Healthy Romance Makes Bad Novels

Teen Romance, by Oteo. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

What’s a Novelist to Do?

 I come up against this problem all the time when I try to write a romance about two healthy, well-adjusted people – what on earth should come between them and prevent happily ever after? This is related to ‘The Trouble with Modern Romance.’ In the good old days, the couple could be threatened with disinheritance by an evil old uncle. Nowadays, that’s a stupid reason not to marry someone.

This probably relates to the fact that my idea of real-life “healthy” romance is rather prosaic and matter-of-fact. The guy likes a girl? He tells her so. She says yes if she likes him, and no if she doesn’t. Sensibly, either they connect and it should work, or they don’t and it doesn’t. I’m not in favour of prolonging drama if it’s never going to work. Not much of a story there.

Romance novels irritate me to no end when the guy and the girl spend the whole time staring at each other and worrying, and refuse to take the risk of actually communicating (one mark of “healthy” romance). She’s jealous of the girl she saw him sitting with in the coffee-shop the other day? Why doesn’t she just ask him who it was (and find out it was his sister, or something equally cliché), instead of giving him the silent treatment, making him think she doesn’t like him, making him ask out her best friend in order to get close to her…


So I concluded conflict in romance novels should come from internal forces, not external ones, in ‘The Trouble with Modern Romance.’ Logically, authors could assume unbalanced people create more conflict, and thus more drama. Which may make for better books, but it might get to the point where pop culture doesn’t know what a functioning relationship looks like anymore.

To finish, here are two ideas that relate to my idea of “true love” in real life (true love between all people, not just romantic love). I haven’t quite managed to work these ideas into a novel yet, but I have to admit, novels are not a perfect mirror of real life. Authors can only hope to connect to something in other people’s experience.


Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.


Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.


Stay tuned – next week I’ll look at literary examples. What are your thoughts on healthy romance, love and conflict?


Go to Healthy Romance Makes Bad Novels, Part 2



Filed under On Writing, True Romance

18 responses to “Healthy Romance Makes Bad Novels

  1. I do agree with you Harmamae….romance novels that go nowhere with the relationship are very frustrating reading. And you are also correct that love is more than just that tingly feeling that comes with you first fall in love. Real love can get you through the toughest crises in life…I know. It is so much more than just a feeling. It would be good if more reality were poured into romance novels….then people would not have such unrealistic expectations in real life. This was a thought provoking post and I appreciate your insights.


  2. Luke

    I read a short story once with no conflict in it at all, just guy meets girl, they talk and get along, get married and live happily ever after, the end. I wish I remembered the author (though I remember most of his short stories were questionable at best). Nevertheless, from start to finish you live in anticipation of the disaster, thought inlay discovering that it never comes – and you realise that what he has written *isn’t* cliché (though it’s a far cry from real life, too).

    I would love to read a story about two straight-shooters, where conflict gets resolved, not drawn out, even if that resolution ends the relationship – as it did for me, once-upon-a-time.

    Happy writing! And good post 🙂


  3. Alexia

    Well, look at that, I actually know the second quote, and it’s not even you who quoted it to me^^ Of course I knew it in french (L’amour est patient, empli de bonté et désintéressé…) but it’s pretty much the same.

    I’m trying to find a book I’ve read with an “healthy” romance in it, but I’m afraid I can’t. The thing is, I’m not sure there’s even such a thing in real life… Plus, but I think I’ve already told you that, I don’t believe true love can exist without the fighting, and the feeling that your heart is going to explode with pain. I’ve been in love once in my life, and we hurt each other a lot, but today I can’t help but being grateful for it. Because when we weren’t fighting or leaving, it was beautiful. Like they say here : I’ve been to Hell and back. Well, let me tell you it was wonderful.


    • That’s cool! It is a pretty famous quote. It sounds neat in French too.
      You know, I don’t think there’s such a thing as completely healthy romance in real life either. Everyone has flaws, so to think two people are never going to hurt each other? Not going to happen. But a relationship where two people sincerely try to do what’s best for the other person is going to look different when a conflict comes up. Most people in serious, committed relationships that can’t be described as “dysfunctional” would admit they fight, hurt each other, and sometimes feel like their heart might “explode with pain.” But they’d also want to minimize this, and have way to cope with it – good communication, counseling, the support of friends and family, etc.
      “Being patient” and “keeping no record of wrongs,” etc., etc.,takes away a couple options for fights in literature – I think that’s my main point. People going through normal bumps and scrapes in life aren’t going to be as exciting to read about as Catherine and Heathcliff destroying each other.
      Yes, we disagree on “true love.” I’d agree in this world true love between humans always does involve pain, and is wonderful in spite of it – but that pain is not a requirement for love to exist (and everyone should strive to love without inflicting pain on others). Hope that makes sense.


