Stories about love

‘Romance’ as a genre and how that genre impacts on us culturally has bothered me for a while. I say this not as some kind of literary snob – I’ve written plenty of romance and erotica over the years. I’ve read rather a lot of it as well.

It bothers me also that romance is denigrated as a genre, because it’s largely written by, and for women. Love is one of the most important things in our lives, it often defines who we will spend our days with, it impacts on us economically. Whether we breed or not, may have a lot to do with who we’re with. So does whether or not we’re persecuted. Who we are allowed to love has always been an intensely political question and there’s a great deal of power tied up in who is allowed to shag whom. Love is a subject to take seriously. Unfortunately if you want to publish in this genre you have to play by the rules and so can only tell certain kinds of story.

The romance genre is that it is all about beginnings. That rush of first love, and the establishment of a relationship. In a more traditional book, the conclusion is the marriage proposal. Life, for women, stops at marriage, in romances. There are of course always exceptions, but on the whole the romance story involves a young woman and a man. She will be beautiful and virtuous and worthy of love. He may well not be in the least bit virtuous or worthy. If there is an age difference, he will be older. If there’s a wealth difference or any other power difference, it will likely be in his favour.

Romance as a genre means straight romance. If the romance is LGBTQ then the odds are it will be specifically labelled as such. Back when I was writing them, I had to be clear about the pairing, the assumption being that a reader would not want to be surprised by the direction romance took. that bothered me a lot.  If the romance is polyamorous it won’t be labelled as romance usually. Fit, healthy, slim people (often with lifestyles that don’t suggest this is likely) fall in love. Yes, I know there’s You Before Me, but it’s unusual to have a romance with someone in a wheelchair, and he does have a lot of money…

Poverty (that isn’t overcome Cinderella-style), disability, and anything not hetro-normative is unusual in romance.

While all of that troubles me a lot, what troubles me most of all though is the obsession with the new relationship. We don’t have much in the way of stories about long term love. Romeo and Juliet are the model for romance – a couple of kids who get into each other’s pants and die shortly thereafter. Because otherwise it might get old, and stale. As though love cannot endure at that intensity. As if the only way for there to be long term love requires us to accept it settling down into some tamer, more domesticated form. That’s the story our culture tells itself, and I think that story is a long way short of being the whole truth.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “Stories about love

  • John Davis

    In my role as an independent funeral celebrant I get to see into many different “family” situations. Where I happen to live, the demographic profile is heavily weighted towards older people. There are still many monogamous relationships that have lasted for 50 years and longer….but they are getting fewer. I notice many more people being part of 2nd, 3rd or more relationships and children from these relationships often find it difficult to relate to one another or are estranged from one or more “parent”.

    I suppose what I’m saying is that the paradigm of boy meets girl, he proposes, they get married, have children and lively happily ever after is fading fast….if it ever really existed! John/l\

    • Nimue Brown

      It’s an interesting point – as life expectancy has increased, is it realistic even to expect that marriage for life will work for everyone? some of us change so much across a lifetime, its so easy to grow apart… (I say this as someone in a much happier second marriage).

  • lornasmithers

    I’ve got to say romance is something I’ve never really got – as a genre or on a personal level. I get deep love between friends but not between romantic partners. I’ve recently realised I’m somewhere on the aromantic http://wiki.asexuality.org/Aromantic spectrum. It tends to be an assumption that all folks are romantic. I’d like to see more books about aromantic people.

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