There are days when you suffer a setback and your support system fails you. You’re ready to hit pause and recharge. Just when you want to curl up in your bed to watch reruns and call it self-care, consider a different form of entertainment: romance novels.
Romance fiction is one of the only genres that centers on women. Not only is it written by women for women, but the storyline also focuses on the female protagonist. She is not relegated to the role of sidekick, love interest or mentor. Instead, her actions drive the story.
Many women read romance fiction because the stories affirm their choices and dreams. They relate to the romance heroine having a goal and sticking to it despite the odds. They sympathize with the character’s struggle and recognize the pain when an obstacle seems too big to overcome. When it appears that all is lost during the darkest moments of the book, the reader knows the intrepid heroine will triumph because her happily-ever-after is guaranteed in a genre romance novel.
Readers pick up a romance book for entertainment, escapism or relaxation. In fact, according to a 2009 study published by the University of Sussex, the act of reading is considered the best form of relaxation. Research suggests that reading is more effective in reducing stress than listening to music, taking a walk or playing video games. Even better, the study participants only had to read for six minutes before their stress levels reduced by 68%.
And in 2013, the University of Toronto found that reading fiction offers an unexpected bonus than if you read non-fiction. The results of their study indicate that reading fiction reduces the need for cognitive closure and leads to improved creativity. The effects are stronger for those who already make reading a habit.
Should you decide to read fiction during your downtime, why should you read a romance novel?
If you try another type of literature, chances are that you’ll face a pervasive narrative in the storylines. There is a common theme in fiction that women can’t have it all. The message is that a woman has to choose between relationships and accomplishments. It’s either love or personal success, but not both. The female character is often punished for having ambition and she will ultimately find unhappiness if she chooses her career. And if the story was written decades ago, the woman is often shamed or ruined for having sex.
Not so in genre romance. The heroine is in control of her destiny. She gets the life she wants and the partner who supports her dreams. She wins it all. Which makes you think… if you knew your happily-ever-after was guaranteed and that you would get everything you want in the end, how would you go about it?
And that is the beauty of romance books. They don’t just entertain and offer escapism, but they also encourage and empower women to keep fighting for what they want.
Romance novels also show the woman getting the dreams and the support in an imperfect world. In her thesis “The Politics of Happily-Ever-After: Romance Genre Fiction as Aesthetic Public Sphere”, Anna Michelson says:
It is important to note that sociopolitical issues are not magically resolved at the end of romance novels, but the romantic union is presented as an asset to help characters confront or mitigate challenges. If the protagonists can find their HEA in an imperfect world, everyone can. In this way, romance reading is a “support to [life]” (Thumala Olave 2018) regardless of whether the reader approaches romance with an expectation of entertainment or engagement.
Try a romance novel the next time you need a break. Don’t think you have time? Download an audiobook and listen during your commute or workout. Don’t know where to start? Check out the “Happy Ever After: 100 Swoon-Worthy Romances” list on NPR.org or ask your friends about their favorite romance novels.
Romance fiction is a female-driven industry, but will that romance novel you’re currently reading pass the Bechdel test?