Nov 15 2016 8:08am

Do Romance Novels Really Offer Unrealistic Expectations?

Too Good to be True by Kristan Higgins

Romance novels get the bad rap of setting unrealistic expectations for women. They cause us to think that men have to be perfect, that they all are... well-endowed... that biker bars are where we will find our true love and hope that time travel is a possibility so we can travel back to the 1700s' Scotland and find a Jamie for our own. 

Mostly, I think these assumptions and arguments of “unrealistic expectations” don't allow for women to have a fantasy life, which is pretty vital for living a happy and healthy life. However, do you think there's some truth to the stereotype? Where did you ever have an unrealistic expectation due to a romance? Do you still think it's unrealistic? What do you say to people who spout this rhetoric?

Tell me about it in the comments!

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Kaye Dacus
1. kndacus
I think romance novels don't give those of us who enjoy reading them any more "unrealistic expectations" as to what life is like than action/adventure or mystery novels or superhero comic books do for anyone else.

Think about it . . . in mystery novels, the mystery always gets solved and the bad guy is always brought to justice. (Not something that happens 100% of the time in real life.)

In action/adventure novels featuring characters like Jason Bourne or Jack Ryan, he's always a bada$$ fighter who can figure a way out of every dangerous situation he puts himself into without dying and is always three steps ahead of those wishing to do him harm (and someone always wants to do him harm). Oh, yeah, and they save the entire world in the process---and usually “gets” the (super hot, super sexy) “girl,” too. (Not something that happens 100% of the time in real life.)

In fantasy novels, characters have special/magical abilities, can see or travel to the future/past, have great destinies, are mentored by the wisest man/creature to have ever lived, and don't have to hold down a mundane job just to pay the bills but can scamper off with their elven and dwarven companions on grand adventures. (Not something that happens 100% of the time in real life.)

So do Romance novels set up unrealistic expectations? Um, I'd say it's one of the most realistic genres out there!
2. Scarlettleigh
I'm not bothered by the unrealistic expectations so much --although I do think that if women compare how men in romance novels to their husbands or boyfriends then they're going to be disappointed. There are times that men are really romantic . . . but mostly in every day life not so much. And of course it depends on how the man has been raised. . .and his view of marriage.

What bothers me more is how some women act in the novels . Yes, our days of the hero raping the heroine are over . . .but there are quite a few examples of women putting up with verbal, emotional abuse . . .and it is justified. . . by she doesn't care "it's only a sexual relationship, so it doesn't matter how he treats her" or some variation of "love means you never have to say your sorry" garbage. . .

I wish there was more a message of "you can't treat me like that" vs. "I love you so I forgive you" --but there is not enough drama in the heroine meeting "nice" guys. . . they have to be tortured ---

I do wonder why statistics show that so many young women have been in some type of abusive relationship --even in high school.

I'm not saying that I blame romance novels . . . although I do think how women and love are portrayed in television shows, movies, and novels doesn't always send the message "you're worth so much more."
3. CelineB
I think romance readers are smart enough to know the difference between idealization and reality. I also think that in a good HEA, you don't believe the rest of the couple's life will be rainbows and flowers. You believe that they will go through hard times but have built a solid foundation to help them get through those time.

For me personally, I think mysteries have given me more false expectations. I seriously have no idea how I have not yet been called upon to solve a murder on a train. I'm still convinced this will be something I will have to do in my lifetime!
4. J.V.Speyer
I rarely see the "unrealistic expectations" accusation leveled at any other genre. Another commenter has already brought mystery into it. We don't hear complaints that science fiction sets up unrealistic expectations for scientific achievement, no matter how contrary to the basic laws of physics. And we don't see anyone complaining about the unrealistic expectations created by the action/adventure genre, even though my archaeology career bore little resemblance to Indiana Jones!

Only romance, with a majority-female audience, is singled out. Funny that.

In all honesty, though, romance is about hope. If we've come to a point where hope is unrealistic, I kind of feel like our problems go a little bit deeper.
5. Yuri
Yup, romance is about hope, love, family, compassion and second chances, and the pursuit of happiness. Not every romance is perfect but in general it's about everyone having a chance to make their lives better, and often not just romantically. I think reality could do with a few more people believing that's a worthwhile thing to aim for.
6. SpiritedMuse
I agree with the first poster. And hats off to the second in her comments about abuse and the different messages readers receive about I love you so I will forgive you anything. I never enjoyed stories that portray that attitude and still expect readers to believe how "loving" of a couple the characters are.

For me personally, although I have read many a romance novel, and never harbored any unrealistic expectations about men and relationships. Hell for life in general. I will say that romance novels definitely provide more than enough fodder to learn what NOT to do. And definitely how to be more direct and upfront and direct and NOT end up like some of the book characters in the stories we read about.
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