Romance novels are a lot like fairytales. They center around a heroine, usually stuck in a dreary situation, as she meets her hero, allowing her situation to become a lot less sucky. Of course, in fairytales there are dragons, birds that either clean or attack evil step-mothers, too tight corsets (though this probably applies to romance as well), and magic. In romance, the closest we come to a knight on a white horse is a bearded dude named Rodd Stone who pulls up on a Harley he built himself. In a fairytale, the most important part of the story is the end, which usually revolves around some sort of True Love’s Kiss. A romance is, well, basically the same, except True Love’s Kiss can sometimes be replaced by True Love’s Mutual Orgasm.
Now, I poke fun because I love both romance and fantasy, but I don’t think that absolves them of the one issue I find all too common. Because of the weight of the princess’s Happily Ever After placed solely in finding her prince, I think we lose sight of what else is important in the woman’s life. Namely, her friends.
Before you slam your fists down and toss Disney movies at my head, ranting about talking animals and godmothers, let me clarify. I find that female friends, real, true friends, are occasionally hard to find in a romance. And if they’re there, they’re used as a sounding board for the main character, a shoulder to lean on, or they’re simply there to become someone who will betray the heroine later in the story.
I’m not speaking specifically here, there are lots of diverse books this does not apply to, but if your story is centered around a girl whose only friend is the dude courting her, I find myself a bit angry. As a woman who identifies as a feminist, this bothers me on so many levels because women need to stick together, but romance novels (and fairytales) are constantly tearing us apart.
Name a Disney movie in which the princess has a female friend, and I’m not talking about family or furry creatures. Why is this? Is it so hard to make a woman have a life and fall in love? These are not mutually exclusive things. If anything, friends are the glue that holds her together when the she and the prince get into an argument over his commitment issues and he flees on his motorcycle in the middle of the night. Without friends (again, not walking, talking sounding boards), the princess is alone. No wonder why she takes him back as soon as he bangs on her door a month later with crumpled flowers from her own garden.
Friendships don’t just help us get over dramatic break ups, either; they make us laugh, help us grow, and give us a sense of community. And, no, I’m not talking about the two guy friends the princess has because girls just don’t like her (she says, as she takes a swig of ale and hocks a loogie onto the royal blue carpet in her room). Because this is another way to break down our gender, to alienate us from those whom we should love and take care of.
I’ll stop myself before I start singing Kumbaya, but really, Romance. You need to get your act together. Not only do your characters seem lacking without friendships you’d find in the real world, but it makes me sad for the princess. Obviously she’s gonna run off with the first dude in rusty armor she sees if the only other person who talks to her is a friggin’ squirrel.
Disclaimer: this does not account for every romance novel out there. I’ve read some great ones with really good friendships. You can find earnest, honest, real friendships in books by Jennifer Probst, Dahlia Adler, Sadia Ash, and more that I can’t remember off the top of my head because, hello, it’s a Monday. And if you can think of any, leave your suggestions/recommendations in the comments. I’m always up for adding to my ever-growing TBR pile, even if one day it will tip over, fall, and possibly crush me in the process.
In the spirit of this blog post, here’s a NEVER BEFORE SEEN (*gasp* *ooh* *aah*) excerpt of PRUDE, and the friendships so real to me, I never feel alone.
Excerpt of PRUDE by Jordan S Gray
When Rebecca walked back into the living room, a towel wrapped around her hair and a bathrobe tied around her body, she found Ansley and Shayler lying on the floor, tucking into five different Styrofoam boxes. Rebecca made a detour to the kitchen, grabbing plates, forks, and napkins.
She passed them out and took a seat beside her friends. Ansley passed her the box of macadamia-nut pineapple pancakes, ignoring the oversized shirt that peeked out of Rebecca’s robe.
“These are the best.” Shayler pointed to the orange-pumpkin pancakes, scooping up a mound of whipped cream with her fork and licking it off.
“No way, these,” Ansley said, holding up the box of cinnamon-bun pancakes.
This was one of the small moments Rebecca lived for, one of the moments that made her adore her life at college. When she was with Ansley and Shayler and things were good, she didn’t care that she lacked a large group of friends. She didn’t care that her high school years had been spent mostly alone, studying in her room, because it was what got her here, in her tiny apartment, debating about pancakes with two of the people who meant the most to her.
Rebecca scooped two pancakes onto her plate and cut them up into equal squares. “How’s Garrett?” she asked Shayler before taking a small bite.
“Ha.” Shayler laughed around a mouthful. “We’re beyond done. He got mad at me because I didn’t come over last night. Seriously, like my life revolves around him or something.”
“What’d you do?” Rebecca wondered.
Shayler shrugged. “I told him to shove his chauvinistic opinions up his ass.”
“Word of the day?” Ansley asked, wiping her mouth with a napkin.
“No.” Shayler sighed dramatically. “Women’s Studies took a dark turn yesterday when some freckled chick in the back bragged about always cooking her boyfriend dinner. Professor V. didn’t particularly care for that, so I got to learn a few new terms, including one or two Russian swear words.”
“Geez,” Rebecca mumbled.
“Yeah, the girl ran out crying after a few minutes, and I’m guessing she ran straight to her boyfriend.”
Rebecca shook her head and took a swig of Ansley’s glass of orange juice. “What about you, Ans? I know Coffee Guy was a bust, but is there anyone else?”
“Nope. I’m going to end up alone with fifty cats, and I’m allergic.”
“Huh,” Shayler said, eyes wide. “You’ll probably die alone then, you know, since the cats will make you break out in hives and you won’t have anyone to run to the store for Benadryl for you. I’d give it ten hours of you lying on the floor of your stinky, fur-covered carpet, coughing and choking. Then, bam, you’re dead.”
“Gee, thanks, Shayler.”
“I’m just saying.”
Rebecca cleared her throat, stopping an oncoming argument. “Have you talked to your mom or dad lately?”
Ansley shook her head. “They’re still doing the whole disappearing act thing.”
“Are you doing summer school again?”
“Um, yeah,” Ansley said, a small smile breaking out on her face. “Anything to avoid going back home. Plus, I can keep the apartment this way, just so we can be sure we’re still rooming together next year.”
“Thank, God,” Rebecca shuddered. “Otherwise, I’d have to move in with she-who-does-not-know-the-intended-purpose-of-a-trashcan.”
“Hey!” Shayler smacked Rebecca’s arm. “Rude.”
“Talk to me when you stop using it as a way to cart heavy things to and from your room.”
“One time. I used it one time to move an old printer.”
“What’s in it right now?” Rebecca challenged.
Shayler inched backward. “I’m not telling.”
“It’s holding magazines, isn’t it?” Ansley laughed.
“I have to put them somewhere!”
“It’s called a bookshelf or, I don’t know, a magazine rack.”
“I put my DVDs on my bookshelf. I can’t just move them.”
The three of them cracked up as Rebecca and Ansley tossed their dirtied napkins at Shayler. Not like it bothered her anyway. While the laughter and silliness filled Rebecca with glee, she could think of just one more thing that could make the moment even better. She lowered her head, pretending to wipe her mouth on her robe. The scent of rainy cinnamon filled her nostrils. Better.
LINKS for PRUDE: