Sixteen years ago, when I started editing romances, I had an inkling that real love might not resemble the fantasy. There were a few similarities: the goose bumps, surprising emotions, nights out on the town, nights indoors, and the potential for that coveted walk down the aisle. Through this time of dating genuine males and reading steamy prose, I couldn't quite reconcile the two worlds. I mean, there's no way I could ever experience the rapture of a romance novel, or so I thought. If you've never read one, here are some basic advantages to passion between the pages instead of, you know, actual dating. The main "sure thing" in a romance novel is the happily ever after. In those books, you can appreciate some of the same highs of true love, but you won't need antacids. Here are other ways in which life and a Harlequin romance differ:
In a romance novel:
1. You don't meet your hero on Match.com or in any way that involves technology. In fact, he doesn't even text you this common line: running late, there in 5 ☺. The romance novel hero shows up at your door whenever he gets there, whenever he wants, usually unexpectedly or right on time. He's into you without quite knowing why, at least enough to do more than type: Sorry, traffic is crazy ☹
2. Romance happens because of coincidence or a non-romantic purpose. Often, the hero and heroine literally run into each other. He's rounding a corner and so are you while carrying your many files. Crash, you drop a pile of papers, he keeps you from falling on your face, you bump foreheads, awkward laughter, spark of awareness. Or there's the moment when he sees you in the coffee shop--ten years after a spin-the-bottle moment gone bad--and turns out you're the only available nanny in town after a baby is dropped on his doorstep. Romance couples don't typically start off slowly and build.
3. Don't bother primping before your first date. Just slide on lip gloss since your natural beauty is already intoxicating. If you have fantasies of wearing your hair in a bun and hideous glasses and this limo stops in front of you with an Adonis rolling down his window to whisk you to his Greek island, you will find sweet ecstasy in the romance novel world. If this happens in real life, RUN.
4. Great-aunt Cora will explain everything. A kindly older person can intervene to give you some understanding of why this new guy you're dating is a total grumpus: he has an awful father; a shady lady betrayed him; maybe he was forced to watch a friend torture small animals; he accidentally shot his brother in the leg. Cora helps you feel the hero's deep pain, which helps you hang on. In real life you're on your own. There is no Aunt Cora and, with so much baggage, our real-life stallion may be too much to handle (everyone needs love, though, right?).
5. You never need to worry about bodily functions. There is only the occasional adorable No. 1 perpetrated by the heroine on a long road trip--either to escape evil people or find missing something/someone. Remember Sandra Bullock's massive emergency need to make a #2 evacuation in Two Weeks Notice? We romance-aholics cringed because you just don't do doo-doo in romance.
6. From the first unbuttoning of shirt, sparks fly and everything works in the bedroom. In fact, it's so mind boggling and scorching that the sheets are on fire. You're dropping and rolling like a bandit, ripping off negligees, thongs, bras, belts. This is a precursor to true love, romance-novel style.
7. You don't get to watch him pluck his ear hairs. In romance, you won't find too many mundane moments, unless the heroine is caught gardening, someone's having sweet tea, he's showing off his cooking skills (and his six-pack), or they're driving. This keeps readers turning the pages at a rapid rate.
8. Love angst is adorable, not an ugly montage of hygiene deficiency, binge-drinking, eating, sobbing and sitting alone in the dark apartment. In romance, the story goes more like this: When he leaves for another international spy assignment, you think he doesn't love you. You're sure of it and whimper a little as he leaves. It's okay because you'll shuffle back to work at the bakery you manage. On New Year's Eve, you sip your noble hot cocoa (instead of all the vodka in town) and sigh softly. Wait, there's a knock at the door.... Look who just went AWOL!
9. You and the hero eat constantly and somehow stay in shape (see #6). Even more enviable is that you avoid meal-planning by "whipping up" creative dishes from your/his long neglected pantry. The hero is especially good at whipping up omelets--though this is often true in real life.
10. The marriage proposal happens after knowing each other for two minutes. No commitophobes here.
So you see, love in a romance novel isn't too shabby! The one major difference, however, wipes out all the great perks of loving between the pages: Real-life romance is three-dimensional (you hear that, Mr. Darcy?). I discovered this with the sudden appearance of Sam, a boy I'd known in high school. Back then, he'd swooped in and saved me from my ditched-at-a-dance blues. Twenty-six years later, like a romance hero, he showed up once more, this time through the magic of Facebook. He thoroughly charmed me, made me laugh, cooked me dinner and now we are married. Falling in love when I least expected it prompted me to write my own romance memoir, Romance is My Day Job [Dutton, $26.95]. While I continue to devour romances (I try for one a day, like a multi-vitamin), I do know that you can't touch that heart-stopping, fictitious cowboy who just rode up to the ranch. The best heroes are the ones walking among us. The mystery of a flesh-and-blood person presents the potential for even greater love. And yet, romances fuel our imaginations and desires. Nothing says you can't have both--real-life love... and that sizzling read to go with your bubble bath or commute to work.