We have had a long and twisted affair, you and I. When I first started reading you, your fuschia and teal covers beckoned me from the spinning stacks at the back of the library. I selected one at random and stealthily hid in a back corner carrel. I read it in two sittings, and I kept popping my head out, afraid someone would take you away from me before we were done. I think I was about 12. For a long time I hid our relationship, knowing that if I spoke of our love, I’d be forbidden to see you. Of course, I had learned how these things go between your pages.
We lost touch during my high school years. We had to spend some time apart so I could fully appreciate your return into my life. Everyone knows a good “second chance/childhood sweetheart” trope needs time to build. I spent my time exploring other interests. I did well at school, and played several sports, and I dated boys. Lots of boys. I had fun, and as I explored the physical side of my relationships, I leaned into the knowledge I had gleaned from your pages. It shouldn’t hurt. I could and should have as much pleasure as the boys. And I had a right to say what I did and did not want to do, and with whom. I had drawn my line in the sand that I would not cross, not even a little bit. I set firm boundaries from the beginning, and those who didn’t like it didn’t last long. But I stayed strong in my beliefs, and I learned a lot about what I was looking for in a partner. I had a lot of examples of what I wasn’t looking for, that’s for sure. You see, between your covers I had learned how to assess a man’s character by his actions. I knew what traits attracted me, complemented me, and which ones did not. I also learned a lot about what makes me feel good and being my own advocate in a physical relationship. I kissed an awful lot of frogs, but most for not very long.
Then came college. Away on my own, at a prestigious university, in classes that challenged me for the first time in my life (damn you, Calculus), I was struggling. And you were there for me, ready to pick me up whenever I needed you. Don’t want to write that paper? Read a romance instead. Have to study for that midterm? Just one more chapter. Oh, how I loved to dive into a sweeping and dramatic historical or a dramatic conteporary set in a far off place when I needed to cleanse my mind from my class on genocide. (I know. What was I thinking?) You gave my poor battered brain a safe place to hide and rest for awhile. For that I will always be grateful. You were the first place I really learned how to take care of my mental health by recharging my batteries when I started running low.
College was also the first time I met your other devotees. I found “my people”. Actually, at the time she was just “my person”, my book buddy, but I loved talking with her about you. She took me upstairs to the lounge in her section of our dorm where some kind and compassionate souls had stockpiled years worth of Harlequins and Silhouettes. I learned to love you in short format with tons of crazy sauce. These I could tear through in two hours and still get all my studying done. Win! I’ll admit I had my moments of doubt, my dark spots, where I wondered if I should be devoting so much time to reading you instead of “serious literature” complete with frowny face. And the I decided to screw what convention was telling me. I can read whatever makes me happy and intrigued. “My person” was also the first person to apply academic rigor to her reading and share those thoughts with me. She discussed the writers in our genre as you would any other author. She posited the theory that Nora Roberts was actually three different authors sharing a pen name because her short forms and trilogies were so different from her romantic suspense stand-alones, and even more different than her paraNoras. And don’t even get her started on JD Robb! No one can be that prolific and consistently good, she boldly claimed. While I disagreed that Nora was anyone but the inimitable Ms. Roberts, for the first time my eyes were opened to the brilliant minds working hard to bring you into my life. My curiosity was piqued. In the years following I have met many more of “my people” and they form many of my nearest and dearest friendships. You even brought my mother and I closer together through our mutual love of your genre.
Romance, perhaps your greatest gift of all was your willingness to introduce me to so many different fictional heroes. When I met my own personal hero, I recognized him right away. Strong alpha male, captain of his team, brilliant mind, with a heart of gold and shoulders of steel and a smile that made my toes curl? Damn straight, I snapped him up! Add a little insecurity, a lot of respect for those firm boundaries, and a deep seated desire to make me happy, and I decided to keep him around. We have been together for nearly 17 years, have 3 lovely daughters, and are as much in love as ever. You gave me the road map, and I followed the signs. He also appreciates the, um, inspiration you bring to our shared life!
My story has not been all wine and roses, though. You know this as well, sweet Romance. Through periods of separations, depression, PTSD, and many life transitions like becoming a wife and mother or moving halfway around the world, you have been my solace. I read about strong women who still struggled and managed to find redemption and success, forgiveness and joy, grace and poise under pressure. I took heart from their examples, and eventually, with lots of help and hard work, the sun began to shine again.
During particularly tough times, as I felt my mind slipping away from me, I was scared and panicked. I had trained my brain rigorously. I used it every day to run a successful career. But sometimes it just felt stuck, unable to manage the simplest tasks. There were times when all I could think of was the loneliness, or the assault, or the unending cycle of feedings, changing diapers, spit ups, clean ups, missed naps, and sleep deprivation. And the crying, dear God, the crying nearly drove me insane! I couldn’t focus on anything but surviving. And I could feel myself losing the spark that makes me…me. I couldn’t even focus on a book long enough to finish it, let alone disappear fully inside it to recharge. At one point I even had to cull over 75% of my stash because of several moves. I was afraid I’d never be able to read you again, my dear friend. But I should not have doubted you. You knew I simply needed to be able to immerse myself in the story more frequently than I could sit down with a book. You knew I needed to be able to jump into the story at any time. And so you sent me dreams, stories, characters who wouldn’t leave me alone until I’d committed their foibles and triumphs to the page. I found myself again in the process, that spark of me-ness. Now I can say that I am a romance writer. We have taken our relationship to the next level, and I couldn’t be happier. Unless we’re editing, and then I hate you.
So you see, Romance, it was past time to write this letter. You may feel I have taken for granted all the love you have shared and all the lessons you’ve taught. Nothing could be further from the truth. I fully appreciate all of the gifts you’ve brought into my life, and I’ve written this letter to tell you so. Until I see you again between the fuschia covers,
All my love,