Discussion

What Reading Romance Novels Can Teach Us

8 Life Lessons to Learn From Romance Novels

Romance novels tell stories that range from mundane to zany to melodramatic to tearjerkers and beyond. Regardless of the plots, one of the reasons the genre resonates with readers is its everlasting element of hope. Every romance novel must end on a positive, optimistic note (cliffhanger serials notwithstanding). Love is eternal, and no fiction does this theme more justice than romance. But romance novels are more than love stories. There are numerous life lessons we can learn from reading these beautiful books.

Love Yourself

It’s a well-worn phrase, but it will be hard for others to care for you if you don’t care about yourself. If you abuse your body, you will attract abusers. Every person has intrinsic value due to their existence. Few of us are physically, mentally, psychologically, or morally perfect. What we have is the gift of being human. Humans are capable of love on a level unknown anywhere on earth. Focusing on the worst of humanity breeds self-loathing.

In the Harlequin Romance Rumor Has It by Celia Scott, Lucinda, a downtrodden young woman, learns to look at herself differently after a rumor of her having an affair with a foreign hunk goes viral. She understands she doesn’t need to mimic the fashionable looks of others to be desirable. Lucinda has a worth that’s all her own. Only after she realizes this does the hero take notice of Lucinda and fall in love with her. Self-respect attracts respect.

Other Cultures, People, or Time Periods

Whether you enjoy historical or contemporary romances, there are many subjects romance novels can teach us. Through books, I–a life-long Long Islander–have traveled to New Zealand sheep stations, the jungles of South America, the glittering palaces of Europe, the deserts of Arabia, and more lands. Romance is ubiquitous among all peoples, eras, and cultures. Falling in love is a story for the ages.

From my reading experiences, I was taught foreign ways to say “I love you” or “darling” (as we discussed in our Languages of Love article). Westerns taught me about guns and ranching, while pirate romances enlightened me on basic nautical terms like bow, stern, deck, bulkhead, passageways, and overhead compartment. Along the way, I learned about the feudal system, the levels of nobility, ancient medicines, Native American customs, Medieval politics… So much was introduced to me by being exposed to various cultures in romance novels.

The Importance of Communication

Readers of romance know it gets tiresome when the main characters don’t listen to one another. Big misunderstandings would be avoided if the heroes and heroines acted like calm, rational adults and spoke to each other. It’s no wonder that “big misunderstandings” is one of the more disliked tropes.

Let us observe these obstructive behaviors and learn what not to do. Basic respect for your partner requires you to listen to them and allow them to finish sentences without interruption. Ask follow-up questions. Don’t keep important information to yourself if it’s pertinent to solving problems. Never let anger color your point of view. Without communication, there can be no trust, and vice versa.

Form Support Networks

Two people in love can feel they need no one else in the world except each other. It’s vital to be able to rely on one’s partner. Nevertheless, it’s also important not to forget that friends and family provide support. In times of heartache, a heroine has had to depend on her best friend’s shoulder to cry on. Sometimes the hero needs a respected family member to give him a kick in the rear when he’s acting like a fool.

Medieval romances have shown me how women worked together to create a productive castle and how men united in battle. Men need intimate friendships as much as women do, even though they are statistically less likely to reach out for help. Friends, family, and communities are as necessary for romance as they are in real life. Plus, how many romances series are based on a group of comrades or siblings?

people silhouette during sunset
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Toxic Behaviors To Avoid

Here at Sweet Savage Flame, we enjoy the good, the bad, and the irredeemable in romance. However, everything must be kept in perspective. What’s entertaining in fiction may not be acceptable in the real world. A happily ever after ending entails fidelity, trust, and commitment. While we adore old-school plots like kidnapping or an enemies-to-lovers story, bickering and fighting are not the way to go. Stockholm syndrome is mental brainwashing, not the foundation for a solid union. A moment of infidelity can be something to overcome, but a serial cheater is not a person to bond yourself to. Neither is an abuser, whether verbal, physical, or sexual. Again, we make no bones about liking bodice rippers and non-politically correct books, but there’s a difference between drama on paper and in real life. Reality has enough drama, so you don’t need a lifemate who revels in it.

