Why I don’t write romance

Rhobin’s topic this month is: “Whatever genre you write, do you have a different one that you love to read? What do you think attracts readers to certain genres?” However, I have chosen to be disobedient, and to write about what’s wrong with the most popular genre instead.

I am aware that many of my respected colleagues in Rhobin’s Rounds are romance writers, and I hope we can have a vigorous while mutually respectful debate about my outrageous opinions.

Romance is the most popular genre. If you want to make money from writing, your best bet is to write romance. The contest by EPIC, the electronic publishing industry coalition has five different romance categories in its international contest for electronic books, in order to break up romance entries into manageable numbers. Incidentally, this contest is open for entries until 31st July.

Why is romance so popular?

It’s because many people feel the need of a temporary escape into a world where they can find happiness through true love; love forever.

What’s wrong with that?

The romantic myth is incredibly damaging, and causes a lot of suffering. It is an illusion that induces people to look for what they want in the wrong place. It is an application of the consumer myth to human relationships.

The consumer myth is:

  • Happiness is a thing/quality.
  • I need to find happiness.
  • The path to happiness is through obtaining goods and services.

A few examples are:

“I’ll be so happy when we go to Hawaii!” [I am not happy now. I need a holiday to make me happy.]

“Oh, I wish we could trade in this old bomb!” [I am not happy now. I would be happy if only we could afford a new car.]

“Oh God, no, it’s Monday.” [I am not happy in this job. I’d be happy if only I had a more interesting job, or could afford not to work at all.]

“I wish I didn’t have crooked teeth and a long nose.” [I am not happy with my appearance. If only I could change it! But corrective dentistry and cosmetic surgery are so expensive.”]

In all of these, I am unhappy with the present, and unhappy about being unhappy. I believe that I need something outside of myself to make me happy in the future. If I got that, I believe that I’d be happy.

When we go on that holiday, all sorts of things will go wrong, and happiness will recede into the future. I know families who work and save to afford a holiday. They return from it tired, disappointed, and needing to recover from it. Then they work and save for a holiday somewhere else, which of course will make them happy.

A new car will certainly make a person happy, for awhile. But the consumer society is based on dissatisfaction, so very soon this new object will be the old bomb we should trade for something with all the new features. If I stayed happy with the new car, I’d stop buying, and that’d hurt the economy, so there is a huge industry designed to convince me to buy, and buy again. The old must be traded in for the new, over and over. Happiness is always in the future.

This is the damaging myth that’s at the base of a huge amount of suffering and dissatisfaction on the personal level, and is converting nature into pollution on a larger scale.

In fact, happiness is not something you can get, or find, or buy. It is something you DO. It is not in the future, but depends on what you do NOW. And seeking happiness is guaranteed to make you unhappy in the interim. Happiness is not something you can get, but is a byproduct. I can live in contentment, regardless of my circumstances, if I can feel good about myself.

“The purpose of life is to be happy” is like “The purpose of eating is to have a nice taste in your mouth.” No. The purpose of eating is nourishment. The purpose of life is to grow, and that is achieved by looking beyond the self, to be of service.

OK, on to the romantic myth.

The formula for a romance is: Boy meets girl. There may be instant attraction on one or both sides, but there are great obstacles in the way. These are overcome, and then they live happily ever after. A variation (the Harlequin formula) is that the boy is an arrogant alpha male, and the girl shapes him to suit her needs. He of course stays a good boy forever.

This is fine as a fantasy, but people apply it to their own lives. “I want to be happy. I am unhappy now because I am alone (or I am unhappy now with this no-good husband). If only I could have Joe fall in love with me, I’d be happy.”

I am sure you can see the consumer myth in there.

In fact, the key to a happy relationship is this:

She has applied true wisdom to how to be happy: when something breaks, you fix it. This is as true of relationships as of things. I have set out the research evidence on how to have a good relationship, and how to make yourself unhappy in one, at my psychology website.

The way to be unhappy is to focus on “I want someone to love me.” This is taking love. The way to be contented in a relationship is “I want to love someone.” This is giving love.

Love, romance, all the vagaries of human emotions about each other, belong in fiction. They are essential parts of our existence. But the romantic formula, when applied to real life, is a guarantee of unhappiness now, and leads to the trade-in mentality. “I thought he was my soul partner, but he has turned out to have all these faults. So, maybe I was wrong, and I need to trade him in on a new one.”

