I had recently run to Target for errands, and, as per my normal Target rituals, I meandered through the movie, music, and book section just to explore and see what was there. Under normal circumstances, I’d linger in the romance section, a genre I love with curiosity that borders on a genuine passion.
And true to my normal Target rituals, I find myself sighing over the long line of unoriginal dime novels, their synopses outlining the tried-and-true method of romance storytelling – boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. The issues that the characters face are dramatized and, subsequently, uninteresting, and the author’s two-dimensional characters make it hard for me to connect with them.
But my issues with them are in the storytelling format itself; a format that breaks down love stories so easily when it really shouldn’t. Relationships can be horrifically messy and convoluted, sometimes unintentionally. Relationships can also be uneventful but lead to intense self-discovery. There’s a million and one ways a relationship can be experienced, and narrowing it down to just a small number of mainstream ways is unhelpful for people who want to learn about love. Relationships can be all these wonderful things, and we’re only really getting a small margin.
In the end, I want love stories that mimic the real world.
Before anyone says that it’d be boring, yes, it would. But I’m only suggesting this type of realism as a counter for the three most infamous words to close any book – “Happily Ever After”. This ending potentially builds unrealistic expectations for readers who are looking for their “Happily Ever After”. They tell stories of trying to get the relationship started, but never what happens beyond it. What we end up getting is only about one third of the whole story. They’re just not sustainable.
And this striving for a “Happily Ever After” has become extremely detrimental, especially in modern life. We have the belief of meeting that mystical “One” or “soulmate”, and that things will work out because you’ve met them. Since we don’t have any popular or mainstream stories that depict the kind of love that people need to see, following the leads getting together, we just don’t have an accurate “map” of how to navigate relationships. In the end, we feel lost because we don’t have the stories to guide us and show couples a realistic way in love, and we feel unhappy in our relationship because we’ve been exposed to the wrong love stories. We end up trying to walk this path that’ll lead us to some sort of fairytale ending – of what a relationship is supposed to be – only to realize how inflexible it is because “This isn’t what’s supposed to happen.”
Because of our lack of reference, we feel cursed when a relationship fails, or is failing.
What I strive for is a story that can take readers and show them pathways in relationships, not just one. Stories that make up for that remaining two thirds, one that continues after the two romantic leads have gotten together, and simply tolerating each other rather than inflating the feeling of love people expect. One that depicts their cute moments as well as their hardships. Where the characters build a life together and find the difficulties of living in the same space. A story where the main conflict is between the main characters rather than external forces.
A story where, after the honeymoon phase is over, the gravity of their issues comes to light, but they’re still able to work things out.
Where a bad day leads to a horrible fight of pointing out the other’s flaws, and a somber apology over breakfast the following morning. Where expectations for that promotion at work are high, and they don’t receive it. Where one is haunted by figurative demons, and despite their best efforts, their partner can’t get rid of them, but is still able to accept their lover. Where their sexuality isn’t the core problem.
A story where the character don’t promise to love each other always, because they know their feelings will change (and feelings are allowed to change). Where a problem can’t be solved within the confines of a single chapter, but rather becomes a separate story arc within the story. A story of ordinary people caught in, what they believe to be, semi-extraordinary circumstances despite it actually being mundane.
Stories that can give a realistic sense of hope without inflating expectations about what “love” is. It might just be a short story, or a poem, or even evolve into a full-blown novel, but the world deserves to read something that’s different. Something that can shift away the easy love stories we know now and bring to light the honest love we all deserve to read about. A story that can give people the light to find their own path through the messy and endlessly complicated world of relationships and love.
Those are the love stories we deserve.