Dear Romance Writer, Why Didn’t You Tell Me…?
The times my life did not live up to my beloved romance novels
Growing up, I was boy-crazy and romance-obsessed. During high school, I fell in love with a bad boy, my best friend’s brother, a jock, a class clown, a teacher, a girl, many of my guy friends, and the ex of one of my best friends. Is it any wonder I love a good trope and cliché?
I filled journals with poems of desire and heartbreak. And after years of reading books where the happy ending was guaranteed, I started to write my own romance novels.
Now I’m living out my Happy Ever After with my husband and children, and I’m still writing and reading romance novels. But I’m the first to admit real life isn’t always a romance novel.
Here, I explore the times in my life where my younger, naïve self was left wondering how life could so spectacularly fail to meet her expectations.
Dear romance writer, why didn’t you tell me that the bad boy doesn’t always fall for the good girl and change his ways?
When I was thirteen years old, my best friend introduced me to her brother — let’s call him, B — and I fell in love.
Or in lust.
Whatever it was, it was significant. I’d had crushes before, but what I felt for B hit me harder than a Mack truck going 120K an hour.
My friend warned me about her brother well before our introduction.
“He’s been to juvie,” she told me. “I don’t know how bad what he’s into is, but I know it’s bad.”
For that reason, B should have been the been the last guy that a girl like me — a girl on the straight and narrow — should have been drawn to. But one look at his gorgeous face (what? I was shallow at thirteen), his dark hair and eyes, and his rippling muscles, and I lost the ability to speak or make sense. Something which amused him immensely. Two years older than me, and infinitely more experienced, B was confident in ways that the boys my age just weren’t.
And he knew the effect he had on me. He reveled in it, always grinning at me in a way that made my stomach perform gymnastic routines, his eyes full of mischief every time they held mine.
My relationship with B never got further than simple hand holding while we were lost in the bush together while camping with our families. However, if this was a romance novel, he would have fallen in love with me and changed his bad habits.
Since this isn’t a romance novel, he went back to the juvenile detention center, and even though he cleaned himself up later on, fell in love and changed, it didn’t have anything to do with me.
Nevertheless, this experience shaped me. When I think about ‘bad boys’ I think about gorgeous men with dark hair, dark eyes, a sordid history and a smile that’s all kinds of trouble.
I also think about how rare it is that it will ever work out. But that’s what fantasy — ah, I mean romantic fiction — is for, right? It’s escapism and it’s often the stories we wish were true.
Dear romance writer, why didn’t you tell me that if he pulls your pigtails and bullies you it’s not proof he likes you?
He’s Just Not That Into You wasn’t around when I was younger. Neither were dark bully romances. Now, they’re all the rage. I’ll admit I’ve read a few of them, and, ahem, I do enjoy them. But I know first hand not every bully is in love with you.
In high school, I had a nemesis. Actually, I had several, but I’m only going to talk about one. Let’s call him Paul. Paul wrote me hate letters for around a year, using a dictionary to come up with original and vile insults.
Looking back, I was both flattered and disturbed by the amount of time he spent researching and looking up words. And if this had been his only action, I might not have called him my bully, but he also tripped me in the halls, made fun of my uniform, and preyed on my insecurities as a female going through puberty. He also insisted I was a lesbian.
Several years later, he acknowledged he was gay, and he left me alone. Correction, he actively ignored me. Had this been a romance novel, our storyline would be a dark, bully romance, or at least an enemies-to-lovers romance. Paul’s actions would be the result of denial over the way he felt for me. Denial based on a dark backstory or a misunderstanding.
To this day, I don’t know what it was about me Paul hated. What I do know? This was not a dark bully romance, and my life did not live up to the cliché.
Dear romance writer, why didn’t you tell me that confessing your love to Mr. Popular doesn’t mean you stop being invisible to him?
In high school, I was the definition of a geek. Not one of those super smart ones who studied all the time and got good grades. No, I wasn’t the ‘smart girl’. I wasn’t an athlete. I was an overdramatic, hormonal teenager with daddy issues, and I was bullied something shocking. My fantasy world was way better than reality, and to most of the people in my year level at school, I didn’t exist. But did I let that stop me from trying to find romance? No, I did not.
I was happy to chase boys — the result of the build-up of emotion inside of me that couldn’t be contained.
While my friends were studying for math quizzes and science projects, I was writing love letters and poems, and also fantasizing about declaring my love and having it returned.
When I was fifteen, I was in love (again) with one of the most popular boys in school. He was gorgeous, smart, liked by everyone, and succeeded at pretty much every sport he tried his hand at.
In my hormone addled state, I decided it would be awesome to take the poem I’d written him and slip it into his locker. I was going to woo him with my heartfelt words.