I have argued before that all writing carries a message about the writer’s philosophy. So, believing what I do about the romantic myth, I cannot write romances.


Please leave a comment below. It will make me so happy if you do! 🙂

Then visit the lovely people below, read their essays and leave them comments too.

Rhobin Courtright
Marci Baun
Helena Fairfax
Anne de Gruchy
Heather Haven
A.J. Maguire
Fiona McGier
Kay Sisk
Skye Taylor
Connie Vines

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About Dr Bob Rich

I am a professional grandfather. My main motivation is to transform society to create a sustainable world in which my grandchildren and their grandchildren in perpetuity can have a life, and a life worth living. This means reversing environmental idiocy that's now threatening us with extinction, and replacing culture of greed and conflict with one of compassion and cooperation.
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14 Responses to Why I don’t write romance

  1. sandra214 says:

    A very interesting take on the genre, romance novels.

    I don’t disagree with your premise but I’d like to think that a large percentage of romance readers, myself included, are intelligent enough to intuitively know that what we are reading is just fiction, not real, not attainable, but an escape into a world beyond our daily problems; a world where it’s fun to contemplate the “what if’s;” the happily ever-after.

    Growing up in a very dysfunctional family, books were my escape. I knew the truth so it was fun and sometimes even necessary for me to be able to fantasize and escape into stories beyond my life to get through the day. And yes, sometimes those novels were and still are romance novels.

    Life is not tidy. Perfect endings are never that. Life goes on in unexpected ways. Everyone has their share of the good, the bad and the ugly; some more than others.

    Rather than romance novels, I see more ties to parents who rear their children to believe that life is best if you’re the best, get the highest grades, win the sports games and the awards, instead of helping them to strive for their personal best, whatever that might be. Children who are spoon-fed and coddled and given everything their hearts desire, grow up believing that life is good only if you’re at the top, making the most money, buying the best products, and worse, that they are entitled to it all. They grow up lacking the skills necessary to lead a productive, responsible, happy existence as they live through the ups and downs that life throws at them. And perhaps, they become the very adults who are influenced in negative ways by reading romance novels.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Sandra, thank you for a thoughtful response. I agree with almost all of it. The one point of disagreement is that intelligence and perceptiveness have nothing to do with the background influences that shape our unworded, subconscious beliefs. The myths of a culture are very powerful, and influence even people who consciously disagree with them.
      For example, in a situation of deadly danger like on a battlefield, espoused atheists will appeal to God. I’ve heard practising Jews use cliche phrases that derive from Christianity.
      When things go wrong in a relationship, most people consider it unfair. That’s the romantic myth surfacing — even for people like you and I.
      🙂
      Bob

      Like

  2. George F. says:

    “…the task of consumerism is to rob us of our sense of having enough and sell it back to us at the price of the product, over and over…”
    D.T. Suzuki.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jolanda says:

    You might not be able to write romantic fiction but you are doing o.k. in real life 50 years married says something is working O.K. !!!Love you lots still Jolanda xoxo

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I write erotic romance. I think about sex way more than the average woman, and I often look at other people and wonder about their sex lives. I don’t know why I’m like this, but I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember…even my Barbie and Ken dolls were having exotic sex-ploits, while being secret agents who saved the world repeatedly. I think we are all born with a sexual appetite. For some it’s a hunger that never goes away. For others, it may burn brightly for a few years, then fade away. And for others, it’s so quiet as to be easily ignored for a lifetime.

    That being said, I’ve been happily married to the man of my dreams for over 33 years. We’ve raised 4 kids to young adulthood, and one just presented us with our first grandchild. He told us he intends to raise a bunch of kids close together in age, as we did, because it was so much fun growing up as one of our kids. I wept when he said that.

    But that doesn’t mean I don’t still think about sex a whole lot. Writing romances lets me experience that first blush of falling in love over and over again, with new characters. I can be a young, sexy female spy, or an older woman who has soured on ever finding true love. I can be an independent, alpha female who enjoys her life as it is, thank you, but who catches the eye of a beta male who sets out to make himself indispensable in her life. I don’t write “alpha-hole” heroes, nor do I write virginal heroines. That trope bores me.

    I grew up with a mom who devoured romances by the shopping bag full, trading them with her many sisters, and pining for a man who would make her feel special. But she’d drop-kick them across the room if there were no sex scenes, yelling at the book, “All that build-up and no action? I’m never reading your books again!” She never found the kind of romance she wanted in real life, but I did. Yet still I write the kind of books she’d have liked to read. She passed on a few years ago, without ever have been able to read my books.

