We sat shoulder to shoulder in a tiny dorm room around a tiny TV, watching one of our favorite movies. Just as Johnny marched over to Baby and pulled her out of the corner, our friend Jared walked in the room.

As he took in the room, looking from one girl to the next . . . to the next . . . to the next, he said, “What is wrong with you guys?”

Blinking, we looked up at him and realization dawned. Every single one of us was staring at the screen with a [ridiculous] dreamy look in our eyes. It was like we were in a trance.

The same kind of romance trance I slip into when I read romance novels.

The kind where my eyes glaze over and I forget that what I’m reading is make-believe. It might be grown-up make-believe, but it’s no closer to real life than the magic fairies and flying carpets my daughter sees in Disney movies.

For most of my life, I prided myself on being “a romantic.” I dreamed of receiving gigantic bouquets of roses and daisies, song lyrics made me melt, and I pretended to adore Shakespeare. I ate up any hint of love – or what I thought was love.

But surely it must be! After all, my boyfriend – who eventually became my husband – gave me roses. And wrote sweet letters that included lyrics from our favorite songs. And endured a Shakespeare play amidst mosquitoes and humidity.

The problem is that romance novels (and romantic comedies . . . and fairy tales in general) don’t tell you the rest of the story.

First of all, most relationships don’t follow such a wild path, from meet cute to starry-eyed, tingling toes dates to dramatic tear-them-apart situation to brave, bold, courageous move from The Hero to heart-stopping kiss . . . and fade to black.

Sometimes, you just meet a guy and think he’s all right. Sometimes, you don’t necessarily have the hots for him right away, but he’s got a car and nobody else is asking you out. Sometimes you go on predictable dates and have uninspired conversations with a startling lack of clever quips.

That’s what my first (and only) romance looked like. So you know what I did? I created drama.

I overreacted to every slight and insult. I prolonged misunderstandings and vowed to make him pay for every twinge of hurt I felt. I sobbed while listening to “How Do I Live Without You” and wrote flowery letters professing my undying love until my hand cramped.

Honestly, I deserved to be dumped. But I lucked out. Mark either didn’t know any better or just overlooked my craziness. Because despite my adolescent behavior (for the record, I was an adolescent), he married me.

And that’s where the love story ends, right?

Not exactly. Even though, while you’re spending every waking (and some sleeping) second planning the most beautiful, special, wonderful wedding EVER, it seems like the wedding is the goal, it’s not.

It’s just the beginning of a true love story.

Unfortunately, I didn’t know anything about true love. I didn’t know about compromise and respect and trust and forgiveness. I knew about flowers and chocolates and surprise dates and grand gestures.

Imagine my surprise when married life wasn’t an endless parade of love notes and slow dances and secret getaways. Imagine my disappointment when marriage wasn’t what I expected, wasn’t what I hoped for, wasn’t what I deserved.

SCREECH! {That’s the sound effect for tires squealing.} Hold on! Why did I think I deserved such lavish and loving treatment?

Here’s why: a lifelong diet of romance novels (with a side of feminist influences and a mostly doting boyfriend) had led me to believe that I could behave however I wanted to and still get everything I wanted in return.

I developed a classic case of He needs to change. He’s the problem. I deserve better.

Now, I’m not saying my husband is or was perfect. But had I spent more time showing him love and respect, and less time coming up with reason why he didn’t deserve those things as much as I did, I might have enjoyed the first several years of our marriage more.

My grasp on reality and perspective on love didn’t change overnight. I started realizing maybe I’d had some things wrong when we visited a marriage counselor a few times. And things looked different after we watched several of our couple friends go through divorce. Of course, having a child changes a lot of people, and it certainly changed us.

And now, I have no desire to read a romance novel.

Haha! Just kidding. That’s not true. I still enjoy romance. Most the books I read these days – at least the fiction – are mysteries with a romantic aspect. And you probably won’t ever rip me away from watching Sleepless in Seattle or even The Wedding Planner on cable.

But I read and watch those things with a grain of salt now. Or, as my patient husband says, with a salt lick.

Because the love described in romance novels isn’t real. And it can be dangerous if you start believing that’s how things ought to be.

And that is the problem with romance novels.

Read the book and articles that prompted this two-part post (see part one here):

What do you think? Can fictional romance be dangerous? How do you define true love?


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