Everything I believed about love, I learned from paperback romance novels. I learned about love from the wildly sensuous, full-lipped heroine with the long raven hair and the dark, brooding man you saw from a distance on a horse.
My romance novel love story actually began when I was thirteen while visiting my grandmother. She'd sit in a high-backed chair to maintain her posture as she aged, smoking a pack a day like the Marlboro man and reading paperback romance novels continually. She read so many novels that they eventually piled into her kitchen, lining the walls and covering the tables. When I visited my grandmother, I would not stay indoors, as the smoke made it impossible to breathe, so to pass the time I sat outside in the 100 degree Arizona desert heat and I read her used romance novels. I was carried away.
As I read the romance novels, I unknowingly began to visualize the man of my dreams. By the time I turned thirty, my romance novel hero manifested. He was tall and dark with a mysterious past. He was intensely jealous just like I had read in the novels all those years ago. He was controlling, which translated to caring. He was a loner -- and how I loved the thought of rescuing him from his loneliness as he rescued me from some perilous situation! And, he needed me so much. He never spoke of his past and this attracted me wildly to him. His aloofness seemed to be ripped from the pages of a classic romance novel. Oh, how I loved his aloofness, as it made me try all the harder to "win" his attention. I must be on the right track. It was perfect. I was indeed the heroine!
After dying my hair a brilliant raven color, I married my romance novel hero. On our wedding night, my long raven hair was flowing gently in the warm wind on the balcony. My breasts were shimmering underneath gossamer fabric. I was ready to begin my romance novel love story.
What happened next was so unexpected that to this day I want to believe it happened to someone else. My hero did not take me in his arms and passionately kiss my neck and weaken my knees with his embrace. No, he did not. He calmly walked over to me and said " I cancelled our honeymoon, I'm going to work tomorrow." With that, he walked back inside, turned on the TV and watched the news. Wait a minute. What was this?
In the year that followed, I painstakingly understood it bit by bit. My love story began to resemble a Stephen King novel instead of the Celtic romance novel version. His brooding was eventually diagnosed as depression and that turned into manic depression with a little more effort. His aloofness was given a name too; narcissistic personality disorder. He went on to spend my savings, alienate me from my loved ones and cheat on me. This left me shattered and insecure. I dyed my hair black.
Terrible, you say? Well, not really. Like every good heroine in romance novels, I survived tragedy and although I did it without great hair and sensual embraces, I still survived.
I think back to my grandmother sitting erect in a cloud of smoke. She had married someone who had disappointed her and her only relief was to read romance novels. I'm betting that what she found in those pages made up for what she lacked in reality. Her great love may have been fictional, but it was consistent, beautiful and predictable.