    I do agree with you that the “innocent young woman meets hardened alpha jerk who mistreats everyone in his life, then her pure love (and magical lady parts) convince him of the error of his ways and he becomes the man of her dreams” trope is stupid. I used to call that the “Harlequin Romance syndrome” whenever my friends would be heart-broken over how some jerk had treated them. I’d take them out for drinks and point out how that was his usual manner of behaving, so what made them think he would treat them any differently? But I still like to read erotic romance, and I like to write it.

    As you said, we can respectfully disagree with each other.

    Like

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Finona, thank you for the long, detailed and personal response. I knew I was going to get some reactions!

      Actually, you haven’t disagreed with me on the damage the romantic myth can make, but have brought up another issue: how explicit sexual description should be. This is surely a matter of taste, as you said. Personally, when the plot demanded it, I have used very blow-by-blow descriptions. For example, in The Travels of First Horse, the wedding celebration between my little hero and Gudrun, the strongest woman in the world, would please your mother perfectly.

      However, my attitude to both sexual heat and horror is the same: I avoid them unless the story development would suffer. In the case of this book, Horse comes from a culture in which the sexual act is “The Mother’s gift,” and is simply accepted as a part of life, so, since I was in his POV, it would have been odd to gloss over it.

      Like

  5. Rhobin says:

    LOL, Dr. Bob. You’re not disobedient or incorrect. I throw out topics, you respond with your honest opinion. Many times we all share the same viewpoint in different words, sometimes we have different viewpoints. I don’t disagree with your comments on happiness and consumerism. I also know my viewpoints on happiness have become more realistic. I read romance not because I believe in happy ever after, but the exploration and entertainment of attraction in different worlds. Good (and interesting) post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Of course I was disobedient. I have always enjoyed being so!

      As I said in my response to Sandra, the damage of the romantic myth is not at the conscious, self-aware level, but under the surface. When we are upset, we tend to revert to automatic ways of thinking, and that’s where the myths of the culture lurk.

      🙂
      Bob

      Like

  6. annedegruchy says:

    Hello Bob! I do agree with you about the big ‘sell’ and how negative (and plain wrong) the whole culture of consumerism is. However… a part of me wants to jump to the defence of romance novels, even though I don’t really read them! I think if someone enjoys them for themselves, then why not? As Sandra says above, we can make our own assessment of the risks! Otherwise who would ever read horror or crime? And whenever I read a book I always come away feeling better and right with the world – something that I can’t always say with TV or other forms of entertainment. Great debate!

    Like

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you for your first visit, Anne. I tried to leave a comment on your blog, but couldn’t find where.

      My point is that the romantic myth is the consumerist myth applied to human relationships. As far as I am concerned, people want to do retail therapy, it’s their loss. If they want to feel dissatisfied with a perfectly fixable relationship because it’s not perfect, that’s also their loss.

      At least, I hope I have drawn a few people’s attention to the issue.

      🙂
      Bob

      Like

  7. Skye-writer says:

    We can certainly agree to disagree. I LOVE romance – even though I know life is full of anything but and most marriages today seem to be based on the myth that you fall in love, get married and live happily every after, when in fact to live a life of love and romance means your wedding day is just the beginning of a life-long habit of working at the relationship to make it work and last. But other genres can and often are just as full of myth. One of my favorite characters, Jack Reacher, is just as much a myth as any romance. And all the many books filled with men and women who spend their entire career or life doing incredibly remarkable things, like the current preference for the feats of Navy SEALS or covert operators. If the things those characters pull off in books could really be done so consistently successful, I wonder how we haven’t managed to take out the idiot in charge of North Korea or stop the carnage in the Middle East. Anyway, I feel like ALL fiction is an escape in a way and all of it has a level of myth to it. But that’s what makes it enjoyable.

    Like

  8. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Skye, I don’t think we are disagreeing. Of course all fiction is, well, fiction. But the myth of the superhero doesn’t induce many people to act as superheroes, but, as you said, the romantic myth does get translate into real life, with sad consequences.

    Actually, what I’ve written just triggered a bad memory for me. Once, I had the task of counseling a family with a terrible loss. They gave their son a Superman suit for his 7th birthday. He climbed up on the roof — and jumped.

    Few adults translate the brilliant spy or the SEAL saboteur into real life. Nor are such fictions cultural myths. The fairytale romance is.

    Like

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