I have been told many times that romance novels give women unrealistic expectations for sex, for relationships, for life in general, etc., and I can agree with that on some level. It’s not that I ever thought that sex was going to be how it is in romance novels. I understand the myth/fantasy/rarity of the simultaneous orgasm, I know that screaming orgasms only happen to some people, that multiple orgasms are not actually that easy to achieve and the idea that your partner is going to stave off their orgasm to bring you to pleasure over and over and over again is unrealistic/not an every time occurrence.
Let me take this moment to let you know where I am coming from – I am a middle class, white, cisgendered, androphile, female, with an MFA in Creative Writing. This is my perspective and my thoughts, I am not trying to understand or explain other people’s experiences, but if you, my dear reader, see a piece of yourself in this, I am happy to let you know you are not alone.
Where romance novels have “ruined” me is for romantic love. Having devoured probably millions of words and thousands of pages of the stuff, I can tell you that I want that romance so bad, but I know that it’s not going to happen and that most of the time the love portrayed in those stories is not healthy. I am sad and a little scared that for the rest of my life I might always feel like I am missing something in my personal relationships because my partner does not do those kinds of things, does not feel that deeply for me, and does not cherish me the way it is in books. The way it is in my writing, the way it is in sappy, soppy, make-me-choke-up-and-tear-up country songs. Because it is unrealistic, it is, most likely, unhealthy, and, I am fairly certain, not based in any sort of reality that I inhabit.
This sounds very cynical and there is a small part of me protesting what I am writing. It is the part of me that is bolstered by my mom, my sister, and many of my relatives and friends who tell me, near constantly, that “that” person is out there waiting for me, that he will sweep me off my feet and be everything I need him to be. I remember a TED Talk where the woman said she wasn’t being picky enough and that’s how she found her husband. But I don’t really believe it in relation to me because I think my expectations/needs/wants are too much to ask for, which I logically know is ridiculous, but emotionally I just feel that’s the truth, and unfortunately that belief has been reinforced.
I had a really enlightening, drunk conversation with a friend the other night where we talked about all our past, fucked up relationships and how we never thought we’d be “those women” or that we’d react “like that” and she made me understand why I think no one will want me, why I truly believe no one will meet my expectations and even if they do, there is no way they would want me. It’s because someone told me as much and then my next two partners reinforced it. I remember it clearly. I was in his living room and I was anxious about the future of our relationship, maybe I was trying to break it off with him and he told me that we needed to stay together because we were good for each other, that he was a really easy-going guy, which balanced out my neuroticism and essentially no one else would put up with my shit as well as he did. I felt like I had been slapped, but I couldn’t deny it because he was my first boyfriend and I was twenty years old, it made a lot of fucking sense to me.
I eventually broke up with him, but I was haunted by the thought that I had really fucked up. He was the best that I could ever hope to find because who would want to put up with an anxiety-riddled, emotional, clingy, wreck like me? No one. But I didn’t go back and I eventually started an online relationship that opened me up to an aspect of myself that I hadn’t fully explored before, but a few months in he told me I was being clingy and smothering him and I was making him uncomfortable. Hello, reinforcement. I backed off so fast his head spun. I backed off so far I could re-evaluate our relationship with cold, hard, clinical eyes that I forced to be divorced from my emotionality and decided we weren’t going to work.
My next boyfriend, my previous boyfriend, my now ex-boyfriend pretty much put the final nail in the coffin. Another long distance relationship, but I tried very hard to not be clingy, to not be smothering, to be independent, and not dump everything on him. He wanted me to call him every night, just like I wanted to talk to him every night. And then there was a suicide attempt in my immediate family. I held it together during the day, but at night I was hysterical. I cried on the phone not only about this person, but about what if my boyfriend was deployed and died. I was anxious and hundreds of miles away from my family and I needed him. That Friday he told me I was being clingy and smothering him. He apologized a few days later and admitted he was wrong, but the damage was done.
Maybe I’m young, and maybe I’ve had bad luck, and even worse taste in boyfriends, but logic has a hard time reaching me on this. In romance novels your significant other is supposed to love and support you, the way I loved and supported my partners – unconditionally, at least until we broke up. Romance novels give you these men who will hold you through your tears, tell you they love you even when you have an almost literal stream of snot coming out your nose, but that’s not real life. Asshole singers serenade you with sweet, pretty lies about how they love you because you can’t see how wonderful and beautiful you are, but it really just means that you’re easier to manipulate and more desperate to hear that you are wonderful and beautiful and will do anything to hear them say it again.
I want someone to want me desperately. I want passion. I want someone who will lay me down and take me apart not only with their hands and mouth, but with their words and their eyes, eyes that can only see me in that moment. I want someone who wants only me. I want monogamy and promises and love and growing old together. I want them to want to be there holding my hand when I’m eighty. I want acceptance and understanding and empathy. I want to be able to be myself without restrictions, but that doesn’t mean I want to be inconsiderate. I want to give all of that back.
I don’t need screaming, multiple orgasms, but I would like that lie, that fantasy, every romance author and fanfiction writer has told me.