  4. Alexia

    I didn’t always know it, I heard it at Sister Emmanuelle’s funeral. (L’amour est patient, empli de bonté et désintéressé. Il n’est jamais jaloux. L’amour n’est ni prétentieux ni orgueilleux. Il n’est jamais grossier ni égoïste. Il n’est pas colérique et n’est pas rancunier. L’amour ne se réjouit pas de tous les torts d’autrui mais trouve sa joie dans la vérité. Il excuse tout, il croit tout, il espère tout et endure tout. Here, the entire quote just for you !)

    What I really hate when I read a book is when a couple has difficulties and one of them gets a lover, and at the end you can see that cheating actually helped their couple to be happy again. I mean, seriously (and I can see at least three books I’ve read where it happened – maybe more, I’m not sure) ? How is cheating a solution to miscommunication ? I mean, I get the point, it helps you realise how much you actually love your spouse etc, but then when they find out they’re always sort of all prepared to forgive and forget. What about trust, is it not important anymore in a relationship ?

    Yes, it makes sense. I guess it was just that way because we were both… hum, screwed up ? Sorry if it’s vulgar but I can’t think of a better word. And swearing in France is almost required 😉


    • I agree with that. I think when one partner or the other cheats, it takes a loooooooooong time for the other to trust the cheater again. And trust is really important in a relationship. Relationships can survive cheating, and may even help the couple realize how much they value their relationship, but I doubt it’s as easy as it’s sometimes portrayed. 🙂
      Don’t worry, “screwed up” isn’t all that vulgar in English (depending on who you ask). I’m sorry it didn’t work out between you two – though I know you are grateful for the experience.


  5. Alexia

    I don’t think I would even bother to trust the cheater again… I mean, I get it, sometimes the relationship can survive but can you truly trust again someone who betrayed you like that ? How can you know for sure it’s not going to happen again ? I think it would drive me crazy… And I’m not being an hypocrit because I never cheated on anyone, and as far as I know nobody cheated on someone with me. I don’t agree with people who say that since you’re not the one in a relationship you’re doing nothing wrong. For me, if you know you’re helping a guy to cheat on his girlfriend or his wife, you’re still doing wrong…
    Ok good ! I know some words are not supposed to be used in a polite conversation though. In french, you can find vulgar words, but none is exactly taboo.
    Well, thanks, that’s nice. I wasn’t always at peace with it, but now I’ve accepted that it couldn’t have worked. And you know I could still call him and we could start again, because the feelings are still there, under the surface, but what’s the point if we only end up hurting each other ?


    • Yes, it’s probably wise not to prolong the agony if there’s no way it’s going to work. It’s hard though.
      As for cheating, I think I agree with most of what you say. Even if you’re not in the relationship, you’re doing something wrong by breaking it up (“stealing” someone else’s partner) – you should respect the relationships of others. And if someone cheated on me, he’d have to know it was wrong, want to make up for it, and be willing to do whatever he needs to to restore trust in the relationship. Still, I’m not sure the relationship would survive (it’s hard to know how you would react in that sort of situation if it hasn’t happened to you, not that I’d ever want it to happen). If I was just dating him, I’d probably walk away – not worth it. If I was married, I’d be a bit more hesitant about ending everything (I think I’d give the guy a chance, but it would be a long time before I’d trust again).


  6. Alexia

    It is hard. He’s with someone now, I think. At least he was when we last talked – he actually wanted me to help him cheat so it’s relevant to the conversation…
    I don’t know about being married, but if you have children it’s probably more difficult to walk again, cause you have to take them into consideration. Of course a lot of people get divorced anyway. And maybe it’s wrong to judge someone on one action and one action only, but still, trusting someone again seems almost impossible. No matter what, you still know what they’re capable of. It must also be hard to trust someone when you know they’ve looked you right in the eyes and lied to your face before.

    (Baby Bruni-Sarkozy born. It’s a girl. And since the socialists’ primary elections are over, maybe I can open a newspaper without wanting to scream in frustration^^)


    • I said it’d be different if I was married because marriage is a commitment to another person. If you’re just dating, you’re trying to find out what another person is like before you make a big commitment, so if he cheats, that’s not a good sign. But if I was married, I’d take the fact that we made a commitment to each other into consideration. Still, if he doesn’t want to change, it probably wouldn’t work out. Of course, kids do make it harder.
      Well, I think you did make the right decision about not helping him cheat, and I hope you will have peace over it. I’ve had relationships end before, but it wasn’t exactly life-shattering, so I can’t say I know exactly what it’s like. But it’s not easy.

      I saw a tiny article in the back of our newspaper that your president and his wife had their baby. That was about all our media said about that. 🙂


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  8. Alexia

    I’m probably never getting married, so dating will be the biggest commitment for me =)

    Oh, can I live in your country please ? They’re currently discussing the fact that Gulia (name of the baby) isn’t a french name. Fascinating.


  9. Alexia

    Arf, it’s Giulia, forgot an “i”. Well, you know, I’m very interested. I mean, currently we have a huge corruption scandal and another one of hotel prostitution (which includes Mr Dominique Strauss-Kahn, what a shock) but who cares ? We want a picture of the baby, that’s what’s important. Sometimes, I hate journalists.


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