Women who read romance
Sarah Wendell, romance community co-founder, knows that romances have an important place in the world. With her website and writing, she works to debunk some of the prejudices against the genre and communicate how much it matters to its thousands of fans.
What is the value of romance?
Romances are valuable. They’re not just important to the women who read them. They’re very valuable, and they are important. And nothing makes me feel sad and angry than seeing a woman take some heat for loving romance novels. There’s nothing wrong with liking romance. You’re not stupid. You’re not repressed. You’re not depressed. You’re awesome. Romance is amazing. And it’s powerful and it’s valuable, because you learn to recognize yourself. You learn to recognize other women. You learn to recognize what makes a good person, what makes a hero.
Romance readers do not have the expectation that someone’s going to ride in on a white horse and sweep them off into some wonderful place where the dishes are always done and nothing has any calories. Real romance heroes are the everyday guys who help you take care of everything. And most women who read romances are in happy relationships. Happy ever afters take work, and we know that. And we learn to recognize how to overcome obstacles and how to deal with conflict, because that’s what we’re reading about.
But most of all it is stylish to be miserable. It’s stylish to be unhappy [. . .] And there’s this competitive stress, and this glamour of being miserable. You never see supermodels smile, you know? Style is misery and taciturn and grumpy, but happiness is priceless. There is no value you can put on being happy. It is an amazing achievement, and that’s what romance is.
How important is the happily ever after?
I have a sort of mantra, one of a few that I remind myself of, and it’s very simple. “It’s all going to be okay in the end and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” And that’s what romance does for me personally. No matter how bad it gets, no matter how terrifying or painful or difficult it is, a good romance in the hands of a strong writer will end happily and it will be okay, and very few things come with that kind of assurance in life. So when I open a book, when I open a romance novel, I’m being asked to embark on an emotional journey. I’m being asked to entrust my emotions to the story and to understand that the story is going to evoke an emotional response in me. It’s going to engage my brain, I’m going to create the scene in my mind and imagine the hero, the heroine, their voices, the setting, everything. It’s very cerebral. But then it’s also going to engage my emotions and my empathy. I’m going to be identifying with the characters, with their feelings, and I’m going to feel similar emotions myself and in order to trust the author with that experience I have to know that in the end it’s going to be okay.