Some Friday evenings after a long day at work, you go home, get relaxed and fall down the rabbit hole of scrolling through your Twitter feed. Typically, with Twitter, I’m deliberately in and out. I know if I stay too long, I’ll come across something that shifts my entire mood and this one particular Friday, this is exactly what happened. A friend sent me the link to an article to read and as a romance reader, I was a bit offended.
I spent way too much time rereading and analyzing the article. All I could think of was, what romance means to me and it led me to wonder what it means to other readers. I wanted to combat what felt like a negative, with a positive. So, as one does, I took to Twitter and Instagram, and I asked. I honestly didn’t really expect to see many, if any, responses, but they gradually came in. What I learned was so overwhelming, so beautiful.
My friend Sarah, Steeped Ign Books on YouTube, was the first message I received. According to Sarah, “After a long tough day at work, of having less than positive stories on the news, of worrying about the health of family members, it’s wonderful to sit down with a romance novel. They are the best kind of escape because while still being grounded in the real world, they remind us that good and happy things still exist. The true love wins, and good friends and family make life better.”
Escapism. This was a theme I saw quite a bit in the responses I received. My friend Sharon reached out and shared how reading romance helped get her through her cancer treatment. “A friend wanted to help with dinner or housework, but had two little kids, so she sent me books instead.” Her friend sent over books by Julia Quinn, Jennifer Cruise, Joanna Bourne and more. “I had 18 brutal months and these books and the backlists they led me to, helped me keep my head above water.” For Kaila Sage, she began devouring romances her sophomore year of college when she learned she was really sick but wasn’t getting answers as to what was wrong. “I had to do a lot of tests and waiting at doctor appointments became my new normal. I found romance novels and the rest was history. They helped me think outside of the pain and the endless tests.”
This quest I found myself on made me realize how, thanks to the online book community, we form these tribes with our love of reading and our love of romance as the connection but that in a lot of cases, that’s where it stops. By receiving responses from friends, I realized behind the aesthetically pleasing photos and captions, are real people with real struggles, living real life. One friend on Instagram who asked to remain anonymous, shared with me how she was in an abusive relationship as a teenager that ended when she was sexually assaulted. This led to her being uncomfortable with the idea of romance, sex and even relationships. Then she began reading romance. “There’s an actual story there. Stories with hardships, sadness, turmoil, but even happiness and laughter and it’s all with another person they grow to love. It’s beautiful to read.”
It blew my mind the amount of responses I received from women who discovered romance during their struggles with infertility issues or postpartum depression. “My husband and I struggled with infertility for years-we had a failed procedure under our belts, tried for another procedure which worked but resulted in a miscarriage. We were devastated, and I needed an escape-boy did romance come through for me! They helped bring me back to myself, and even made me laugh at a time when I felt I no longer could,” my friend Becky shared. “Romance has sustained me through four years of infertility trying to have a second baby. Now it’s sustaining me through a difficult pregnancy. Romance can’t fix everything, but it can make life a little lighter and brighter,” Lustfoundreads shared.
Representation and identity were two themes I’m grateful to have seen in responses. “For me, romance novels and the genre itself have always been safe spaces. They’ve shown me strong women overcoming obstacles without sacrificing their needs and wants. I’ve met heroes who taught me what respect, companionship, and true love looked like. I’ve seen people like me—gay, Asian, and any variation of the two-get their happily ever after” my friend DJ shared. My friend Alex sent me the link to his blog, specifically his blog post titled, Turns Out I’m Trans, How Romance Helped Me Find Myself. In his beautifully written post, he answers what queer romance offers him as a reader, “It gives me the chance to see people like me. People who are not straight, not cis. People who have dealt with crap and still get their happy ever after.” Dux, from myweekisbookedblog said it perfectly, “Seriously, what’s not to love about a genre that finally reflects you?”
From the military spouse who finds comfort in romance during the constant duty changes to the multiple friends who reached out letting me know they live with depression and romance helps them cope during their dark moments—all of the responses solidified for me that the romance genre means so much to so many people. The reasons can be totally different but, in many ways, they are the absolute same. For many of us we turn to romance novels because we know we are getting that happy ever after. The ups and downs our heroines and heroes experience inspire hope. “After something really upsetting through a wrench into literally all of my life plans, a romance novel inspired me to try something out of my comfort zone and it literally changed my life. As a direct result of that push out of my comfort zone, I found a career change, a new town, the love of my life that eventually became my husband and father of my child and those stories have continued to be my companions on this life journey.” Through chatting with these different romance readers I’ve come to realize articles like the one I read while down the Twitter rabbit hole will always surface but what matters most is that for every snarky comment made toward the romance genre, there is still an army of readers who it means so much to. To the romance authors out there, thank you for what you do. We are here rooting for you and more than you’ll ever know, your work means so much!