Caught in a bad romance: is there a negative relationship between romance and literature? – Palatinate

Durham's Official Student Newspaper

Romantic literature – the genre that idealises romance to the extreme, making what we thought was a passionate love life a rather underwhelming one in comparison. The conventional good-looking, wealthy guy effortlessly glides into the young girl’s life, making her life complete with their perfect relationship, perfect house, and perfect children. This reeking perfection conditions us to believe this is what romance is like. Perfection. They have become the breeding ground for the saddening inevitability of failed relationships, where readers of romance expect their relationships to replicate their fictional excursions. One must realise that thinking your favourite romance novel will become your reality is only self-destructive.
This very outcome is why I pretend the romance literature section in Waterstones doesn’t exist. Never do I feel the urge to glance at the novels on display, never do I wish to sacrifice my sanity in exchange for 400 pages of wish-washy language and humorously unrealistic scenarios. Rather, choosing to preserve my untainted perception of love which remains isolated from fairy-tale endings, I see no reason to engage in literature which negatively impacts my already overwhelming thoughts. 
Yet, regardless of my rather stubborn approach to the romance genre, such attitude was overthrown when I embarrassingly fell victim to the power of BookTok. Where fuelling my procrastination only led me down more dangerous time-wasting tunnels, I was continuously bombarded with recommendations of Colleen Hoover’s TikTok obsessed novel, It Ends With Us. Every ten-second video promoting the book only made me more curious. I wanted to know what was so good about this novel – why everyone was reading it and I wasn’t. So, to satisfy my ever-increasing book FOMO, I broke my self-created law of never reading a romance novel and purchased the book.  
I embarrassingly fell victim to the power of BookTok
It shocked me. Despite remaining within the quintessential romantic plot, where the female protagonist was placed within a complex love triangle between her childhood romance and new billionaire boyfriend, what turns out to be a heart-warming romance rather becomes the opposite. She explores the protagonist’s mindset, where the creation of a perfect life – the penthouse, the attractive husband, and the baby on the way – is rather the opposite behind closed doors. Instead, exposing the saddening reality within many marriages, where women are trapped within toxic cycles of abuse, denial, and false promises, Hoover cleverly exploits the association of romance novels with idealisation to reflect a greater reality – the victim’s mindset in abusive relationships.
So, whilst romantic novels gravitate towards glamourising these perpetrators, such glamourisation is Hoover’s exact intention. Allowing the victimised protagonist to romanticise her abusive relationship, where she is emphatically in love with her abuser, such mentality was forced onto the reader. Shameful to say it, but I began to idealise the perpetrator. I convinced myself that her abusive husband would change – that the continuous attacks inflicted upon her were truly accidents and would never happen again. My brain became plagued with excuses and justifications for his behaviour. I tried to maintain the unattainable fantasy of the perfect relationship they seemed to have, walking head-first into the victim’s mindset. 
With Hoover revealing that she ‘wanted to write it for women’ who struggle to articulate why they remain with their abusers, where for them, it will always ‘end with us’ – with the dream they convince themselves they are living in – this novel has altered my perception of romance literature ever so slightly. Whilst I still cringed at the unrealistic scenarios and the tropes of the educated, good-looking guys magically swooping into the protagonist’s life, I appreciated its ability to use fiction to violently expose a greater issue deserving of attention. It served an educational purpose rather than damaging one’s perceptions of love further, revealing that it is not always as black and white as it seems from the outside. 
This is where I separate her novel from the conventional romance books that portrays a black and white vision of love – those are the novels I despise. Whilst those who read these black and white idealisations imbedded into novels may argue that we should not take them so seriously, where it rather becomes the reader’s fault in taking what is a fantasy to be a reality, this misses the integral function of literature. Literature is to be applied to our real lives; it is the only way we understand a novel’s plot. So, when we are confronted with fictional scenarios we yearn to experience, we subconsciously intertwine these given fantasies into our everyday life.
This is why romantic literature remains so dangerous – it leaves readers struggling to deal with their own reality, something authors of romance should never impose upon its reader. 
Image: Tirza van Dijk via Unsplash
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