July 5, 2011

Romance Novels: Friend or Foe?

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
  • Idealism
  • 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? =)

    13 comments:

    1. this is awesome natalie... really good insight and i completely agree with you that it can be the female equivalent that pornography is for men. especially if a male character in the book is giving you an emotional fulfillment that is meant to be given to you by your husband. i also think its easy for women who are dissatisfied with their husbands or maybe just their single life to turn to romance novels. and then theyre wrapped up in fantasy that maybe it comes to a point where its impossible to be emotinally satisfied by your husband...hmmm this is getting me thinking! thanks for sharing!

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    2. i agree. not everything is bad, but you have to monitor what you are allowing in your house, in your mind and in your body. you can say 'oh but it's just one book' and then it turns into two books, and then it turns into more detailed ones, because really, it's just a book after all. And people just follow the path until they are lost completely.

      but i do have to ask you, miss natalie, what are you feelings about Romantic Comedy movies? Because girls eat them up like candy, and i do watch them too. but there are things about them, just like the books, that set us up for heartbreak.

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    3. Natalie (this always gets confusing when I talk to another Natalie =D), I'm thinking I'll probably tackle the whole movie thing later this week. But yeah, girls do "eat them up like candy." And I watch some romantic comedies myself. I think it really comes down to establishing boundaries, which I'll talk about later. =D

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    4. aww of course you can use it! yay im excited for this series :)

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    5. You make many good points. I remember as a teen reading smut books because I knew what was in them and they completely altered my way of thinking even when I knew I wouldn't do them myself.
      Men are very visual and women are so mental which is why romance novels are so detailed. To allow us to paint that perfect picture in our minds.

      I've had to keep myself from reading secular books because of the content. But I do agree that secular or christian, they do have the ability to disillusion us for our marriages. Putting too much pressure or hype on our husbands only leading to failures and disappointments when they're compared to the fictional character in our favorite books whether it be the amazingly godly husband or strong man in the secular.

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    6. I totally agree. I had to cut back on romance novels in high school. I only wanted to fall in love once and those books weren't helping! I'm so glad I'm not the only one that thinks romance novels can be not-so-innocent for young girls...or any age for that matter. FANTASTIC post.

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    7. nice blog! :)
      you can find me at
      http://englishbubble.blogspot.com/

      and now on FACEBOOK!
      https://www.facebook.com/pages/RainingLights-ES/231614813529670

      xx

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    8. thanks for this post natalie. surely shares a great point and an issue many young girls may be dealing with. during high school i read some romance novels but quickly realized they werent healthy. and i really do my best to avoid them. i appreciate your honesty and know many will be blessed through this post. thank you again!

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    9. You are so brave, humble, and honest! Thank you so much for sharing this.

      I have been thinking about similar issues and reading your post is really helpful.

      And I really admire you for your courage in writing this.

      Love and prayers,
      anna

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    10. Hey Natalie! Sorry, it took me so long to get back. Crazy last few days- I'm sure you understand. :-)
      I think romance novels can definately be hazardous. At the same time, I think that it depends on the girl- where she's at in her life (spiritually, emotionally, relationships). I don't think they should be picked up lightly. I'll admit I became hooked on Jane Austen for awhile. When every man was being compared to a Mr. Darcy, I realized I should change periods. Then I was addicted to Debbie Macomber for her "real-life" tales. Sadly, I woke up from her stories and realized they were all the same and I was depressed. Erynn Mangum is different. To me, her books focus more on the spiritual side of our lives and the importance of being friends, rather than simply "romance". I found myself excited about waiting for the man God has for me and encouraged to better myself as a Christian and the woman God wants me to be. Again though, I think it depends on the girl. If you aren't careful, you're right, this sweet addiction can become a deep regret. Great post, Natalie!

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    11. This is a great, thought provoking post!
      I'm looking forward to your vlog tomorrow! ;)

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    12. Ahhh! I couldn't agree more with you! They raise the expectations too high to be accomplished. What romance novels never tell you about is how many failed relationships the couple was in before the book was published that taught them how to be in the place they are in now; to recognize what christian relationships are about, to learn from past sin in relationships, and how its possible to have a healthy relationship with a guy and God together. Don't even get me started on how bad I hate that book, Redeeming Love; the Christian girl's version of Twilight!! Grrrrr.....!

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    13. Maddie, I'm with you on Redeeming Love. =D Although my biggest complaint about it is that it drags on for FOREVER.

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