Romance books—scoff at it, laugh at it or love it—it would be ignorant of you to say they don’t have a dominant market in literature. If you’re one of those who can rarely be seen without a book, you know how hard it is to escape the subject in a story.
It started when I was 11. The raging phenomena of the time that was The Twilight Saga had just fallen on my lap. And you bet I was invested. Back then, the way I saw it, Edward was the perfect love interest. It was only when I entered my teenage years that I discovered the massive hate that surrounded this series. And it was only when I was 17 that I finally understood the pedophilic, manipulative and controlling behavior that Edward exhibited throughout the books.
I wish I could say that was the worst experience I have had with a romance novel. But no. E.L. James decided to take all the negative aspect of Twilight and thought, “Hey, how about we make this a thousand times worse with repetitive sex and unresearched BDSM scenes? After all, it’ll make us a lot of money.”
After the rather unfortunate birth of Fifty Shades of Grey, it was only a matter of time before Billionaire Romances became a thing. Here’s how it usually goes. Girl meets a rich boy. Girl likes boy. Boy likes girl. Boy has a traumatic past. Boy cannot commit. Boy does manipulative, possessive, abusive things. Girl forgives him because he’s rich and sad. And it goes on and on in a cycle until girl somehow “fixes” guy and they live happily ever after. Love wins, yay.
Here’s my biggest complaint with how most of New Adult and Young Adult Romances are written. If you’re going to write romance targeted towards young, impressionable readers, at least have the courtesy to write a good one. Use as many tropes as you want. Love triangle? Fine. Love at first sight? Sure. First Love? You have my full blessing.
But abuse is where I draw the line.
Manipulation, possessiveness, gaslighting, domestic violence and rape—all these actually fall under abuse. And when you romanticize any one of these subjects as a writer, you are blurring the clear-cut perception an individual is supposed to have on these often-undetectable issues.
I have no problem with books talking about such subjects. It’s when authors start glorifying them that I start to have a problem. Introducing characters as mentally “broken”, implying they need love, and only love, to be fixed is highly detrimental to young readers who reach out to books for a good time.
You can’t “fix” someone with love. If someone has PTSD, they need help. They need affection, sure. But more than that, they need support, professional interference and space. You can’t just shower someone with love and hope it will magically heal them. Love is not a medicine. It doesn’t cure diseases despite how much we wish it could.
Let me give an example. November 9 and It Ends With Us are both written by the bestselling author Colleen Hoover. In It Ends With Us, Hoover tells the story of a young woman who grew up with an abusive father and proceeds to marry a man who later turns out to be abusive. It’s an extremely emotional and enlightening read.
On the other hand, November 9 is a story about a girl who has physical and emotional scars from a fire accident. She grows up with low self-esteem. She meets a guy and their relationship soon turns romantic. After years of back and forth, she finds out he was the one who had set fire to her home. But that’s not the saddest thing about this story. The saddest thing is that she forgives him and goes back to him in the end. I simply don’t understand how the same person could have written both these books.
This isn’t the only book that glorifies abuse as some sort of intoxicating origin story. And some books take it a notch higher; romanticizing domestic violence and rape.
B.B. Reid’s Broken Love series and C.J Roberts’s The Dark Duet series come to mind. Reid’s story follows a girl who is blackmailed into having sex and ends up getting married to the same guy. Roberts’s series tells the story of a young girl who is kidnapped with the sole purpose of being turned into a sex slave. She falls in love with her kidnapper even though he constantly humiliates, abuses and rapes her. What’s up with authors confusing Stockholm Syndrome with love?
Another infuriating thing about romances is the unexpected slut-shaming and internalized misogyny. I’ll present a scenario. Girl likes boy. Boy likes girl. Another girl also likes boy. Another girl is immediately a brainless bimbo looking to steal the boy away from the main character. I hate it. It completely dehumanizes an individual for showing a romantic interest. It dismantles the idea of feminism. It encourages women to view each other as enemies.
Misandry and misogyny that exist in a book for the sole purpose of creating dramatic angst is quite possibly the most vapid thing you can do as a writer. And if you simply use these themes as a plot device, I will lose all respect for you. I will feel no guilt while I tear apart your book as your bland characters like tearing each other down.
Books like these are romantic in the same way that “Lolita”, “Tampa” and “You” are romantic. They are all frightening, insane, impressionable concepts hidden under the veil of love.
Now imagine young children who have just started showing an interest in literature reading these books. Young people who see disturbing behaviors being rewarded, who grow up having a twisted perspective on love, who idolize toxic couples and confuse pain with passion.
And we wonder why our generation doesn’t know what love is.