Where’s the facepalm emoji when I need it?
After reading too many teenage love stories where Mr. Popular finally sits up and takes notice of the unpopular girl, I had grand visions of him reading my poem as I walked down the corridor. I imagined what would happen when his eyes met mine. In that moment, he would finally realize I existed and he was in love with me.
Needless to say, this story does not have a happy-ever-after, and twenty years later, I cringe and laugh over the memory. If you want to know what happened, the answer is very anti-climactic. Nothing happened.
I didn’t sign my name under the poem — thank goodness for small mercies — and he never knew the poem was from me. I’m not sure he ever really knew I existed, either. Despite my little brother yelling out to him I was in love with him on more than one embarrassing occasion.
This wasn’t the last time I gave a guy a love letter, but it should have been because I destroyed friendships the next time I tried this method.
But that’s a whole other story.
If my life had been a romance novel, Mr. Popular definitely would have known my name. Maybe we would have been partnered up during a science project, or we might have lived next door to each other. Perhaps once upon a time we’d been friends, but we’d had a falling out because I grew boobs and he didn’t know how to deal with it. The possibilities are endless. Since my life wasn’t a romance novel, however, I poured my heartbreak into my journal and moved onto my next crush.
Dear romance writer, why didn’t you tell me that student-teacher infatuations can be dangerous and gross?
Eh, this isn’t one of my favorite tropes. I do love the forbidden element of these types of relationships, but I don’t go out of my way to read these types of stories, perhaps because I know they have the potential to end in disaster.
I wish I could say my teacher was hot and that was why I fell for him. I wish I could say that he was a young guy in his twenties, who had just finished college. Then, perhaps, my reaction might have been understandable. Alas, the guy was in his late thirties, early forties. Old enough to be my dad. I mentioned I had daddy issues, right? He wasn’t even…good looking. And yet I was crazy about the guy.
So crazy that I almost messed up my entire high school career.
Some quick backstory.
By the time I was sixteen, I was borrowing Harlequin Mills & Boon and Loveswept books from the local library every chance I got. These books were older, set in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. The heroes were older, authoritative and worldly, and the heroines were often young and innocent. For this reason, many love scenes revolved around the heroine losing her virginity.
Oh, how I looked forward to the 50% mark in these books — the staples in the middle always marked the right spot. Page 90 was where the magic happened. In a moment of tenderness, the hero would claim the heroine and ‘make her a woman.’ Of course, it would hurt, and she would shed a tear or two, but it always seemed so romantic. I was conditioned to believe this was the way things happened. So, maybe I should have listened to the adults in my life who warned me these books were far from realistic.
But I digress.
After reading enough of these books, I started to spend a lot of time imagining what a love scene between my teacher and I would look like. Not only did I start fantasizing about it, I wrote it down. I penned a sickeningly sweet and tender moment, in which my teacher deflowered me on a desk in a classroom. Of course, the moment changed my life and resulted in a happy-ever after. Because, that’s what happened in the books I was reading.
This scene qualifies as the first piece of smut I ever wrote, and I was pretty proud of it. So proud, in fact, that I decided my teacher — the teacher — should read it.
Since I hadn’t already learned my lesson from writing a letter to Mr. Popular, I made plans to submit my epic piece of writing along with my major assignment — an assignment worth 30% of my total grade. Because I was taking an advanced subject, it was a subject that would determine the score I needed to get into university.
On the day my assignment was due, I put my epic love scene in the same plastic pocket as my project and walked to school with my bestie. Thankfully, she told me in no uncertain terms that I should not submit my sex scene to my teacher.
It was her verbal beatdown that made me hand in my assignment sans smut, preventing me from ruining my grade, and maybe getting suspended — or worse, expelled. I should probably write her a note right to say thank you.
Except I’m kind of done with note writing now.
If my life were a romance novel, I wouldn’t have been desperate enough to write down a sex scene and give it to my teacher. He would have been drawn to me because of my looks and intelligence (it’s fiction, I’m allowed to be super-hot in it). And he probably would have had sex with me in the classroom, because that’s what titillates the people who read this trope regularly.
But looking back on the incident, I feel like writing what I did was super creepy, even if I do laugh about it. And when I think about what it would have been like if my teacher had made any kind of move on me, or put his hand on my leg, or said any of the things I imagined him saying to me, that would have been more than creepy.
In fantasy and fiction, a teacher hitting on a student, or a student pursuing a teacher is sexy. In real life, a forty-year-old guy and a sixteen-year-old girl have no business being together. It’s just gross.
There you have it, a few of the times reality did not live up to my favorite fiction. Do you have any romantic tropes or clichés that failed you?