This is something I've wanted to discuss for a long, long time. Between you and me, romance novels... there's a love-hate relationship there. Let me rephrase that: There was a love relationship there, now, it's a hate relationship. So... why not share a part of my story I don't normally tell people. I firmly believe confession is good for the soul, and I'm doing a little confession time with you all today. And true authenticity and honesty speaks volumes. Or at least that's what I've been told. Hopefully you'll still stick around after this post.
Back in my middle school days I started getting into reading romance novels. Nothing most people would think too serious, just those really poorly written pre-teen books and Christian romance novels. I read them because they were fun, most of the girls in my class were reading them, and reading in general, regardless of the content, is a good thing, right? But you know what? I was setting up an unhealthy pattern and habit in my life. Fast forward a year or two later into my early high school days, a couple of major things happened in my personal life. And the stress, discomfort, and pain that those situations/events brought about, created a strong desire to find something that I could get lost in, forget about my problems, relieve stress, be entertained, etc. And sadly, rather than turning to God during a time I should have, I allowed myself to get lost in the world of romance novels/fiction. And for quite a few years it served as an addiction for me.
Now some of you may be thinking, "I don't see what the big deal is. So you've read some romance novels in your day. I've read some myself, and I don't see the harm." Maybe I'd agree with you to an extent. I'm not going to sit here and say every single secular or Christian romance novel ever written is garbage. But, why are we reading them? What's the purpose behind us spending our dollars and time devouring them? In a recent blog post, Can Romance Novels Hurt Your Heart, Pastor Russell D. Moore discusses this very issue along with research from a recent book entitled A Billion Wicked Thoughts:
The research confirms in some ways what almost everyone knows: men are visually engaged, attracted to youth and sexual novelty, and are thus vulnerable to visual pornography.
The research explores further what the commercialized romance industry tells us about what it means to be a woman (at least in a fallen world). Women are much less likely to be drawn to visual pornography (although more do so than one might think), but are quite likely to be involved in such media as Internet romantic fiction or the old-fashioned romance novel.
The romance novel follows, the researchers argue, a typical pattern. The hero is almost never, they say, a blue collar worker, a bureaucrat, or someone in the traditionally feminine occupations (hairdresser, kindergarten teacher, etc.). He is competent, confident, and usually wealthy. He is, in short, an alpha male.
...Both are based on an illusion. Pornography is based on the illusion of a perfectly willing, always aroused partner without the “work” of relational intimacy. Often romance novels or their film equivalents do the same thing for the emotional needs of women that pornography offers for the erotic urges of men.
And in both cases, what the “market” wants is sameness. Men want the illusion of women who look just like women but are, in terms of sexual response, just like men. Women want the illusion of men who are “real” men, but, in terms of a concept of romance, are just like women. In both artificial eros and artificial romance, there is the love of the self, not the mystery of the other.
So if you haven't caught onto the point I'm making here it is: For many young girls and women, romance novels can be and are the equivalent that pornography is to guys. (Note: There's no debate about it that some of the secular romance fiction out there is outright a form of porn due to explicit and erotic detail. That definitely is a sin that needs to be dealt with, repented of, and laid at the cross. I don't mean to sound harsh, and FYI, I could be guilty of this myself, but it's true, and there's grace for it.) Think about it, all the things that porn provides to guys, many romance novels provide to us women...
- An escape and relaxation
- Stress reliever
- Entertainment for when you're bored
And then I started thinking about something Mark Driscoll talked about in a sermon a while ago. In that particular message he was addressing the issue of guys being visual and how they're constantly taking mental snapshots of the women around them (whether these be good or bad snapshots). Over time these snapshots build and build until he pretty much has a whole filing system of them. I started thinking about what the equivalent would be for me a few of my friends. The answer? We collect stories that we connect to emotionally. Whether they be from romantic fiction, films, etc. Whether they be good or bad. We mentally have dozens and dozens of them. And just like guys fantasize about their snapshots, we as women can fall into the trap of fantasizing about the story, the characters, and the emotions they create in us. We want to live vicariously through them.
Personally, I'm inclined to agree with Moore. After all, I have some baggage with this myself. And I'm not proud of that period of my life, because it was an addiction that I was convicted of and had to go through a process of some serious repentance and forgiveness. So, if I were personally asked, "Do you think romance novels can hurt your heart?" I'd probably answer, "Most likely, yes. Maybe some girls can get away with reading them without any kind of consequences. But for me, in some ways they did do some damage to my heart. So I'll pass." At the end of his post, Pastor Moore poses this great question to ask ourselves:
“Is what I’m consuming leading me toward contentment with my spouse (or future spouse) or away from it? Is it pointing me to the other in one-flesh union or to an eroticized embodiment of my own desires? Is this the mystery or a mirage?"
Now what about Christian romance novels? Are they any good? I'm sure a few of you are thinking surely they're not as bad as the secular ones? I think the same question above can be applied as well. Yes, once in a blue moon I pick one up, but only after I've read reviews and talked with others who've read them. Again, I don't think every novel is bad and that you shouldn't read it. I think Joy Eggerich in a recent post and vlog covers this question well...
Do I want everyone to go out and have a romance novel book burning? No. But I want us to be aware of the things in our life that create false expectations or pull us away from our husbands or our hope of a husband. -Joy Eggerich
What about you? What are your thoughts on this? Would you consider romance novels a friend or foe, and to what extent? What about secular versus Christian romance novels?
I apologize for this being ridiculously long. Forgive me? =)