02 Dec

We come to love not by finding a perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly.” – Sam Keen

One of the biggest complaints about “romance” as a genre of literature is that it creates unrealistic expectations regarding how lovers interact. Some, for example, say it causes women to expect grand gestures from their lover involving flowers and candlelit dinners and professions of undying devotion. And if every kiss isn’t accompanied by fireworks, well then something must be wrong with the relationship.

Certainly, there can be a lot of over-the-top displays of passion in the romance genre. The iconic pottery scene from the ‘80s movie Ghost comes to mind, where Patrick Swayze ends up covering Demi Moore’s arms with clay as his desire gets the better of him while she is demonstrating how to make some sort of ceramic urn. (Needless to say, she does not get mad at him for ruining her project and making a mess.)

To me, though, the essence of romance is not finding (in literature or in real life) the perfect mate who will always treat his lover like a princess and never act irrationally or get angry or say hurtful things. Perfect people do not exist. I am not perfect; how can I reasonably expect to find someone who is? Instead, I see romance as being about two imperfect people who can see the imperfections in each other and, for one reason or another, can be okay with those imperfections. They do not demand or expect the other person to change, but rather are willing to give their love unconditionally, despite the other person’s flaws. This does not mean that the other person is not changed by that love. I think love is transforming—love should change us and make us better people. But the desire to change, to become a little more perfect, should come from within ourselves and not be imposed by the person who purports to love us.

I don’t know if romance will always be my favorite type of story to tell. There are some authors I know who used to be romance writers but, due to circumstances in their lives changing, can no longer stomach a “happily ever after” (“HEA”). And if you think about it logically, they’re not wrong—there really is no “happily ever after” in real life. The best you can hope for is a “happily for now” (known as an “HFN” in the business). There’s no denying that bad things happen in life. Trust can be broken, tragedy can strike. Relationships can be irreparably damaged. Sometimes these things are the result of our own doing, a byproduct of our pride and poor judgment. But sometimes we can do everything right, and the wrong things still happen, things beyond our control. And sometimes these terrible things—illness, infidelity, abuse, death—blindside us. They are non-sensical, illogical things that come out of nowhere. And when they happen to us, an HEA ending seems all the more far-fetched.

Maybe instead of thinking of romance as an ideal, some unattainable goal, we should think of it as a proclamation of hope—hope that true, pure love does exist and that we, as crazy, imperfect humans, can know what it feels like, even if just for a short while. Instead of romance being about perfectly beautiful people building perfectly fulfilling lives together, maybe it is a reminder that, even in a cynical world where HEAs do not exist, flawed, scarred, and broken people can experience brief moments of perfection. And maybe, just maybe, it can be our inspiration, our rallying call, to bring into the world the kind of love we want to find by giving that love to others.

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