Let’s talk about romance novels and chick flicks.
I have written many scholarly, feminist papers on the politics of Harlequin Romance, Masculinity in Dance Films and trust me, you’d love my analysis of Dirty Dancing.
And I didn’t write any of those essays to bash the genre. I used to sneak romance novels from my mother’s secret stash (under the bed) and add them to mine (under the bed). I learned to read fast and swallow a book in a single sitting.
I love love stories.
And yet I’m a feminist…and I was part of the third-wave generation who attempted to reconcile (among other things) the tension between our love of pop culture and some of the misogynist social messages reified by pop culture.
(Check it: reified. It’s been at least ten years since I used that word. Big up to honours Poli Sci!)
All of this means that I wrote papers about the things I was passionate about, mostly because I wanted to find some redeeming political messages in them. I wanted Official Feminist Permission to keep loving love stories and all things seemingly feminine and frivolous.
Admittedly, this is a roundabout way of saying that in addition to mainlining it, I also study this stuff. Romance. Stories. There are formulas.
Almost every romance novel or movie puts an unlikely couple together, or puts a likely couple in trying circumstances that would undoubtedly doom most lovers…
But our lovers aren’t just any lovers. They’re in it to win it. They’re gonna make it.
It’s storytelling 101: torture your protagonist. That’s character development, baaaaby.
Teachers train writers in this sort of thing and the resulting stories train readers in exceptionalism. Inadvertently, incidentally or by explicit patriarchal design, these narratives teach us – women, mostly – to believe that even real life love works like that.
And maybe it does.
Think about it: before you met your lover, your husband, your wife, your mate, your lobster, he or she failed at every single relationship attempted. So did you.
And yet you still believed that the two of you would be the exception to that history of failed love.
Or maybe you started in unlikely circumstances: you met in a bar, drunk, and had a one-night stand. (I know several marriages that started like this.) You dated his friend (I’m talking to the mirror, here). There’s an age difference. There’s a culture difference. You don’t speak the same language or even live in the same city. You were nineteen and knocked up. You broke up three times before you even started going out (ask me how I know this tautological and seemingly impossible arrangement is indeed possible). You started out as a booty call and fell in love.
Your friends, family, psychologist, preacher, therapist, garage mechanic and hair stylist, not to mention Helen Fischer and your faithful blog audience, will counsel/rant against these kinds of romances. And so they should. Logically and statistically speaking this kind of love is a bad idea, pumpkin.
You will cry. We all know that. And it probably won’t work. Most don’t.
But the reason we continue on – besides the heady mix of lovelovelove chemicals a-partying in your head, your heart and your *ahem* – is because we believe, know, hope, and pray that we are the exception. At last. Finally. Forever.
And every once in a while we are.