Is romance giving us the wrong ideas about relationships?

On a crisp late autumn night a few years ago, Chris and I curled up in our respective chairs by the fire. I was tucked under a blanket coloring while we watched an episode of Outlander.

Our friend and pastor dropped by to pick up a tool he needed for an emergency car issue, and Chris paused the show. It was one of those pauses timed perfectly to capture a character in ideal pose or expression, and this pause captured the formidable frame of Jamie Fraser.

“Oh, Outlander,” said our friend. “We’ve been watching as well. It’s a good show.”

Chris agreed, and our visitor chuckled and said, “But mannnnn, no one is living up to that guy. Don’t even try.”

Are romance characters and relationships realistic?

And it’s not that Jamie Fraser is perfect. He has flaws, pride and a hot temper being two. But (SPOILER ALERT) there was that time he dove into the dark depths of an ocean churned by hurricane to save his wife and survived. So, we can probably agree he’s not 100% realistic.

I realize this scene plays out differently in the book, but let’s be honest: Outlander, whether book series or television show, has no shortage of things we can point to where romance—or male or female characters caught up in romance—are a bit out of reality’s reach.

So, yes. If we read romance novels of any kind and expect what we read to translate into real life, romance might be giving us wrong ideas. The same is true for a lot of romantic television and movies.

That’s not to say they’re all swashbuckler swooners like Outlander. Gilmore Girls is a great example of something that’s more realistic; the characters and relationships are much closer to what you might find in real life.

But even Gilmore Girls doesn’t work as a map to realistic love. I asked my friend and fellow fangirl Katelynne if she would describe Gilmore Girls as giving a realistic look at romance, relationships, and love as opposed to something like Outlander. Here’s what she had to say:

“I think the playful banter is a little over the top and the people hold on to relationships and put up with stuff most people wouldn’t…”

She agrees it’s more realistic than Outlander, but her point about the playful banter and the structure of relationships is a good one.

(SPOILER ALERT) Would a real-life Luke and Lorelai find their way back to each other and stick it out through everything that goes on? It’s certainly possible. Would they do so everyday with perfectly timed, charming banter. Definitely not.

You can’t script something and have reality match up to it, which is why entertainment romance will always step sideways of reality, at least a little.

So, should we stop reading, watching, or writing romance?

Absolutely not. I kind of forbid it.

I adore romance stories. They can be heartwarming, inspirational, thoughtful, and just flat out fun.

And not everything you read or watch has to be groundbreaking. It’s okay to read something for the fun of it. To enjoy the swashbuckling or the banter.

The world is serious and real enough that sometimes we need the escape and entertainment value. After all, I love fantasy as much as romance, but I don’t think reading it causes me to think a white wizard is riding in at dawn to save the day.

But we should read, watch, and even write romance carefully.

I don’t believe we should stop consuming romance stories. I do think we should be intentional in how we consume them and how we let them impact our lives, relationships, and expectations.

I’m not talking about choosing clean reads and Hallmark movies only. I think what you watch and read is a personal choice between you and God, and I don’t stick solely to what many people would consider clean reads. (Outlander is a good example.)

But I am talking about being honest with yourself about it. I’ve read a lot of romance through the years. I started reading romance in my preteens and never stopped, and I’ve read almost every type of romance that’s out there, barring some truly odd niche stuff.

And I realized as an adult and in my marriage with Chris that I did draw some unrealistic expectations from romance in the past. It’s easy to do that, especially if you read a bunch of the same type of romance or really enjoy a certain type. Your enjoyment of that genre or niche can begin to seep, spilling over out of the act of reading the book and tinting how you see your actual relationships.

Being aware of that happening is important.

And that’s not a truth limited to romance. Being aware of how any form of entertainment is impacting your mind, thoughts, reactions, or preferences is important.

There’s also that pesky truth about moderation in most things.

Yes, I love romance. I bemoan the lack of quality romantic comedies being made today. I read adorable YA romance, page-turning adult suspense romance, and weird supernatural romance where friendly ghosts fall in love with someone who moved into their house.

But I’ve learned that I need to read other things too. And that I can enjoy books where characters don’t actually fall in love, because romance is only one of the spices of life.

As with all good stories, a well-written romance can teach us a lot about ourselves and others. Some even provide good lessons about love and relationships.

We just have to put on our discernment glasses so we know the difference between entertainment and something we can take away as a lesson learned.

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