Romance genre and me

There are times, especially in my teens, when I wondered why my peers were so fascinated by romance stories. Paperbacks like Sweet Dreams, Harlequin, Mills & Boons were passed and exchanged. I tried one, only because the summary says the story was set in mysterious Egypt. Needless to say, I found it mildly entertaining and of no consequence.

At that time, I had started into Mystery, Fantasy and Science Fiction. I was devouring Asimov, AC Clarke, R. Silverberg, JRR Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, Enid Blyton, etc. My brother, who went to study overseas, brought these stacks of paperbacks home twice a year. I looked forward to them so much. Sad to say, at that age, there was only one person who was interested in these books, who introduced me to Eddings, Dianne Wynne Jones, RJ.

These stories moved me more than any romance novels I had read. To this day, it still puzzles me. These are not exactly stories that primarily appeals to the emotion. Romance, if there is any, remained a side-story. They evoke questions, they bring exciting adventures, they detailed horrific events and magical impossibilities. Yet, they evoke a stronger emotional response and I remembered specific scenes, and even passages. Desperation, despair, hope, sense of wonder, deliverance, pity, fear, grief, loneliness, joy, love, frustration …. they were distilled and served in these stories. I read Dickens, Austen, VC Andrews (who gave me nightmares), Sheldon, Angela Carter (another writer whose work haunted me) … I find them more interesting and memorable than romance.

Why not the Romance genre?

Was it part of my passive rebellion? At a time I feel constrained and not able to expand my potentials, I turned to books at a time girls were talking about boys. I took to SF and scoffed at Romance because that was the opposite of what a stereotypical girl would do. I openly declared ‘boys were a waste of time’ and hated makeup.

It might have been a subconscious reaction. But thinking back and to this day, whenever I read/watch elements of Romance, I still find little appeal in it. Why? It’s been twenty years … am I not yet done with my rebellion? I don’t know. Really. Strange as it may sound, it is difficult for me to know how I feel. Day to day socialisation, I operate on how I should feel or what I think society expects me to react, given the situations. Maybe that’s why, some people think I’m a calm and easy-going person. But the time I figured out that I’m angry or offended, it was many hours or days too late. Then, it is better to let it go than make myself unhappy. But this is neither here nor there.

Why do I find so little appeal or interest in Romantic elements? Given the amount of stuff that I read/watch for pleasure, all of it have elements of Romance, in various doses. Yet, I take them as icing, not the cake. Some icing are pretty, some are light and sweet to taste, some should be scraped off before you eat the cake.

Hmm … Perhaps, when reading Romance, as the central theme, there were elements that turned me off. After re-reading my previous post on my Favourite Characters Patterns, I think I might have found some of those elements.

1. The protagonists of Romance genre tends to come out as selfish and self-centered to me. Often times, it revolves around the desires and feelings of the main character(s), without consideration for the people around them.

2. Is it Lust or is it Love? I have no idea what romantic love is. I’ve never been in it. But I can’t help wonder … when the premise for being in love are given (described) as physical symptoms of attraction. Blushes, flirtations, faked charms, nervousness, increased heartbeat, increased desire to be physically closer … where’s the love?

3. Pathetic heroines. Romances turn girls/boys into mush. That offends my sensibilities. The heroine may start out hating the hero, but they will turn into softies and create double standards where the love-interest is concerned. Because of their ‘special’ person.

Perhaps I am too naive and ignorant to face the ‘facts’ of this reality. That romantic love is in itself selfish and lustful. It is part of our base instinct to find the best genetic mate and ensure the dissemination and survival of our gene pool. Altruistic selfless romantic love is an idealism that does not exist. I wonder what planted such a notion in my head? Was it the TV programs I watched? Was it the books I read? Did I somehow get that idea from my parents or grandparents? But I digress …

However I look at it, I have always preferred stories of friendships and selfish-non-romantic agendas, compared to love and jealousy. Perhaps, I perceived those plots as more honest. Or more likely, the content were more congruent with my own world view or rather my own fantasy-world view. Whether they are accurate reflection of the real world … I don’t really know. Most probably not.

Perhaps, my belligerence towards Romance genre was the incongruity of the usual Romantic plot patterns/concept to my personal world concept. That I have stereotyped Romance into shallow, unrealistic, pro-discrimination fiction. A fantasy and lie pretending to be real. How is that different from SF/Fan that I liked so much? SF/Fan don’t pretend to be real. It works on the premise, that you know it’s not real. But it could have been. And maybe it contains a little bit of truth in all that illusion.

However, my feelings towards Romance genre might have spilled into my personal view of romantic love itself, that I view such things with suspicion, rather than welcome it. Perhaps I’m just true to my temperament. I get suspicious of anything that threatens my ability to be objective, impartial and to think logically.

I really don’t know. This is food for more thought …

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