In Defense of Romance

A few weeks ago I attended a portion of the annual Cleveland Rocks Romance conference, sponsored by the Northeast Ohio chapter of RWA. The fabulous Christie Craig was the speaker–if you ever meet her, ask her to tell you the story of the Festiva, the cowboy, and the burning mattress. I was laughing so hard I almost spit my drink across the table. 
In her workshop on adding humor to writing, however, the most memorable story she told was the one that made me cry. Years ago she was at a book signing, and someone asked her when she was going to write a “real book.” I couldn’t possibly do her response justice so I won’t even try, but the gist was that there is nothing more real in this life than love. 
I didn’t start reading romance until I was in my 30s. Part of my reticence, I suspect, was that I was too embarrassed to be seen reading something with a half-naked Fabio on the cover.  I assumed romances were full of pathetic heroines who had to be saved by the strapping young heroes. But then one day I read a book by Nora Roberts. The book had a kick-ass heroine who saved herself and fell in love along the way. I was hooked, and have been a devoted romance reader ever since. And although I used to be embarrassed when caught reading a romance, I am now unapologetic.
Romances are not considered “real books” for several reasons, I think. They aren’t particularly cerebral. They are seldom more than 250 pages long. They very often include sex. And they always end happily ever after.
But those things that knock them out of consideration as “real books” are what make them the most real. Although I have been known to debate weighty topics around the dinner table, most of life consists of snippets. Or–because I have a Hulu Blue Bunny ice cream ad stuck in my head–moments. Moments large and small. Moments both scripted and wholly unstructured. A laugh, a smile, a caress, a crying jag. A class to teach, a speech to make. A dog howling along with piano practice. A fight with a spouse. A speeding ticket. A crappy day at work. Snuggling with a child under a blanket on a rainy day. A candlelit dinner. A glass of sangria on the deck with good friends. 
My husband and I were at an orchestra concert last week. A few rows ahead of us a man had his arm around his wife. During the piano concerto, his fingers moved over her shoulder in perfect time, as if he were playing the music himself. His wife didn’t flinch, didn’t tell him to stop, just contentedly rested her head against his shoulder. I was busy constructing an elaborate scenario in my head about their lives, when the intermission arrived, they turned around, and greeted my husband. We knew them, and suddenly the perfect bubble of a life I had created for them popped–a fantasy life they definitely didn’t have. But they did have perfect, quiet moments, and obviously shared a love that sustained them through the other times. 
I read, and write, romance precisely because they are real. They celebrate those moments, large and small. And although, unlike life, they always end happily, those endings give us a perfect, quiet moment to savor until one of our own comes along.