If there’s one word that would describe my reading habits across my short 22 years of life, it’s ROMANCE. Whether it’s a steamy smut book, a cutesy YA coming-of-age story or a full-blown adult fiction novel, somewhere somehow that big capital R has to make an appearance, or else considered the novel DNF’d.
And while reading is the closest thing we have to magic, love – real true love between two alive human beings, is on a whole other level, as I’ve discovered these past few months entering into my first real relationship. I always thought that when I dated men, I would never get the same feeling that I did while reading a romance novel – the same swooning, swept-off-my feet, giddy, nose-scrunching reaction. How can real life possibly compare to an idealized version of something so powerful? I’m not naïve – I know when something is too formulaic to be true.
But the weird part of growing into a relationship was not learning how to share a life, it wasn’t getting used to sleeping beside him rather than alone – the weird part was learning just how similar romance novels actually are to the real thing.
Maybe not every guy is a romantic, and mine isn’t what I would call the typical Prince Charming either. But the way that these authors, whose words I’ve held against my chest like a life jacket, describe love is often how I replay the key moments of my relationship in my head.
When we road tripped to Boston, my hand held tight and our chests stinging from singing along to my dad’s Tom Petty CD that he left in my car, I couldn’t help but think of Evvie Drake and her MLB all-star picking up a pinball machine across state-lines. When he makes me breakfast on the weekends, eggs over-easy just how I like them and tea with two and a half scoops of sugar even though he thinks that’s gross, I see Levi bringing Cath Pumpkin Spiced Lattes through the brutal Montana snow. When we spent the entire ride home from my parent’s cottage sneaking looks at each other like children, and then ripping our clothes off the second my apartment door slammed shut, Lucy and Josh spin circles around my head in a hotel room in the afternoon heat.
Not every moment is picture perfect, but where would be the fun in that? Even at our worst, I think of all the couples in the worlds between the inky pages on my bookshelves, and how many times the Gods that we call authors tried to tear them apart. My boyfriend’s ex of two years showed up at a party we arrived at shortly after we started dating, and all I could think of was Lara Jean Covey staying strong in the face of Genevieve. These women have taught me that you can put up one hell of a fight when someone you love is on the line.
Romance novels might not be the one-stop shop on relationship advice, but it sure as hell doesn’t hurt. I thought all the stories had gone to my head, that I was doomed to search for a man that would never measure up to the likes of those I’ve been reading about for a lifetime. It’s not about comparing the fake ones to the real – it’s about learning what makes the fake ones so alluring, so sexy, so lovable that your cheeks hurt from smiling, and finding that in a real partner instead.
Truth be told, my man will never have an 8-pack, or save me from some mansion fire on a hillside. We will probably never have sex in a broken down elevator on New Years Eve, or fight off a crazed ex-lover out to get us. I didn’t meet hate him as a teen only to fall in love later as unlikely co-workers, and he will never be in a boy band.
Instead he’s strong from years of being a pitcher, and he’s easily irked from his competitive spirit. He has gentle hands that type lines of code faster than any TV hacker, and he can wield an Instant Pot better than any Master Chef can cook. He’s a cancer, just like the women I love the most in life, and he gets along with my brothers. He HATES onions and doesn’t have the best relationship with his mom. I sometimes wonder if my crazy complicated family is just too much for an only child like him. And he loves me – he tells me so every day. And I love him – more than any fictional character I’ve ever read, but just as much as the feelings those book boyfriends warned me about.
Romance isn’t dead ladies, not on the screen, not on the page and not in real life. And reading about it won’t make your expectations wildly unrealistic. Love outrageously, love internally, love literarily, and love wholly – in the end it’s just the same four letter word.