My Problem with Romance Books

Last year I was called out by another avid reader for my lack of reading in the romance genre. It was a small thing, said as a joke. But, as a perfectionist, I took the statement to heart. It resulted in a little experiment of sorts where I read 17 romance books in one year. I choose books that were suggested by avid romance readers, were highly rated, were by big name authors in romance, or ones I found at a decent price.

I learned a few things about myself as a reader along that little journey.

  1. I actually like young adult romance. I enjoy the sweet little happy-for-now endings and the reminders of how falling in love (or out of love) for the first time feels. I probably couldn’t read exclusively in this genre, but that’s true of everything. It’s why I genre hop so much.
  2. I don’t care for erotica. It’s usually unrealistic and problematic and I, honestly, prefer a good plot line. In general I don’t have a problem with it, I just don’t choose to read it.
  3. Adult romance, it turns out, makes me irrational annoyed and angry. It turned out I do have a problem with this genre. But I couldn’t put my finger on why.

I decided to lay off of adult romance after a particularly bad experience with a big name romance author last year. I didn’t read any again for awhile. Then, randomly, I found a paperback at my house that is romance. I honestly don’t know where it came from or who bought it. It wasn’t even on a bookshelf, it was on top of my washing machine. Anyway, I added it to my to-be-read list and decided I’d give it a try someday.

I finished it this morning. It’s TERRIBLE. But it’s not even more terrible than the terrible ones I’ve read before. It’s just equally terrible, if that makes sense. I decided to point out exactly what it is about this particular one that I didn’t like. Then, if you read romance and know of one that doesn’t have these problematic elements, you can let me know. Cool?

  • Terrible first line. “Take your nuts out of your pocket and jump the creek,” is the actual first line of this particular book.
  • Tired Cliches. So tired they’re repeated in the book as if the author couldn’t think of another way to describe or explain something.
  • Men who “can’t help” but think of a woman as only a sex object. Not every situation is someone flirting/offering themselves to you. Not every interaction in life is sexy. Sometimes a person literally just wants a cup of hot cocoa, man. Calm yourself.
  • The sheer number of mentions of the female character’s breasts. Yes, we understand she has them. We don’t need to check in with them every page, we assume they’re still there.
  • Know your lane. There’s erotica and then there’s romance. Both have their place. Choose one and market accordingly. This particular one was marketed as a romance, the back cover blurb sounds like a romance. It attempted a cheesy plot like romance. But, honestly, it’s erotica. The plot basically turned into “oops here’s an excuse for them to have sex” like a really bad, really cheap porn movie.
  • Unrealistic sex. If I’m being honest, I started skimming through the sex scenes in this one pretty early, which is how I ended up finishing it so fast (not much to read when you cut out all the sex). But the ones I did read were loaded with total BS.
  • Everyone has perfect bodies, perfect hair, and perfect careers. Even when they think it’s imperfect it’s really that acceptable, practiced imperfect like a celebrity posting a “just out of bed” selfie online.
  • Damsel in distress. The female lead in this one even joked about being one. I don’t know why we teach young adults in their romance novels that they can be their own person, be strong, and be happy separate from love and then take it all away in adult romance. Adult romance seems to be built on the message that you’re not complete unless you’re in love and you need someone to save you from yourself.
  • Teasing the male. Male leads are made fun of for being “weak” if they’re sensitive for a second. In this particular book someone even joked about him being “a woman” because he made a remark about his feelings. Look, if you can’t be open with your partner about what they make you feel without being ridiculed, that’s not right and I feel awful for you.
  • Claiming to love someone. The inner dialogue of romance leads is always filled with love for “who they are” or love “on a deeper level”. Yet it’s also filled with the fact that you cannot focus on what they’re saying because you’re thinking about how hot they look standing there frying chicken, or whatever. You’re not in love. You’re horny.
  • The token divorced character. She got married to someone she didn’t love for some stupid reason and now they’re divorced. She says she’s damaged by her terrible attempt at marriage but don’t worry, she’ll instantly forget about all that and imagine a perfect future with you.
  • Adultery. While it’s not the main focus of this particular book, it’s there. I’m not sure why adultery always features in romance novels. More importantly, I’m not sure why romance authors have decided adultery is a plot tool for moving along a story. It’s overplayed.
  • The token pregnancy. Romance novels seem to think that bringing a human being into this world will fix everything and make life perfect. They also seem to think that every single woman who is pregnant throws up and quickly draws the conclusion that she must be pregnant from this. She then, of course, will rush out and buy a cheap pregnancy test. She’ll take it in the middle of the day and yet still get completely accurate results. Every time. No inaccurate pregnancy tests in romance novels, no sir.

So there’s my list of problematic elements in romance novels targeting adults. I’m not closed off to this genre, not really. If someone can recommend one that doesn’t have these elements, I’ll give it a try.

Otherwise, I guess I’m embracing the fact that I’m really not an adult romance reader.

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