Find out what steamy reads can teach you about love, relationships and more
You may know them as “bodice rippers,” but modern romance novels offer much more than long-haired, big-breasted heiresses fainting and fawning over bare-chested (and also long-haired—remember Fabio?) men. Instead, the heroines of these books embody strength, fortitude and smarts—and we could all take a page from a story like that! One of the greatest lessons to derive from romance novels, says Debra Holland, PhD, a psychotherapist and romance novelist herself, is that “characters in these books struggle with many of the same issues we do and they still end up happy and deserving of love.” Below, seven important lessons you can learn from romantic reads.
1. Authenticity matters. As a romance novel progresses, the heroine learns that the only way she’ll get what she wants is to remain authentic to who she is; in fact, part of the progress of the story involves her journey of self-discovery. “Until she believes in herself, no one else will either,” says Diana Cosby, who pens romantic suspense novels set in medieval Scotland. Think of it in terms of your own life: If you want to change careers or get a promotion, you’re less likely to get others to believe in you if you don’t endorse yourself first.
2. Listen to your gut. Romance novelist Lenore Edwards calls this lesson “searching for when your heart calls,” and it’s a romance novel staple we should all remember. “Never tell your heart, your gut or your instincts to be quiet,” says Edwards. So stop and listen when something’s telling you that a situation, job or relationship is wrong—your intuition is usually right.
3. Never give up. Life—both your everyday nonfiction life and a romance novel heroine’s fictional life––is intense and filled with obstacles. The difference, of course, is that “romance novels always end on a note of hope,” says Cosby. As the heroine faces challenges, even ones wildly different from your own, “you see her digging in, persisting and moving on.” Her constant search for a more fulfilled life may inspire you to find new solutions to vexing problems and, ultimately, take a chance on something new.
4. You can redefine your life. “Stuck” is something romance heroines are not—at least not for long, and definitely not by the final chapter, says Cosby. “I can put my characters in situations where they go through what real-life people do, but the difference is they don’t stay in those situations.” They may stumble and make mistakes and run into roadblocks, but they keep going, changing tactics and redefining goals until they get there. The lesson: You can change your circumstances and become unstuck, whether it’s from a toxic friendship or a mundane job.
5. There are no knights on white horses. Old-style romance novels featured heroes who arrived just in the nick of time to “save” the heroine. “What I’ve discovered in my own life and through my modern characters is that I have to find my own white horse and rescue myself,” says Edwards. Reading about a main character who goes on a personal quest for fulfillment creates a powerful message that only you can save yourself.
6. Fall in love with yourself. In the very best of the romance genre, the heroine is “someone who falls in love with herself” before she falls in love with the guy, says Edwards. “That’s when her life gets a whole lot happier.” The lesson here is that relationships are more satisfying when you start out in love with who you are on your own, not who you are as part of a couple.
7. Take charge of your sexual needs. Let’s not forget that a major part of romance novels is, of course, sex! “Much of the courting and sex in romance novels is the woman’s ideal,” says Dr. Holland—meaning that the man takes his time and is equal parts strong and sensitive. Let this inspire you to take charge of your own sex life, ensuring all of your needs are met in the bedroom. To start, read a great sex scene from a romance novel aloud to spark some intimacy (and ideas) with your man.
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