Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Piece of Advice #30: Romance novels can be addictive

Since romance novels are being discussed around the manosphere, I thought I'd weigh in.  I've read hundreds of them and contributed significantly to a site revolving around them, so this is an area that I have some expertise in.  

Last night I wrote up some thoughts about romance novels and porn that were generally outside the scope of this blog.  You can find them here.

Relevant to this blog is this:

One of the objections that people have to porn is that if someone watches enough of it, he (or she) may become disinterested in regular, vanilla, average sex between real people.  Porn stars don't look like regular joes, aren't carrying around 5 or 50 extra pounds, and the plots don't begin with people raising their eyebrows at each other after the kids are in bed.  You watch enough of this and what you do in the privacy of your own bedroom will begin to seem...mundane.  (Confession: this is someone else's argument; I've never actually rented or downloaded a porn movie. Truth.  I'm incurious that way.)
If the above is true, why would that not hold for romance novels, at least in some small way?  Romance novel heroes are not like regular guys.  They don't work construction or do other people's tax returns.  They are not average looking or a bit overweight.  They have tragic pasts and witty rejoinders.  Most of them have lots of money and all their hair.  They don't age.  They don't lose their pensions in a market crash.  They are idealized men.  
If you only read a romance novel now and then or are a person of education or common sense, you can walk away from the fantasy and back into real life without too much dissonance.  But romance novels are kind of addictive.  Many readers consume them like popcorn.  Some read only romance.  And if that is your steady diet, your real relationship may begin to feel...mundane.  If you don't have a relationship, you may reject perfectly normal men because they are not as attractive as the ones you've been reading about.  Even though the ones you are reading about are representative of no one.
I do think that reading romance contains a built-in risk of becoming dissatisfied in some ways, perhaps only small ways, with your life and how romantic it is or isn't.  For young women who have grown up in single parent families and haven't really witnessed a normal male/female relationship dynamic, reading lots and lots of romance may be setting them up for disappointment in their love (and sex) lives because that's not how men and women realistically interact with each other. And real life just can't measure up to fiction.  

13 comments:

  1. DER METZGERMEISTERMay 5, 2010 at 4:10 PM

    Women don't need romance novels to reject perfectly normal men or to believe that their relationships are too mundane. We know that women are already initiating the bulk of the divorces. And Roissy nailed the fact that obesity is responsible for dramatically raising the value of the few remaining women of normal size - and is therefore also responsible for the rise of and need for Game. Being a regular guy is NOT enough anymore.

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  2. Many readers consume them like popcorn. Some read only romance. And if that is your steady diet, your real relationship may begin to feel...mundane. If you don't have a relationship, you may reject perfectly normal men because they are not as attractive as the ones you've been reading about. Even though the ones you are reading about are representative of no one.

    I do think that reading romance contains a built-in risk of becoming dissatisfied in some ways, perhaps only small ways, with your life and how romantic it is or isn't.


    Sure. I think too that although some have drawn a parallel between porn for men and romance novels, they are not identical and the negative effects of porn seem greater on men and those around them, than the negative effects from women reading romance novels. I don't deny that both are built on different types or views of lust, but the negatives from what I've seen and the research I've read suggests porn is the greater evil.

    That being said, romance novels are moving in the direction of "steamier" material and porn according to some blogs, although female hardcore seems different than male hardcore. And other things are becoming popular like supernatural beings in the mix. To borrow a boilerplate para: "Shrouded in both desire and mockery, his eyes roamed her body hungrily. She attempted to move away as he advanced, but his tail..." and so on.. lol

    OK and also, WHY do women like to read romance novels so? I mean the plots seem so predictable. Yes, she has a past where she has been hurt. She is trying to make a new start, when the vaguely predatory male appears on the scene. Usually he is doing something to irritate her in some way. But even as he leers at her mockingly, she feels a faint flush.. Her feelings churn in turmoil, betraying her to this infuriating, insufferable.. Did he think he could just treat her in .. And so on.. lol

    Arent there any more varied plots out there? What's the "field" look like from your female perspective compared to say 10 years ago?

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  3. Der Metzgermeister - I don't think romance novels are the main culprit or the downfall of society. Just another way we try to escape reality.

    Too Tall Jones - why do men play computer games? Or read genre fantasy? Because it's an escape. Romance novels offer a story with a more or less guaranteed happy ending. That happy ending is a very comforting idea in a chaotic world. Instead of action you get relationships and love (although sometimes there is action as well). That's what I read them for, although I'm pretty burned out on them at the moment.

    The genre has changed primarily in its promotion of erotica and its embracing of the paranormal. Now there aren't just millionaires, but billionaire supernatural alphas. It's morphed in other ways as well, but those are the two biggies, I think.

    There are really well written romances out there, but of course you have to look.

    I agree with you that porn does seem to have the ability to disrupt lives more than romance novels do.

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  4. Hmm, I wonder about those happy endings sometimes, at least in some of the 'steamier' ones. I've peeked at a few novels a relative was reading. The couple "goes all the way" several times, and, in several different places, and then at the end there is this epilogue- where they are preparing for a wedding, or traveling off to a honeymoon. Its like a formula! Maybe its a thing female readers expect or demand. I dunno..

    reminds me of the old joke about the guy who asks the French father for the hand of his daughter in marriage.

