Romance Is My Day Job
Dutton / February 6, 2014 / $26.95 print, $10.99 digital
At some point, we’ve all wished romance could be more like fiction. Patience Bloom certainly did, many times over. As a teen she fell in love with Harlequin novels and imagined her life would turn out just like the heroines’ on the page: That shy guy she had a crush on wouldn’t just take her out—he’d sweep her off her feet with witty banter, quiet charm, and a secret life as a rock star. Not exactly her reality, but Bloom kept reading books that fed her reveries.
Years later she moved to New York and found her dream job, editing romances for Harlequin. Every day, her romantic fantasies came true—on paper. Bloom became an expert when it came to fictional love stories, editing amazing books and learning everything she could about the romance business. But her dating life remained uninspired. She nearly gave up on love.
Then one day a real-life chance at romance made her wonder if what she’d been writing and editing all those years might be true. A Facebook message from a high school friend, Sam, sparked a relationship with more promise than she’d had in years. But Sam lived thousands of miles away—they hadn’t seen each other in more than twenty years. Was it worth the risk?
Finally, Bloom learned: Love and romance can conquer all.
At some point, we’ve all wished romance could be more like fiction. Truer words were never spoken.
Patience Bloom and I are of an age, and we have a lot in common. Understand: Unlike Patience, I did not attend boarding school, matriculate at an expensive private liberal-arts college, or escape one of my more disastrous romantic relationships by removing to Paris. But emotionally? Yeah, I believed with all my heart that what I read in romance novels was absolutely true. Love would blindside me when I least expected it (and therefore, in deliberately not expecting it, I was always looking for it, if you know what I mean); sex would be transcendent—always; and I would marry the first boy I kissed, whereupon we would fade into a vaguely-defined but sure to be perfect Happily Ever After.
Then, as they say, Life Happened.
That’s why I loved the first half of Bloom’s new memoir so much; change a few trifling details and her story could have been mine. Romance Is My Day Job begins in the mid-'80s, when Patience, then a be-mulleted high school student, invites her crush, to whom she has never actually spoken, to the school dance. To her surprise and delight, he accepts. They continue to never speak, even though she’s just sure that they are Meant To Be. At the dance, he largely abandons her, but she’s rescued by the class clown, Sam, who dances with her and even talks her into having a picture taken, which she generously shares at the end of the chapter. It’s just as wonderful as anything you can imagine.
Patience and Sam quickly lose touch—she’s too shy to really follow up with him, and he has problems of his own: “Not only does he fall short in his quest to break a world record by eating the most ravioli squares in an hour, but in a failed mooning attempt, he puts his butt through a glass window and needs thirty-seven stitches in his ass. He has to stand for the rest of his classes that semester.” She never quite forgets him, although before long he’s relegated to “charming anecdote” status in the story of her life.
The narrative really takes off when Patience goes off to Oberlin College, and she describes a college environment in the mid-'80s Midwest that is achingly familiar to, um, some of us. She relates her many adventures with wry humor : She becomes a Buddhist to impress a crush (who smashes her heart by hooking up with a fey classmate who looks like Stevie Nicks, but kindly vows eternal friendship before he does) and becomes overly entwined with a doomed, motorcycle-riding, alcoholic classmate named Craig. When that goes south, she escapes to Paris (as one does), where she hilariously has her first one-night stand—with an arrogant, Reagan-loving stuffed shirt whom she doesn’t even like:
Around five a.m. I put on my clothes—noticing my boots are still on—and leave his apartment. The victorious rush of leaving without being asked fuels me. I am such a strong, independent woman who doesn’t need to linger. I can’t waste a second since I have an entire day in which to spread the news of my whorishness. I want to scream across the Île Saint-Louis, I just had my first one-night stand! But I don’t since it’s five in the morning and the Parisians would give me constipated looks, since they have one-night stands, like, every day. Quel est le big deal?
Her Reaganite hero, alas, doesn’t immediately turn into a devoted boyfriend—in fact, she says, “[He] ignores me completely because I am a whore”—and Patience moves on, graduating and launching herself into the adult world via a series of temp jobs in Cleveland.
Then the Bad Thing happens.
Bloom doesn’t provide the details right away, but they’re not hard to guess, and it’s at this point that a breezy, amusing coming-of-age memoir morphs into…something else. The wry humor is still there, but the Bad Thing is always in the background (fair enough—surely forgetting about it is a luxury Patience herself never enjoys), and the effect is jarring. It’s like listening to a piece of music with a sprightly melody and a strange, discordant counterpoint. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that the ad copy for this book may be a bit misleading. Imagine that.
The years pass; Patience recovers, moves to New Mexico and then to New York, and lands her dream job as editor at Harlequin. Ironically, although she spends her days steeped in romance, her personal life remains somewhat lacking. On her fortieth birthday, as she blows out her birthday candles, she wishes that she could be engaged within a year. And one day, she receives a Facebook message from her old friend Sam…
Sam remembers her fondly! (Good.) Sam lives umpty-zillion time zones away in Israel. (Bad.) The two carry on a long-distance relationship via e-mail, Skype, and telephone, and Sam eventually declares his love in a thoroughly modern way: On Facebook:
Swiss saline solution sold in IV bottles saves me money on my contact lens care. The bottles make great canteens afterwards. I love Patience Smith.
How the two overcome the various obstacles in their way—the distance, their pasts, his cold-ish feet and her entirely understandable neuroticism—you’ll need to discover for yourself. If the narrative never regains the heady nostalgia of its early chapters, it ends on a hopeful, charming, and optimistic note. At the end of the day, I liked and respected both Patience and Sam, and that’s what really matters, isn’t it? As one child of the '80s to another, I’m raising my glass to Patience. And I sincerely hope that she and her Hero live happily ever after.
Learn more or order a copy of Romance Is My Day Job by Patience Bloom, available February 6, 2014:
Kate Nagy blogs at KateHoldsCourt.