In my humble opinion, there is no industry that understands and exploits the curse of Genesis 3:16 quite like the romance novel industry. I am a veteran. I stumbled across Harlequin romance novels as a young teen and got sucked in immediately. Seasons came and went. At times I was distracted from my addiction for months or even years. But it would come back with a vengeance again and again. I remember missing a very important appointment once because I got sucked into a romance novel after breakfast and read right through an afternoon obligation. Another time, I lay in bed all day after finishing a Christian romance novel to the point that my roommate expressed genuine concern for me. Believe me, I wasn’t meditating on the Christian message but obsessing over the forbidden romance.
The romance novel industry is a case study in both the curse of Genesis 3:16 and our coping mechanisms for dealing with the curse. The vast majority of romance novels written before the 1990’s have the classic love/hate relationship between the hero and heroine. He usually starts as a villain (“he will rule over you”, Gen. 3:16). Maybe he’s a pirate who takes over her ship. Or he kidnaps her for some reason. Or he’s English nobility and she the servant’s daughter. But the “best” romance novels have a hero who rules over the heroine and often outright oppresses her. Older romance novelists didn’t even attempt to mask it. Instead they exploited it. Women flock to stories of the bad guy who oppresses the girl but who finally rescues her and professes his love for her because she won him over with her beauty and charm. It. Is. The. Curse. It doesn’t matter that he oppresses her. It doesn’t matter that she has to bear the pain and shame if he gets her pregnant. She still wants him (and we still want him enough to read along and envision it for ourselves). And when you are caught up in it, it feels too natural for you to see it for the ugly and pathetic thing it is. It seems natural, not a curse. But the curse is natural. It is our nature apart from Christ.
Then came the feminists. Women still wanted their romance novels but they were embarrassed and offended by the misogyny the older ones propagated. So after the mid 90’s, romance novels cleaned up their act. Now if it’s a pirate, he’s pretty nice to the girl from the get go. At least there is no outright pillage and rape. The women seem stronger, the men a little more accommodating. But the industry lost their sycophantic following after this change. Women still love the older romance novels, and there remains quite a market for the older stories without the feminist clean up. From the sidelines (because thankfully I am no longer caught up in it personally), I marvel at the blatant demonstration of the curse in the older ones and the coping mechanisms modern women have adopted demonstrated in the newer ones.
The vampire genre of romance novels has long been a staple in the industry. Stephanie Meyer’s has brought it to the forefront, but it has LONG existed (and flourished) in romance novel land. The handsome vampire is the ultimate powerful bad guy. Yet apart from Christ my tendency is to naively believe the heroine can change him, can appeal to his decent side, and that he will value the heroine so that he will stamp down his inherent urge to suck her blood to death. Why do we buy that story line? Because in the head of the woman stuck in the curse, it seems plausible. It only takes a few degrees of separation for us to come to our senses and recognize that the only thing the vampire will do is kill the girl and convert her into the damned. Because that’s the nature of vampires! But, NO, we women want to believe she can reform him to meet her needs. It’s the curse. And apart from Christ, it’s our nature.
I spent a long time as a mature, well educated, happily married woman still trapped in the world of romance novels that fed something in my flesh I didn’t even recognize. It wasn’t until I studied Genesis 3:16 this last year that I finally understood the dynamics that characterized that addiction.
I tried to end my relationship with romance novels many, many times over the years. In a sense, I never did personally end it. I can’t find the quote now, but either John Piper or Calvin Miller said something along the lines of seeing Jesus so clearly and getting a taste for His goodness that puts us out of taste for sin. Something like that happened for me. Gradually, I came to understand the character of God better. I meditated on the gospel, and as it became clearer to me, it became more interesting to me than romance novels. I didn’t have to discipline romance novels out of my life. I just lost interest in them because something about God and the gospel started interesting me more. It sounds … odd. But God distracted me from romance novels with Himself and His gospel. And one day, years later, I walked by my closet and saw that old bag of books and thought, I have NO desire to ever read those again, and I threw out the bag.
Romance novels aren’t really the issue. But they can reveal the issue. The issue is the curse. We by nature have a craving/longing/desire for something from a man that everyone else around us knows they can’t give. And apart from Christ, the stories we write for ourselves are filled with our pathetic, deceived visions for what we want from men and how they are going to come through for us. The answer isn’t to burn our bag of romance novels. It’s to get a vision for Christ and all He has accomplished for us through the cross. If you are encumbered with the soft porn of romance novels, I hope you’ll stand back for a moment and recognize what it reveals about your misplaced desires. Then preach the gospel to yourself. Again, and again, and again. Preach it from different angles – God’s grace, God’s love, God’s glory. But preach it. Love it. Adore it. And over time you’ll be so distracted by His beauty you’ll forget what this post is even about.