As a romance writer, I’m constantly creating tales of “predestined” love. In other words, I’m propagating a romantic fantasy time and again with the goal of entertaining (and sometimes arousing) others.
But after reading Great Expectations: The Soul Mate Quest, I have to wonder whether my genre might be hurting people. How could a romance novel hurt anyone, you ask? Answer: in the same way the beauty industry makes people feel insecure about their appearance.
San Francisco psychologist Joshua Coleman suggests, “[c]onstant cultural pressure to have it all—a great sex life, a wonderful family—has made people ashamed of their less-than-perfect relationships and question whether such unions are worth hanging on to. Feelings of dissatisfaction or disappointment are natural, but they can seem intolerable when standards are sky-high.”
Based on that declaration, one could argue romance novels, which are often based upon the concept of a soul mate, contribute to this cultural pressure. Thus, I must ask whether an avid romance reader might question the “rightness” of his or her relationship if it is not in perfect harmony at all times more often than someone who doesn’t read romance. And if so, what do they do about it?
According to Coleman, “[P]eople are made to feel that remaining in a marriage that doesn’t make you blissfully happy is an act of existential cowardice.” Thus, it is possible, if not probable, that a person whose relationship compares unfavorably against the idealistic relationships in his or her beloved romance novels might start looking elsewhere for that illusory soul mate.
That idea not only troubles me, but it also presents a quandary. My genre dictates a happy ending and a swoon-worthy hero, so if I were to write a more realistic romance novel, it probably wouldn’t sell. I suppose I will keep writing romance and hope that readers recognize them as a fantasy, but enjoy them all the same.