Love in romance novels tends to be flashy. The memorable elements of a story are the ones where the hero fights off the bad guy and saves the heroine from the speeding train or when the heroine uses her family connections to keep the hero out of jail. There are murderous zombies and cyborgs to fend off; racist cow hands and vengeful gossips to elude. There’s the dramatic, multi-orgasmic sex that occurs midway through the novel and the romantic wedding-baby-house epilogue: the trappings of falling in love.
And I love all those things. The bigger and flashier and plottier the romance the better as far as I’m concerned. But it’s also fun and little bit subversive when those elements mask a simpler set of needs and desires. I’m reading a book right now, Genevieve Turner’s Summer Chaparral (out today), that does this really well. The story revolves around a Romeo & Juliet style family conflict, an epic family story that results in a wedding midway through when the hero and heroine are unable to keep their paws off each other. That said, the deepest needs and desires of the couple are very simple. They’re not looking for fame, power or riches. They want the security of a comfortable home and land of their own.
It’s something those of us in the first world take for granted, I think. Especially those of us who have a roof over our heads and food on our tables, largely though minimal effort of our own. We go to school, we get jobs, we go grocery shopping each week and make meals or get take-out. So few of our daily tasks revolve around the sustaining of life, certainly not like it has been for most of human history. When the roof leaks, we call a handyman to fix it. We don’t have to decide between canning vegetables for the winter or mending clothes. We go to Target.
I wonder to what degree our affluence (even those of us who live relatively modestly) affects us; how easy it is for us to merely survive interacts with how easy we expect life to be in other areas. After all, it isn’t the bad guy or the beastie that brings together or separates most real couples or communities. It’s how everyday actions are overlooked: preparing a meal, talking with a friend, having a cup of tea or taking a walk. The best moments in community are genuine inquiry with honest answers and jokes about glitter & squid. At the moment, I’m inclined to at least try to side-step anything else.
Alexis Hall’s Prosperity comes out next week. I don’t want to spoil the ending for those who intend to read it (and you should: intend to read it, that is). But there’s a twist that romance readers might not see coming. I certainly didn’t; though I was both frustrated and relieved that it ended the way it did, I didn’t understand why until pretty recently. Now that I’ve had a few weeks to think about it, it’s subversive in ways that hadn’t even occurred to me when I first finished it. It got me thinking about the degree to which love is a choice, and not a choice we make once, but a choice we make every day. We choose whether to bring something up or let it go. We wade into a conflict or refrain. We make soup for dinner when we know the forecast is miserable at commute time. We read aloud to each other instead of watching TV. We walk the dog in the rain and wash dishes after a long day at work. We give the benefit of the doubt. We’re oblivious or we’re tuned in. We listen as well as we talk.
Making the right choice in a marriage or a romance or a community is rarely easy or obvious and love is a verb in addition to being a noun. It doesn’t mean that any of these things can be undertaken without conflict. It does mean that we make choices about what we want to create. And every day, every action, every utterance contributes to that creation, whether we are intentional about it or not. Choosing to love is not an easy choice to make on a weekly, daily, hourly basis.
But making any other choice seems to lead to misery. So, in the end, what choice do we really have?