Romance is a genre that makes some unbreakable promises to its readers. There’s two people. They meet or they meet again, and we know in our heart of hearts that they belong together. But, there are obstacles or problems or tensions, or all three. Like they hate one another, or one of them is clueless about the other, or they were together long ago and someone got hurt. There are many roadblocks, including family baggage, past trauma, old lovers that made them swear off new relationships. The list is endless, though I’ll admit some plot devices (fake relationships, deceased partners, boss-employee) or settings (animal shelters, Hollywood) seem to come in waves.
Watching how our two main characters overcome these obstacles, grow in the process and finally get their Happy Ever After (or Happy for Now) is why we read romance. And for some of us, there’s the added bonus of the sex. If you want a lot of the sex without sacrificing the love part, you can read erotic romance. If you want a few good sex scenes and a larger dose of love, then contemporary, historical, paranormal romance or romantic intrigue might suit you better.
It’s all pretty wonderful, especially if it’s so well written that you yourself end up falling in love with one or both of the characters. (Cue Robyn Ward from And Playing the Role of Herself.)
But what if one of them does something you can’t forgive, even if there’s growth and redemption in the end? What if you just can’t get past your own concept of morality so that, even if the book is a good—or even a great—one, you just can’t.
We all have our own moral codes, and by and large, I believe we have to respect one another’s. But also there are times when we have to ask each other questions. Recently I read a book and then a number of reviews of that book, that raised some questions I need to ask.
In Erin Dutton’s Planning for Love, the book opens when Rachel, who is going to be the maid of honor at her straight best friend’s wedding, walks through the unlocked door of the best friend’s home only to find said friend naked on the couch with Faith, her female wedding planner. Clearly, we know from this scene and from the book’s blurb that Rachel and Faith will be our couple, and Dutton goes on to write a slow burn twist on the enemies-to-lovers romance trope.
But many of the reader-reviewers on Goodreads were not letting Faith off the hook.
“I can’t give it more than three stars because of the morality aspect.”
“[I]t’s so wrong!!! I’ll admit it put me in a downer for the rest of the book.”
“Some of the other reviews mentioned they thought Rachel was a little mean to Faith… Not me, I thought she wasn’t mean enough.”
It’s true. Faith has a practice of sleeping with some of the brides she works with. But it’s clear that she’s no homewrecker. These are one-time flings, a kind of sendoff if you will, not a whole lot different than what some grooms-to-be do at their bachelor parties.
And what of the brides? There’s very little judgment about them in the reviews, even though they’re the ones cheating. It’s not like Faith is taking anyone to bed (or to couch) against their will.
My concern here is that if we are so bent out of shape about the consensual sexual actions of a main character in a romance novel, however imperfect, then how does that show up in our real lives? Do we shun people who make different sexual choices than we do? Does everybody have to fit into the monogamous couple mode of the romance novels we read? Are we unable to forgive the actions, however imperfect, of others to the point where we don’t think they deserve happiness?
There’s a lot that we get from reading these books. We escape to interesting locations, meet fascinating people and watch them rise to their greatest potential. But we shouldn’t fall into the romance trap.
Those of us whose inept choices might not meet everyone’s strict morale code still deserve, in the words of Paul Simon, “a shot of redemption.” And those who aren’t interested in the romance novel version of a perfect ending still deserve their own version of Happy Ever After. It is not the case nor should it be that these books offer everyone an airtight template for how to live their lives.
Cindy Rizzo is the author of three lesbian romance novels (Exception to the Rule, Love Is Enough, and Getting Back) and a number of short stories and essays. She has over 300 lesfic romance novels on her Kindle and about 100 paperbacks on the shelves of the New York City apartment she shares with her wife and their three cats.
She can be found online at: