One of the first posts I ever read by Mary was this one (which she later followed up with this one) and I loved her honesty about her struggle with expectations in marriage. Your issue might not be romance novels per se but I still think, if we are honest, most women can find some of ourselves in her story.
The first time I picked up a Harlequin romance novel, I was in sixth grade. Now, before you gasp, shudder and generally question my mother’s parenting abilities, let me explain. First of all, my mom didn’t know. Secondly, while my reading ability far surpassed my age, my comprehension – at least when it came to love scenes and the such – was a different story.
[No pun intended. But that was kind of funny, right?]
As the not-so-natural complement to my Sweet Valley Twins and Babysitter’s Club books, I devoured the little white paperbacks full of manufactured romance and sap. And as soon as I moved up to high school, I graduated to Danielle Steele along with Mary Higgins Clark and college catalogs.
Those books weren’t my first foray into the world of romantic fantasy. Like every other girl I knew, I grew up on Disney princesses and handsome princes. And well before that, I memorized my mom’s recollection of the magical day when, as a teenager in youth group, she gazed at my dad and just knew.
I was raised to be kind to others, do my best, mind my manners and love God above all else. But I was also raised to believe in white knights, grand gestures and happily ever after.
Just like the belief that every meal should include a starchy side, the idea that “true love” came wrapped in candlelight, whispered nothings and a big, expensive bunch of roses was deeply ingrained. So deeply, in fact, that it took years before I realized that a) it existed and b) that it was wrong.
In the meantime I kept reading every romance novel I could get my hands on – and then wondered why my own relationship didn’t compare. Actually, “wonder” is a pretty tame word for it. “Despair” might be more accurate.
My husband and I married stupid young. [I’m not saying that getting married young is stupid. I’m saying that when WE got married (young), we were stupid.] And for several years we lived on the brink of divorce. Every couple has their issues, and I didn’t disagree with the counselor who placed most the blame on my husband. But over time even I had to acknowledge that perhaps my romance obsession – and the unrealistic expectations it created and maintained – was causing problems as well.
Why didn’t he ever plan dates?
Would it kill him to tell me exactly how beautiful I am?
Why didn’t he ever buy me flowers?
Didn’t he understand how important love notes are?
Is it so much to ask that he just open my door?!
Okay, for the record, my husband is a gentleman who often uses polite manners. And he does open doors for me. But the rest of it? They were my actual complaints – and the source of many fights. But they weren’t the real issue. The underlying, marriage-crippling problem was that I truly expected my down-to-earth, never-met-a-chick-flick-he-liked husband to turn into a lovey-dovey, plans-carriage-rides-for-date-night knight in shining armor. And I truly believed that’s what I needed, what I deserved.
It sounds so ridiculous. Now. But for the first several years we were married, I truly lost my grasp on reality when it came to love and relationships and marriage. Thankfully, I eventually realized that my expectations and demands were causing a lot of trouble. And that – surprise, surprise – life is not a romance novel.
And honestly, I’m glad. Real life, real love is so much better than any work of fiction. My husband shows he loves me in a hundred ways – ways that are infinitely better than roses and candlelight.
Not that I’d turn down a vase full of flowers. For the record.