My introduction to romance was through my maternal aunt who was and still is an avid romantic. She has the largest collection of Mills and Boons, Barbra Cartland and Harlequin Romance books that I have ever come across. When I got into secondary school, I discovered that it was the staple of many girls, we traded the books, kept dog eared copies of our favourites and conjured visions of tall, dark handsome, rich men who would come and sweep us off our feet and carry us to happily ever after land.
I dare say that for many women these books and many like them formed the basis of what we thought was ideal love. The stories were similar -Boy meets girl, they fall in love, they fight against their feelings for one another and circumstances or people may separate them but finally in the last 20 or so pages they find themselves , acknowledge their feelings for one another and live happily ever after.
It is my belief that for women especially, the stories we read shaped our beliefs about love in many ways that we may not acknowledge. They made us look at the external – his looks, pocket, etc rather than the internal – his heart and person, made us hold out more than we should have because if a man loved us like the men in our books, they would move heaven and earth to get to us, made us think that true love was only possible with one person who was made for us and that if we had rough times in the adventure of love we hadn’t really found the ideal person.
The romance genre outsells all genres of books including thrillers, religion, true crime, etc . I found out that Harlequin Enterprises the owners of the Mills and Boons publishes over Seven Hundred and Twenty, yes, you read that well, 720 books per annum. According to Claire Somerville, their marketing director in the UK, they talk about relationships in the way that women really want them to be and not what it is and they are right for in the heart of every woman lies a longing to be wooed, desired, pursued and ravished by her lover.
I stopped reading romance novels in secondary school and it’s not because I was served breakfast. For some reason, romance in the form that was sold to us as young girls just didn’t appeal to me anymore and it still doesn’t – I don’t like watching romance films and I have never watched The Titanic in full and never will, but that does not negate the fact that in my unconscious mind I believe ideal love is likened to the one I read in the books and that any deviation from that ideal always seems to be a compromise but it is not always so.
I am still a bit of a romantic but I am wisened up enough to know that love is what we make of it and that true love comes in many shapes and sizes and doesn’t have to look like what I think it should be. So I am always amused when I read comments in the social media about what a happy marriage or relationship should look like. How people like to interfere with what seems to be working because it looks different from what they have or are used to.
Please, don’t get me wrong, the basics of friendship, kindness, respect, love, understanding, etc are sacrosanct but not every relationship would be alike. The fact that some spouses keep separate bank accounts, or do not go out together, or do not wear matching or coordinated colours or do not even practice the same religion or that the traditional roles are reversed in their homes like the man being the cook, etc does not mean that the marriage is doomed. It could just be that they have found what works for them and they have learnt to be happy with each other.
I have seen relationships that were far from ideal working out. On the other hand, I have seen ideal relationships where the parties dressed like two peas in a pod and had things in common fail and I have come to the conclusion that so far as the two people concerned understand, accept and are happy with each other the opinions of others should not matter and others should not want to make them conform to their own idea of how love should look.
Our love should look the way we want it to look and not how society or others demand it should look. I recollect how amused my friend whose job took her abroad several times in the year as she has supervisory duties over several overseas branches of her company was, when she was confronted by an aunt who asked her to resign from the company as she was leaving her husband alone too often and apart from leaving room for temptation, his ego must be suffering that she was doing better than him in the work place. My friend chuckled, because the aunt did not know that it was her husband that encouraged her in the first place to take the job fully aware of the amount of travelling she would have to undertake and that he was very proud and supportive of her strides in her career.
I know a couple who being married seem to be happier leaving apart under different roofs in the same town than when they were leaving together. Strange, you may say but it is working for them and whilst I may not do so I have no business insisting that they must live together for me to acknowledge that they are still married.
The point I am making is that there is no dictionary definition for how true love should look and on no account should we measure our love by the standards of others or look down at another couple’s love as not enough because it is expressed in a different way from ours. Our love is our love. Their love is their love. So rules such as we must pray together every day because so so and so pray together daily, you must like my hobbies because so, so and so’s wife loves football and watches it with him, you must take full responsibility for the bills or share it 50/50 because so and so do the same should only work because couples agree with them and not because someone else says it’s right.
As Megan Munitillo says in her article for the Thought Catalog and I totally agree “There’s nothing wrong with noticing what works for other people. But that doesn’t mean that you have to add more colour to your own painting so that it matches the one hanging next to it a little bit better. Your love is your love”