman leaves. Man realizes that he does love woman, and needs to do something spectacular to regain her trust. Simple, yes? Forget his stomach, the way to a man’s heart is sex.
Aside from the traditional domination/servility themes, which run counter to my most deeply held ideas of love, my problem is that engaging in sexual activity does not ensure love, especially within the LDS community. More often it leads to guilt, shame and emotional devastation. Just as pictorial pornography paints an unrealistic expectation of the female body, I find that romance novels paint unrealistic expectations of what men should be like in romantic and sexual relationships.
And more than recognizing the sameness of the pathetic plot, I found that my relationships with men were also affected. I realized that I genuinely expected men to be aggressive, if not sexually, then in their pursuit of me. I noticed that I had dated more non-members because they tended to be more open about pursuit, which lead to other problems when they wanted more than I was generally willing to give. And in dating these more aggressive men, I glanced over men that I could have had better relationships with.
And so, I made a conscious decision to stop reading romance novels. At first it was easy. I felt to righteous. Then, as my initial zeal wore off, I’d find myself craving a fast and easy read. Since the books were so readily available, I found that I had to find other things to fill my boredom slots. I increased my activity in other areas. I started reading more non-fiction. I started going out dancing more. I started making more time to spend with friends. I returned to full church activity. I started doing anything that would take me out of the house … hiking, skating, walking. In essence, I filled the void.
We’re often told that the Word of Wisdom is shaped to protect the weakest in the fold. I’d say that the injunction against pornography is also shaped for the weakest of us. A good friend of mine doesn’t go to the beach alone. He laughs that he needs the conversation of others (even when skating) to prevent him from focusing on bikini-clad women. I generally laugh along with/at him, but silently applaud that he knows and guards against his weaknesses.
I’m not sure what, if any, kind of comments will be posted in response to this piece. However, I’d like to set some ground rules. I’d like to focus on obstacles to relationships … be they with romantic partners, children, friends or relatives … and how people have overcome them.