Friday, January 20, 2012

Oxymorons and Oxytocin - Romance Novels and How We See Love

I had a wee rant on Monday about why romance novels are seen as unfeminist in spite of the fact that they depict women in a healthy way - and in spite of the fact that the very society that criticises them foregrounds love and marriage in a very unhealthy way.

I feel there is more to be said on the subject (don't I freaking always!). I mentioned on Monday that society tells us that finding love should be our ultimate goal as human beings (I'm speaking as a woman here - I know men also face pressures, some different, some the same). I think we need to get a bit more flexible on that (perhaps the popular press might acknowledge, even tacitly, that single people can be happy and that not everyone is suited to marriage and family life).

But foregrounding love as a goal is not something I have a problem with. I don't always like how it's done, but it's probably better than telling someone that the car they drive is critical to their psychological health.

I'm not going to quote divorce statistics - we all know that 'happily ever ever' is becoming an aspiration rather than a reality for a lot of people. Which sucks - quite apart from the emotional pain for the people involved, this means that across my lifetime I can anticipate attending almost double as many weddings as my parents had to. This will cost me a fortune in dresses, hats, and tasteful silver-plated photo frames, not to mention increasing the number of unflattering photos of me in circulation.

It seems to me that now, creating a successful relationship is no longer the default. People no longer enter into marriages and stay in them 'just-because.' They can walk away if they stop working.

Which means that relationships are now something that people work on. It means that creating a good one is not an optional extra ('Meh, we're married, he/she is stuck with me!' no longer holds water). A strong marriage is not just a blessing. It's an achievement, and it requires constant work. Hopefully enjoyable and rewarding work, rather than the Sisyphus-pushing-the-rock-up-the-mountain-forever type.

And yet, here we are, as a society, looking down on books about people who find love and make it work.

More tea, please, waiter. I could be here for a while.

11 comments:

  1. I wanted to comment on your post Monday, but for some reason my computer wouldn't let me. Grr. Anyway, I totally agree with you. I think women get a lot of contradictions from society. Get married and have kids, but then they say young mothers aren't as good of mothers as women who wait and that they only had kids young because society told them to. Does that make any sense?!
    Another contradiction is summed up on the tv show Coulping, where after looking through a women's magazine she says, "150 pages on why men are crap and an article on how we should wake him up with a blow job."

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    1. I love that line from Coupling, Rachel - I was actually thinking of it while I wrote Monday's post :)

      Yep, we do get a lot of mixed messages, but most of the messages I feel I get foreground love, romance and family life. Which is why the idea of romance as a 'silly' genre really puzzles me!

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  2. Speaking as someone in a very strong marriage, you're dead right. It is an achievement. But then, I think it always was - people just weren't given the credit for it that they get today. I think it's a good thing to highlight the rewards of making a relationship work. If anything, romance should be championed for showing that love and finding someone who enriches your life so much are worthy goals that should be fought for.

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    1. It definitely always was an achievement, but I honestly think it's a bigger one nowadays when the option to walk away is right there (for non-Irish readers, divorce was legalised here in 1996, so my generation is the first to grow up with it).

      That is something I have found about romance novels - they show that there can be a lot of work involved in creating and keeping a relationship, but they show that it's worth it. I'm not saying it is in every case, but I love to see the idea championed.

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  3. As someone who came of age in the 1950's and 60's, I find this dialogue so so interesting, Ellen just because we're still having the dialogue. I thought my only goal in life should be to get married and have children (what society and the media taught me). What's changed is not everyone is listening. But it's still screwed up.
    Karen

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    1. I guess we shouldn't be surprised it's taking so long for this dialogue to be resolved - but frankly, I sort of am!

      Some years ago, a political party in Ireland ran for re-election under the slogan 'Lots Done - More To Do' which seems a fairly appropriate way to sum up some of these issues! We've come along way, but we aren't done.

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  4. I don't think society's message about getting married is nearly as strong as it was when I was growing up. Then, it was assumed that marriage and kids was the end-all, be-all goal of every girl. If it wasn't, there had to be something "wrong" with her. At least from my perspective, it seems that women of today are more self-sufficient and aware of what they want from life, and if they do choose to get married, it's generally at a much later age than was common years ago. Of course, I've been married for almost 43 years, so my perspective could be all out of whack on this. I do know my kids all got married later in life than I did, and it's been a very positive thing for them. And the only pressure any of them felt to get hitched was purely internal.

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    1. I totally agree, Susan, the message has softened a lot. Instead of being told that marriage is the only thing, women are now being told that careers are fine, friendships are fine (in itself, I think that's a big step!) but I have to stay I still feel the message that I get is 'all of those other things are meaningless if you don;t marry and have a family.'

      I do live in a country that was formerly extremely Catholic (as I said above, divorce wasn't legalised til I was 12) so that may also be skewing my perspective. We are marrying later and later though, which seems to be a general trend in the West.

      I am delighted to hear that when your kids got married, they didn't feel external pressures. That's always a good thing :D

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  5. My ex's lovely mum and dad (met and married within six months of each other in 1958) used to tell me that the secret of their very happy - and it was a very happy happy relationship - I loved being with them - was all about working very hard at what they called their partnership. As far as my own mum's very happy experience of her married life with my dad (who passed away when I was five so I can't ask him!) was concerned it was his willingness to let my mum do as she pleased with regards to her having a career and not being shackled to childcare! And they were devout Catholic so talk about being progressive! LOL!

    So I guess working at making a relationship work is not so much a new thing. I think what's new these days is how you have the very real option of not having to work so hard at it because like you say, it's easier now to just walk away (well it should be easier to walk away in an abusive relationship - in this day and age but that's another ballgame altogether!).

    Take care
    x

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  6. p.s. My first sentence should have read "..met and married within six months of meeting each other.." Sorry!! LOL!

    take care
    x

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  7. I've always thought of relationships as works in progress... and to use a metaphor, a garden always needing tending to.

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