Is this the best title for any book, ever? I spotted it at the library, where it had absconded from the romance section and into crime. (I wasn’t shelf-sharking – honest).
The cover was everything one could hope for – a vision of hair and teeth, pressed breathlessly against a pink sunset and manly heavage. Without even reading the blurb, it’s clear what we’re dealing with. Romance. More specifically, Bad Romance.
The scene is familiar. A hero: Zachary de Milleneuve, shipping magnate , international man of mystery and possessor of gently flaring aqualine nostrils. A dilemma: What woman can tame him? A resolution: Wanton Wanda, supermodel and part-time brain surgeon. Too beautiful for this world – but more than a match for Milleneuve. If only he can prove he’s more than just an (exquisite) set of abs.
At that point dear reader, I stopped. (Did I mention Milleneuve’s abs?) But had I continued, I could have glutted myself on any number of similar titles, from ‘Prince Voronov’s Virgin’ (sorry, out of stock on Amazon), to ‘The Wealthy Greek’s Contract Wife’. From historical to medical, there’s amour for all tastes.
It’s tempting to be sniffy about romance and dismiss it wholesale as badly written or misogynist. But damning the genre just won’t do. Song of Songs, for example, is one of the most passionate books ever written (for the best commentary I’ve seen on this check out Ros Clarke here – or get one of her own romances!) .
In fact, the gospel itself is the ultimate romance. So whilst my hackles may rise at pink dust-jackets , it’s not the subject that’s the issue. The problem comes in thinking that such Holywood-style ardour is what life is about.
I’m not just talking about X-rated sex scenes or dodgy liasions. It’s a world-view where no-one is complete without a certain kind of partner. Not the one who works at the caff and makes that weird squeaking noise when he eats. The one with the off-shore bank accounts, stunning good looks, charidee work and pilot’s license. The ‘missing piece’ who’ll spot and fix your inner pain, see you in your multi-faceted complexity and then buy you an enormous diamond. Without whom life – your life – is empty.
Like a tsunami of hearts and glitter, this sort of ‘love’ is a force of nature, a Mariah Carey song made flesh. Married or not, you can’t help your heart. It’s written in the stars and it’s your only chance at real happiness – right?
Don’t get me wrong. Marriage is a gift. I love my husband and I’m grateful to God for loaning me him. Nor am I equipped to comment on the genuine pain that can come with unwanted singleness. But even within marriage, if I were to take seriously some of the myths of romantic love, I’d have left Glen long ago. Fact is, we’ve had times when we’ve both wanted out. Times when we’ve felt lonely, misunderstood, trapped, angry, depressed. Times when it’s seemed like the ‘love’ has died and it’s time to move on.
Tim Keller has said that ‘an inevitable and necessary part of marriage is falling out of love’. By this he means Holywood love. A love that takes instead of gives. A Twilight saga of desire and need and romantic completion – that doesn’t actually exist. But on the other side of tough times comes something deeper and more enduring. Something even Zach de Milleneuve with his pecs of steel can’t provide.
We need to go to the true Bridegroom for that.