About 10 years ago I heard a woman talk about romance novels and soap operas as porn for women. While I didn’t care much for soap operas, I was consuming at least one romance novel every two weeks at the time, sometimes even one a week. I didn’t see the harm in them. Most of them weren’t the trashy kind anyway so clearly they couldn’t be considered porn. I just liked reading them because they were quick reads and they made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
I would get lost in the intense passion the characters had for each other and the certainty that there was a happily ever after for them. I imagined that was how it really felt to be in love. When I’d finish the book the reality of a passionless marriage and the uncertainty that I was with the right person set in. I couldn’t see a happily ever after in my future. I’d even question if something was wrong with me? Why didn’t I feel that way about my husband? Why hadn’t I ever felt that way about anyone? My belief that being in love was a possibility turned into a theory that there was no way that level of passion could be real in a long term relationship. Of course there is passion and a feeling of infatuation in the beginning of most relationships that’s mistaken for ‘being in love”. This I knew from experience. How many times had I “been in love” with someone only to lose interest a few months later? It was just something movies and books created and endorsed to sell their products. That perfect love between a man and woman couldn’t really exist!
Regardless, I kept reading and the books turned into an escape from my lacking reality. They made me yearn for something I knew I could never have. They became an addiction. Nothing my husband said or did was as good as what I read. I mean, you know it’s bad when you read a romance novel to get in the mood for your spouse! That’s when it clicked. The reference to romance novels becoming porn for women made sense. And it didn’t stop at novels. I would watch any rom-com I could get my hands on. Anything to give me that borrowed high from another (very fictional) characters completeness in the love they’d found.
Did the addiction to fiction lead to the dissatisfaction of my marriage? NO! There was plenty of that before my one a week habit started. But it didn’t help make my marriage any better either. Instead it intensified the dissatisfaction and created unrealistic expectations for my marriage. There was no way my husband was ever going to say the right things or act the right way because first, he wasn’t built to talk and act that way since he was a real person, and second, because he wasn’t reading the books and had no frame of reference by which to even understand my misguided ideals.
Do I think all women should stop reading romance novels because they create unrealistic expectations for relationships? No. I think it’s a personal decision. For some, it doesn’t affect them the way it did me. I do think it’s wise to understand that the relationships in books and movies are fictional. If they cause an increased dissatisfaction in your committed relationship, it may be time to set aside the media form you are devouring and pay attention to the work at hand (i.e., your marriage).
That said, my habit is thankfully not an issue anymore. And not just because my unhappily-ever-after marriage is over! The desire to read about/watch the love lives of others, no matter how fake they are, is almost non-existent thanks to the happiness I have in my current relationship and my resolve to live my life. I was given a second chance. I know that’s not the case for everyone. However, I am still a firm believer that two people who are committed and choose to work on their relationship together, can have a stronger more satisfying relationship than any book or movie! My earlier theory has sufficiently been proven wrong by my own experiences. It may be the only time I’m glad I’m wrong (at least that I’ll admit).
That’s it for my ponderings today. Please add your thoughts on the topic of romance novels/rom-com movies below.