Tag Archives: women’s expectations in love

Does Reading Romance Novels Stifle Real Romance?

“Keeping the Sparks Alive” Series

Some experts have recently suggested reading romance novels fuels unrealistic expectations about love, and are as addictive and as damaging to relationships as pornography.

I’d like your input on this subject. Do romantic novels, movies, and shows make you feel more romantic toward your partner, or do they cause you to expect constantly “romantic” behavior from your partner, thereby causing you to be more dissatisfied with your relationship? Are you waiting to be swept off your feet and showered with rose petals?

To be honest, I had never given much thought to romance novels’ impact on a relationship or marriage until a few reviews came out like this one. I had, however, thought a good deal about how the fairytale mentality so widespread in our culture creates unrealistic expectations. Romantic comedies and TV shows like The Bachelor, which often end in a fairytale-like proposal, also fall under this category of creating unrealistic expectations.

Psychologist Dr. Juli Slattery reports she is seeing more and more women “clinically addicted” to romantic books, and that for many women these novels promote dissatisfaction with their real relationships. Some experts claim there are parallels between what happens to a man when he watches pornography and what happens to a woman when she reads a romance book. While other experts say addiction may be too strong a word, sex addiction expert Paula Hall agrees that romance books can become an “unhealthy preoccupation.”

This article profiles a 24-year-old advertising executive in London who describes how she enjoys the ideal fantasy world of romance books, in which “the men are always strong, handsome providers and everything is done for mad, crazy love.”  Her constant striving for the perfect relationship found in these books has led to multiple failed relationships. Of her last relationship, she said she put too much pressure on them both to live “a fairy tale” but learned the hard way that real life isn’t constant romance. Her inability to be satisfied ultimately destroyed what had been a good relationship, and now she’s left looking for her “Prince Charming.”

Fans of these romance novels tell a different story, suggesting that high expectations for romance isn’t a bad thing, and that women are smart enough to know the difference between fact and fiction. Some say believing in love and a happily-ever-after ending is a good thing to hold onto. A 2005 study even found out that women who read romance novels are less likely to divorce.

Some evidence suggests the recent boon of electronic readers has fueled the growth of romance novels, because readers don’t have to be ashamed to carry their book around. Even the recession did not damper sales of romance books.

So, what’s your take? Do you think the romantic books, movies and TV shows of today are fueling unrealistic expectations, or do they help you feel romantic toward your partner?

Additional Info:

If you’re interested in more reading on this subject, I found this honors thesis by Jennifer Bunn at Boston College from 2007 on the effects of romance novel readership: “Results showed that women in their late teens and early twenties had very high ideals and expectations when it came to relationship characteristics, but did not have many dysfunctional beliefs or romantic ideals. They tended to be very satisfied in their romantic relationships, and were more satisfied when their actual relationship resembled their ideal relationship. Results of this study also indicated that women were not just solely drawn to romance novels that supported their currently held beliefs, but postulated that such an attraction could also have originated from their own hopes and desires for their actual relationship. The content of these books influence the thoughts and perceptions of millions of readers around the world, making it into a very powerful medium. Similar to television, romance novels portray reality in many unrealistic ways, therefore influencing the perceptions that readers have about social constructs and relationship standards and expectations.”