The Stories Have Changed, but the Love Remains the Same: Romance Novel Love

Happy Wednesday, Shelfies! I’m making it my mission to start posting regularly here, and while I was sorely tempted to post a simple WWW Wednesday post, this post peeked at me from my draft bin and begged to be shared. I’ve read three great romances lately, so this post seems fitting. I hope you enjoy it!

Romance has been one of my favorite genres since I began reading. I’ve been reading romance novels since my tween years, when I started sneaking my mom’s Harlequins.

In the twenty plus years since I started reading romance (o_O), the genre has changed as dramatically–and in some cases, even more dramatically–as the times we live in. Here are a few of the changes I’ve noted in romance novels over the years:

  1. I can hear men’s thoughts. When I start reading romance novels, they didn’t share the male point of view (POV). The entire story was told from the heroine’s perspective, and the reader was left to guess about the man’s motivations and the reasoning behind his actions just like the heroine. Today, most romances include both perspectives, and readers get to spend time in both characters’ heads. This  has given readers more opportunities to see the black moments and misunderstandings coming, and be even more frustrated they can’t do anything to help the characters avoid them.
  2. Now, that’s a man. In the older romance novels I read, not only was the hero’s POV often absent, he was often cast as cold, aloof, unfeeling, and even vengeful or mean toward the heroine until the last few pages where he confessed his undying love (in a totally masculine way, of course). In today’s romances, men are presented as much more three dimensional. Hardened alpha males with forceful personalities are given dimension and even ask for things. Authors cast men as the “inexperienced” one or give them beta male characteristics more often. Publishing finally realized more than one type of man could be attractive to women. Men are allowed to be concerned about what their romantic counterparts want, which brings me to my next point…
  3. Let’s talk about sex. In romances of old, no one used or discussed contraception, shared health records, or verbalized consent. I read at least a couple romances from earlier decades where the encounters are clearly rapes, and it’s disturbing anyone ever thought this was OK. In the romances of today, most open door sexual encounters address safe sex and consent on the page. Men and women are both given opportunities to state they are willing participants. Women aren’t being “ravished” without saying it’s what they want, which leads me to…
  4. I’m free! If you’ve been reading romances as long as I have, or read older romances, you may have come across the alarming trend of stories with false imprisonment or women forced into marriage. I clearly recall stories in which men kept women against their will to extract revenge for some perceived slight (usually committed by the heroine’s sister or cousin or worldly friend who was nothing like the sweet, innocent woman being held captive). Unlike Belle who chose to give up her freedom to save her father, these stories were women who didn’t have a choice. While there are some romantic suspense or niche stories that feature kidnapping or false imprisonment today, kidnapping isn’t positioned as a perfectly acceptable thing to do when you’d like the pleasure of a woman’s company.
  5. Making the hard choices. In many of the older romances I’ve read, all of the heartache and pain could have been avoided if someone hadn’t missed a phone call, letter, or visitor. Their conflicts could be resolved in seconds if the hero and heroine just sat down and TALKED to each other. Assumptions and misunderstandings abounded. Today, romances are showcasing conflicts that aren’t so easily resolved. Characters have to make real sacrifices or overcome tremendous odds to receive their happily ever after. It’s not always easy to choose to love, but somehow, they do.

There are several other changes I could highlight, but it’s more than obvious even from these few examples that the romance genre is a dynamic one, growing and changing with the times and the readers it serves. If you’ve avoided the genre because you think it’s all bodice rippers and erotica, ditzy dames and toxic masculinity, subpar sentences and too many adjectives for private parts, or where feminism or a moral code goes to die, I encourage you to take another look.

What’s the last great romance you read? For my romance loving readers, what changes have you noticed in the genre, and how do you feel about them? Let me know in the comments below.

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