Maggie Jaimeson, a.k.a Maggie McVay-Lynch, President of Rose City Romance Writers and published author of non-fiction while daringly also throwing her hat into the romance fiction ring, got into this mess, uh, was forced to blog- well, let's just say she asked a question, so I asked her to answer it for us. She kindly assented after really minimal arm-twisting, and here's the result.
You can check Maggie and her books out at her website here:
and her blog here:
As a reward to herself for finishing a book, Maggie makes herself a "faux" cover for it. You can see her covers below. As a reward for Maggie for being my first daring blogger, I made her a "faux" cover for this blog. You can reward Maggie by dropping by and reading what she has to say, and arguing or agreeing with her thoughts. It's a really interesting question, and a thoughtful answer. (Unlike my punny faux cover).(And no, Maggie doesn't write Georgians.)
Great Expectations: What About My Marriage?
I have been a romance reader since about the age of eleven or twelve. I began with the gothics by Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney in my youth. Thank goodness in those days there wasn't a lot of sex to worry or confused the rather sheltered adolescent I was. In High School I joined a couple of the Harlequin book clubs and had my eight books a month to devour. In college, I would occasionally pick up a romance at the bookstore but they were no longer the category ones. They tended to be what is now called Women's Fiction. But more often I would pick up a Science Fiction book because I was taken with the exchange of ideas. Then there was a long period of time, about 15 years when I didn't read a romance at all. I returned in my fifties to find, to my great delight, that the romance genre had changed drastically and I could now combine my desire for a mystery or SF story with a romance.
As I have watched the divorce rates rise, and have been divorced and remarried myself, I've wondered how my early upbringing with romance novels may have impacted my expectations of marriage. When I see many women today, young and old alike, choosing not to marry (either choosing to live with a partner or to retain independent households even when they are in committed relationships) I've often wondered if the romance genre or any media portrayal of romance has had a negative impact on our ability to be satisfied in a romantic relationship. Have we set the expectations too high? Are novels and media so powerful as to make us dysfunctional? Or is it the dysfunctional who seek out the salve of unrealistic love?
I came of age in the late 1960's and early 1970's with the rise of feminism. In that era there was a great deal of discussion about the portrayal of women in fairy tales as magical figures who are often defined by beauty, danger, innocence, malice, and greed. Researchers called fairy and folk tales the primary source of information about a culture, and argued that humans cannot help acting out roles taught to them by these tales, which specify gendered romantic roles. Because women are depicted as either evil or saintly, the real terror of fairy tales lies in the romantic message--that is, a woman who is not passive, innocent, and helpless must then be evil. And I still find that these fairy tale type roles continue to be the primary images of women in movies and TV. I believe those early romance novels I read also reflected those fairy tale gender roles. Women were usually innocent and men were experienced. Women were passive and men were the leaders.
Though our novels have now changed to reflect more equal gender roles, romance novels still serve as a powerful source of expectations about love relationships. For the most part, romance novels still depict "alpha" heroes. That is take charge men who are larger than life and, of course, physically perfect. Though many novels have "wounded" heroes, they are still able to overcome their pasts and be amazingly whole, particularly in their relationships with their romantic partner. Yes, it is true that now the female protagonists are also take charge women who are larger than life and, at least in the heroe's eyes, physically perfect. I must admit, for myself, though I can be just as interested as younger women in the spectacularly masculine phallic power, for me what really truns me on is the hero's capacity for tenderness, self-reflection, and attentive concern.
When I look at my own marriage, particularly if we've had a bad day together or a bad week, I know I often wonder why my DH isn't more like the romance heroes I read. Why can't he rise above the banality of every day life? Why can't he put aside whatever perceived perturbance ruined his day and still worship the ground I walk on? Or for that matter, does he ever worship the ground I walk on? Uh, I don't think so. On the other hand, often when reading a book with a strong alpha hero I also know there is absolutely NO WAY I could have a long term relationship with that type of man. In fact, it is when my DH acts like those typical alpha heroes -- the I-can't-see-past-my-immediate-needs behavior that I want to walk out the door. So both in the novel and in real life I find that my expectations and the clash of reality and fantasy certainly set up a strong cognitive dissonance for me.
In 1991, Shapiro (a researcher and marriage counselor) did a large survey on the impact of media images around romance and, as expected, she found that respondents with more unrealistic beliefs about romantic love reported significantly less satisfaction with their current relationship than those who endorsed more realistic views. There was a statistically significant trend for married women who reported more exposure to popular media to rate themselves as less satisfied with their current intimate relationships. No significant differences were found based on age. Granted her study included all media, not just romance novels. But still...it makes me wonder.
I've found a way to embrace that dissonance in my life. Perhaps it is a matter of age and perhaps it is a matter of having been married before and so entering the next relationship with different expectations. However, I do still want more. I do still want and expect some of what I read in romance novels. A part of that expectation is that things are bigger, better, get resolved faster and that makeup sex is amazing. Sometimes I get it. Often I don't. I think that's the way life is and if it was perfect all the time I would probably not recognize it or take it for granted. Maybe having high expectations is a good thing. Maybe it makes both of us strive for more. Who knows?
Do you feel that romance novels set up unrealistic expectations for your relationships? If so, how do you bring yourself down to earth? How do you manage to be satisfied in the long term? If you believe that the romance depicted in the novels is, in fact, not only possible but probable then please share how you've seen that reinforced in your own relationships. Happy reading!