I write romance (and romantic suspense) novels, but I’m also a parent, and a single woman. These things are sometimes at odds with each other.
I adore reading a good romance as much as I enjoy writing one. It’s good to read a book and know that, no matter what problems the hero and heroine face, by the end of the book, they will find their happy ever after. It’s fun to write something where I put my characters through the wringer knowing that, ultimately, they’re going to be together forever. Reality is not that simple, though.
As an adult, I’ve had enough relationships to realize that they don’t all end in happy ever after, and that happy for the moment is the best we get sometimes. I’ve learned who I am, both in and out of a relationship, and that it’s important that I retain that knowledge and don’t let go of it in an attempt to hold on to a relationship that simply isn’t meant to be. I can support friends as they struggle to work out problems in a relationship, and lend a shoulder to cry on when they walk away, as well as smile happily at their weddings or the births of their children.
As a parent, though, this stuff gets so much harder. I have one son who is a teen, and we have reached that point where discussions about relationships, sex, and romance are no longer simply theoretical conversations. He’s not allowed to date or “go out” with anyone yet, but the day is coming, and that’s why it’s so important that I teach him everything I know about relationships.
But here’s the thing. He’s a kid. Yes, a teen that’s only a few years from adulthood – but that’s still a kid. No matter what I teach him, no matter how much I drill it into his head that he shouldn’t pretend to be something he’s not to impress a girl, that he has to be honest and open, and that if he’s having to work that hard at a relationship, the relationship isn’t meant to be – he’s still going to end up making mistakes. Some will be things I tell him he shouldn’t do, some will be new and different things that I never did.
And that’s where I wish fantasy and reality could come together. I wish I could write my son’s story for him, keep him from being hurt, from making mistakes, and ensure that he definitely gets his happy ever after. I know I can’t do that, and I know that love will only mean something to him when he finds it on his own, and when he can appreciate it because of everything he had to go through to get there – but that doesn’t stop me from wishing I could save him all that pain.
I remember being a teen, and having crushes. I remember thinking that any boy I liked was my future husband, and being crushed when things didn’t work out. I can look back now as an adult and realize how silly that was, and I have a much more realistic grasp of how relationships work now. But there was a lot of heartache and struggle between then and now, and it kills me to think that now it’s my son’s turn to go through all of that.
Then, of course, there is sex. As a romance writer and reader, I know that quite frequently our heros and heroines jump into bed with each other quite soon, or with the full knowledge that it will be just a fling (though we all know that it won’t remain one; it is a romance, after all). Meanwhile, I’m trying my hardest to teach my son that sex should wait until he’s really in love, that it shouldn’t be something he does indiscriminately or soon after meeting someone, that it should always be protected and that it can have some major unintended consequences.
Don’t get me wrong – at his age, he’s fully capable of grasping the difference between make believe and reality. But I know plenty of adults who think that what happens in a romance novel happens in reality, and my job is to make sure that he doesn’t become one of those adults. As someone who makes their living writing romance novels, though, I have to admit that sometimes it feels a bit hypocritical to be writing characters who jump right into bed, who fall in love quickly, all while telling my son that jumping right into bed is a bad idea and you can’t fall in love after knowing someone for a week.
I try to write characters who are strong, confident, who know who they are and what they like, and don’t bend to become what their Prince/Princess Charming wants them to be. I try to be that person myself. I hope that by being that person, and by writing those kinds of people, it will make it easier for me to teach my son to be that kind of person.
I guess I won’t know if it works for a few more years yet.