Fortitude Is the Greatest Kind of Strength

The terms “strong woman” or “strong man” are often tossed around, but what does it all mean? Is it having athletic prowess, the ability to fight, or engaging in manual labor? Granted, these are all noble and wonderful abilities, but without an inner constitution to survive and thrive, physicality can only take one so far. The most significant strength is fortitude, the ability to endure hardship and come out emotionally stronger for it.

Think of historical main characters who withstood duress: farmers whose crops failed, ranchers & plantation owners whose homes were burned down, soldiers who went to war, and the women left behind and widowed. Being an orphan was far more common in the past due to the dangers of childbirth. Even contemporary heroes and heroines have to deal with quotidian struggles such as working, paying the bills, raising families, and the stresses of modern living. The characters who speak to me are the ones who go in day in and day out, endure what they must, and overcome the worst obstacles because they have wills of steel.

Everyone Is Deserving of Love

This idea is sort of a corollary to learning to love yourself. The Golden Rule exists worldwide. There is nothing more essential than to love and to be loved. Whether a poor street urchin, a noble lord, a plump governess, or a beautiful model, all are worthy of agape no matter where they come from or what they look like. It doesn’t matter if you made mistakes in the past or are making mistakes right now. There have been socially “ruined” heroines, heroes with criminal histories, characters intent on destroying their enemies, all these types, and more, who have found redemption through love. Or they redeem themselves, thus recognizing their inherent worth, and then allow themselves to be open to love. Romance encourages the belief that it’s possible to find that special someone, somewhere in this vast world.

Lovemaking/ Sex

There’s nothing wrong with reading a romance for its steamy love scenes. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel guilty for appreciating sex. Although, just like in movies, what is written on paper can be hyperbolically portrayed. Few women can achieve orgasm upon the first thrust without any foreplay. Rare is the man who can delay his own orgasm for hours to give pleasure.

Still, there is a plethora of information to gather about lovemaking in romance novels. How to use a condom, for one. Foreplay is essential to sexual gratification. Giving pleasure can be just as enjoyable as receiving. Many of the most erotic books aren’t the most explicit, but give you little hints on how to please your beloved. Some women appreciate caresses on the nape of the neck. There are men who go crazy by having their earlobes licked. I learned to kiss long before I ever kissed anyone.

But I draw the line at licking fingers and bellybuttons. When I read a love scene with those activities, that’s when I say nope, too far for me.

Your Thoughts?

What other lessons do you think romance novels can provide readers? Do you think the reasons listed above have merit? Is it better to leave fiction in its own realm and absorb knowledge only through experience? As always, please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance!

3 replies »

  1. Hi, Jacqueline.

    This article is the best thing I’ve ever seen written by you (Not that your other writings don’t have tremendous merit, but this is on a whole other level). If you ever decide to post this on your YouTube channel, it would be great. I hope you will share this with as many people as possible. You’ve summed up perfectly everything I’ve learned from reading romance novels, and I’m still learning to this day.

    • Dear Blue Falcon,

      How lovely of you to say such sweet things! I appreciate your positivity so very much.

      This was fun to write and hard to limit to just 8 lessons. Romance has always been a comforting friend and when it’s been good to me, it’s been very good. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how important it is to find deeper meaning in things that seem mundane. The joys we experience through “pop culture” can produce teachable values is we but look for them.

      Yes, I think this would be an ideal podcast/video. More of a discussion than a listicle, so I think I may feel more comfortable. Since I won’t be Trick or Treating this weekend, I’ll try to put one out by Sunday.

      I hope you have a great weekend if I don’t speak with you sooner!

      Jacqueline

  2. Thanks, Jacqueline. Interesting and thought-provoking article.

    My take? Well, I guess we’re on the opposite sides of the aisle.

    I don’t read romance or any other kind of fiction to learn things. That’s best left to nonfiction and real life.

    Rather, I read romance and other fiction to experience things. Everything this form of art can possibly deal with, and that I find meaningful and valuable.

    Nonfiction and real life provide a lot. But not everything I want or need. That’s where fiction steps in. It provides vicariously that which I cannot experience any other way.

    Fiction also provides a lot I don’t need or want. But someone else does. I may not want to eat every dish on the smorgasbord. But it’s a good thing it’s there for those who do.

    I’ve been speaking in terms of theories and generalities. To speak in terms of actualities and specifics, like you do, would be more helpful to my fellow readers. But that would require an article, not a comment. Maybe someday . . . .

Please drop a comment and let's talk romance!