    "Monsieur can I have the hand of Nicolette in marriage?

    The father looks down his nose at the suitor and sniffs.

    "Why not monsieur, you've had everything else!"

    everything, and do it everyplace

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  5. I've oft' wondered if it's romance novels that make me so picky, but I've stopped reading them and I'm still obscenely picky. But I'll never know. (And My romance novels I mean romance fanfiction which is basically the same thing.)

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  6. If the above is true, why would that not hold for romance novels, at least in some small way?
    Maybe some small way. Female sexuality and the presentation of romance novels are both very different from the typical presentation of porn. The presence of affection is very important.

    Some read only romance. And if that is your steady diet, your real relationship may begin to feel...mundane. If you don't have a relationship, you may reject perfectly normal men because they are not as attractive as the ones you've been reading about. Even though the ones you are reading about are representative of no one.

    I don't feel this is true for the most part. It's clear men like this aren't really a dime a dozen and enough readers feel they wouldn't be able to tolerate the same man on paper as they would in person. Generally the heroine's a fantasy of a woman as well.

    You want someone that's a fit for you and your quirks and interests, not a fictional figure.

    For me, romance novels were bad in a way. That's not because they increased my selectivity but because they decreased it. Reading them caused me to have feel much more lustful and wanting a relationship in general. I've read about women saying the same happens to them in e.g. marriages, where her husband benefits from her reading.

    Since most women have trouble with wanting men (low libidos) and admiring them, certainly not helped by this misandric culture, that's a good thing.


    I do think that reading romance contains a built-in risk of becoming dissatisfied in some ways, perhaps only small ways, with your life and how romantic it is or isn't. For young women who have grown up in single parent families and haven't really witnessed a normal male/female relationship dynamic, reading lots and lots of romance may be setting them up for disappointment in their love (and sex) lives because that's not how men and women realistically interact with each other. And real life just can't measure up to fiction.

    I have much more faith in these girls than you do, especially since I guess I don't consider myself coming from a normal male/female dynamic as such. These novels present sexuality within the context of a loving, happy relationship that is supposed to last forever.

    There are some elements that are unrealistic. I think these are relatively minor in comparison to how romances engender basic expectations about seeking and giving love that are very rare in media outlets, which obsess with the fate of broken and tragic relationships, arguably in a pursuit of intellectualism.

    What is changing is that they are increasingly sexualised. What's more of an issue is that it is sexualised in a way that is unappealing to women: I'm sure you've heard as I've heard and done of just skipping over scenes because they're boring or not appropriate at the time.

    They're losing touch with female sexuality, which is to have it sensually drawn out. Immediate gratification is more in line with current culture and perhaps myths about it.

    Of course, there're also novels that have started transmitting the memes of modern relationships e.g. concluding with endings that're happy but a little uncertain. Or casual relationships.

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  7. Bhetti - I have heard women say that romance novels were, er, marital aids in that way, but I've also heard women tell me in person that they had to stop reading them because they were getting more critical of the men in their lives for not living up to the standard. So I think it goes both ways. It's interesting that reading them for you has made you less picky. I haven't heard it expressed that way before.

    I agree with you that the oversexualization of many of these novels spoils the slow romantic build. Less is more in my book. I wonder what the market is really saying, or if editors are publishing according to what appeals to them or by their own agendas.

    Also, the weakening the HEA to reflect reality is working against, rather than with, your audience. Not that I need to see 100 babies in the epilogue. LOL.

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  8. My, someone is certainly bitter at being kicked out of AAR.

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  9. Romance novels = porn for women-end of story.

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  10. Too Tall Jones you say:

    "I don't deny that both are built on different types or views of lust, but the negatives from what I've seen and the research I've read suggests porn is the greater evil."

    Could you please post the sources that suggest that "porn is the greater devil"?

    From my personal experience I can tell you that porn is never a substitute for a relationship or hook up. Watching porn is the consequence of not having the possibility to have sex with another person, seldom is the cause.

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  11. I would say that I was born and raised on Telenovelas (Latin Soap Operas) as all women from my generation and before were and women from Latin country are usually very valuables as wives. So I really doubt is this damaging. I would say that same I say about porn (something I also loved) for any form of fantasy to be a problem chances are that the person in question was no right on the first place. I'm my experience I'm never hungrier for my husband than after watching/reading Twilight (no to mention that I think my husband has tons of Edward's traits, like driving a Volvo!) so I guess I'm one of the lucky ones and most of my married friends tell me the same so yeah...it really depends, IMO.
    Stephenie Rowling.

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  12. @MarkyMark: I'm a woman, and on the rare occasion when I want porn, I watch *porn*. Romance novels are not my favourite (I read approx. one to every 100 SF/Fantasy novels I read, and even mysteries and Westerns leave them in the dust), but I do read one occasionally. They're popcorn...light, easy reading that doesn't challenge me, and does have a predictable happy ending (NOT like SF). Sometimes, I just want something light...but it's not even close to porn. Actually, if I happen to reread them, I tend to skip over the steamy stuff. The only reason I don't completely skip it the first time is because there's occasionally a line of dialogue, quick reference, etc, that comes up later in the book.

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  13. Your full essay seems to have disappeared from the interwebs. Any chance we can get it back?

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