Young People Ask . . .
Are Romance Novels Harmless Reading?
“READING romances is an escape,” said one avid reader. “Losing myself in a romance refreshes me, makes me better able to face my own problems.” Her comments are rather typical of those who regularly devour romance novels.
Some claim that the stories are an effective stress tonic. Youths view them as a harmless peek at adult pleasures. And for some they are a way to add excitement to a drab existence. Since the novels are generally short and inexpensive, reading them has become an addictive habit for millions. Rivaling the audience for most popular television shows, 20 million in the United States alone are estimated to be readers. And young people number prominently among this total. But should you read them? In answer, let us investigate what some of these novels are like.
“And They Lived Happily Ever After”
The subject of romance has fascinated readers throughout the ages. Of course, this is only natural, since God placed in man and woman the desire to fall in love and marry. (Genesis 1:27, 28; 2:23, 24) It is not surprising, then, that romance is an ingredient of most fiction. And this is not necessarily objectionable. Some romance novels have even attained the status of fine literature. But since these older novels are considered tame by modern standards, writers have found it profitable of late to churn out a new breed of romance novels. Some still utilize historic or medieval settings to add drama and mood to the story. Others are contemporary in style and setting. Nevertheless, with a few minor variations, these modern romance novels follow a fairly predictable formula: Heroes and heroines hurdling formidable obstacles that threaten their budding romance.
Typically the hero is a strong, even arrogant, man who oozes self-confidence. The heroine, however, is likely to be delicate and vulnerable, often the hero’s junior by 10 or 15 years. She needs the hero’s attention to validate her beauty and self-worth. And though he often treats her contemptuously, she is still irresistibly attracted to him. Why, his very presence can send the blood pounding through her veins and affect her equilibrium, her thinking and her speech.
Often there is a rival suitor. Although kind and considerate, he fails to excite or interest the heroine. So she uses her beguiling charms to mold her stoic hero into a tender soul who now openly declares his abiding love. All previous misgivings cleared and forgiven, they blissfully marry!
Understandably, such stories have appeal. But referring to “Gothic-style” romance novels, one writer objects: “The basic premise of these . . . stories is that a good man is hard to detect . . . and the man who had seemed above suspicion . . . is the villain.” The heroine interprets the calloused, inscrutable demeanor of the hero thusly: “If my man treats me badly, that’s because he’s masculine, not because he’s bad.” Or, “Men may appear moody, cynical, scornful, and bullying, but they nevertheless provide romance and excitement.”
Could accepting such fanciful notions cloud your vision of the important qualities necessary for a successful, enduring marriage? Bonnie, who started reading romance novels at age 16, recalls: “I looked for the young man that was tall, dark and handsome; one that was exciting, with a domineering personality.” She confessed: “If I dated a young man and he didn’t want to kiss and touch, he was dull, even though he was considerate and kind. I wanted the excitement I’d read about in the novels.” It is therefore easy to see how reading these stories could result in one’s becoming infatuated with a person most undesirable as a marriage mate. A desire for “excitement” could cloak what this person really is at heart.
Bonnie continued to read romances after her marriage and says: “I had a nice home and family, but somehow it wasn’t enough . . . I wanted the adventure, excitement and thrills so enticingly described in the novels. I felt something was wrong with my marriage.” The Bible, though, helped Bonnie to appreciate that a husband must offer his wife more than charm or “excitement”: “Husbands ought to be loving their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself, for no man ever hated his own flesh; but he feeds and cherishes it.”—Ephesians 5:28, 29.
And what about the Utopian endings and easy resolution of differences so common to romance novels? Well, they are far from realistic. Bonnie recalls: “When I had a disagreement with my husband, instead of talking it out with him, I’d copy the gimmicks used by the heroine. When my husband didn’t respond the way the hero did, I sulked.” One writer similarly observed that these novels “gloss over and obscure complex social relations . . . They offer a comfortably fixed image of the exchange between men and women at the very moment when the social actuality is confusing, shifting, frightening.” Is not the Bible’s counsel for wives therefore more realistic and practical when it says, “You wives, be in subjection to your husbands”?—Colossians 3:18.
Psychology Today highlighted another reason romance novels are so popular: “Readers . . . want to learn about the kinds of relationships that other women develop with their sexual partners.” The article continued: “In the last few years readers have demanded, and publishers have rushed to supply them with, heroines who are independent and assertive—in bed and out.”
Interestingly, the sexually explicit romances—available in public libraries in some cities—are the ones most requested by teens. Can they harm? Explains 18-year-old Karen: “The books really stirred strong sexual feelings and curiosity in me. The ecstasy and euphoric feelings felt by the heroine in passionate encounters with the hero caused me to desire those feelings too. So when I was dating,” she continues, “I tried to recreate those sensations. It led me to commit fornication.” But was her experience like those of the heroines she had read and fantasized about? Karen discovered: “These feelings are conjured up in the minds of the writers. They aren’t real.”
Creating sexual fantasies is indeed the intent of some authors. One publisher instructs authors of romance novels: “Sexual encounters should concentrate on passion and the erotic sensations aroused by the hero’s kisses and caresses.” The writers are further advised that love stories “should evoke excitement, tension and a deep emotional and sensual response in the reader.” Obviously, reading such material would not help one to follow the Bible’s admonition to “deaden, therefore, your body members that are upon the earth as respects fornication, uncleanness, sexual appetite, hurtful desire.”—Colossians 3:5.
In view of the foregoing, many will wisely conclude that it is best to avoid novels that arouse unwholesome feelings or that engender unrealistic expectations. True, reading fills the need for relief from the pressures of life for many. But there is value in being selective in what you read. We are to a great extent products of our environment. And in reading, we create an environment that can influence our lives for good or for bad. Why not branch out and try reading other types of books, such as history or science books? The Bible and Bible-related publications are particularly rewarding.
Remember, too, that there are other profitable ways to relax or find diversion. Why build your life around imaginary adventures? The Bible says, “There is . . . happiness in giving.” (Acts 20:35) So learn to give by helping other people. A youth (one of Jehovah’s Witnesses) who devoted 60 hours one month to helping people learn about the Bible said: “It was the happiest time of my life.” And when your life is happy, busy and satisfying, who needs the shallow “escape” of romance novels?
[Picture on page 17]
Romance novels may make absorbing reading, but do they teach a wholesome view of love and marriage?