I Hate Romance

I keep by my bookshelf a pile of books I plan to sell at Powell’s. This time around, the victims include Lena Dunham’s memoir, Tillie Walden’s first graphic novel, a poorly-written account of a transgender teenager, and three YA romances I couldn’t finish.

This shouldn’t be a huge deal – I stop reading books all the time. I find it freeing to give up on something I’ve struggled to get through.

Quitting on romances, however, is new…and it bothers me.

*

I’m glancing at my large bookshelf as I write this; I see a couple favorites that I recently tried – and failed – to reread.

Romances, all of them.

Yesterday, I skimmed through my Amazon wishlist and knocked several love stories I’d wanted off the queue.

On a recent trip to Elliott Bay Books, I skirted shelves full of teen romance to look at books on police shootings.

In the middle of  scanning Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes, I realized I’d never passed up romance for gritty realism. At least, not that I could remember.

*

Yesterday I abandoned a love story.

The girl wanted to focus on her career, not a relationship. The boy said he had a family to think of and thus couldn’t follow his passion.

They were both 18.

Initially, I liked the writing enough to ignore the elements that annoyed me. Halfway through, I started telling myself, “This was Bollywood-inspired. Fate is part of the package. You’re not allowed to hate this.”

That last reprimand surprised me. I’d read stories about true love and destiny before, but I hadn’t hated them.

*

I pursue emotional devastation as a hobby, more so now that I’m on medication.

I seek out darker material to – and I know this sounds crazy – feel normal. The real me used to scream at her TV. The real me never tired of shipping. The real me got invested.

I started watching “Sense8” as an act of defiance. I COULD get invested in TV! I DID care about ships! Watch me cheer on Wolfgang and Kala! India, bad boys, forbidden love – I LOVE that stuff!

Everyone else seemed to love this show, so I would, too.

I wish I had.

Instead, the one emotion I didn’t welcome back made a dramatic entrance during episode 5. Good old rage, here to ruin TV for me once again.

“GET OUT!” I screamed at Kala dithering over her nuptials.

“GET OUT!” I screamed as she conversed with a very naked Wolfgang.

No swooning. No squealing. I seethed every time Wolfgang leaned in for a kiss.

“GET OUT, KALA! GET OUT WHILE YOU CAN!”

*

Every year, I hope for romance. I start the new year with the belief that this will be The Year I can tell people, “Oh, 2018? That’s the year I met…” Then I’ll smile at my dazzling partner the way they’ve smiled at their partners, only mine will be intelligent and hilarious and care about weddings and not put off chores with the excuse, “I’m taking a really difficult class this semester!”

As with years past, I hoped 2018 would yield romance.

That hope died by February.

I should be glad one massive disappointment led to me taking my health seriously. I’m on meds for the first time in my life. I go to sleep with a combination of drugs my mom asked me not to disclose.

For once, I feel emotionally stable.

I sleep better. I have more energy. I write all the time.

Lately, though, I’ve noticed a shift in my thinking about romance.

I’m not sure I want it anymore.

Little things lessen my interest: watching a documentary on dating where one of the subjects emphasizes what it means to “be a man”; researching dating sites that seem promising, only to learn users are adamant about “settling down”; realizing I don’t trust any of my friends to set me up.

I hear romance is supposed to be fun; to me, the thought of dating sounds exhausting.

I let the marrieds confirm their worst fears: “Yep, I knew it: she doesn’t want to get married.”

They’re not entirely wrong.

*

I remember now: in the book I stopped reading, the girl made a comment about her big mouth.

The boy said, “I like your mouth just the way it is.”

I read that and screamed, “GROSS,” at my workplace, causing four different teams to stare in my direction.

I’ve reacted the same way to other flirtatious comments, romantic moments, or any hint of destiny, fate, or magic. My reading and TV-watching experiences have been peppered with comments like, “STOP BEING WEIRD,” or, “THAT’S DISGUSTING.”

I almost quit reading Daughter of Smoke and Bonea book I liked, when the story dove into reincarnation romance.

My friends have mentioned a dislike of romance. They wish creators would focus more on plot and less on shipping.

I’m not used to agreeing with them.

*

I found a new church that, in all respects, seems like a perfect fit: they openly support gender equality; they spent Pride Sunday drawing attention to queer issues; they provide a space for 20-something singles; they allow everyone to participate in communion.

The thought of meeting someone at that church freaks me out.

I dread replacing conservative mansplainers with liberal ones. I anticipate discussions where aggressive men dismiss my Bible knowledge. I imagine others complaining about my potluck contribution.

I view my brothers and sisters, people I’ve watched hand out cookies at Pride, with suspicion. I put off attending the Single’s Bible study.

Maybe next week.

*

During my most recent Elliot Bay excursion, I bought three books: a bargain copy of Anne Lamott’s Small Victories; a book a friend recommended called 2 Kinds of People: A Visual Compatibility Guide; and Geekerella, a Cinderella retelling I’d noticed last summer.

I would have loved Geekerella a year ago. I bought the book for that Lauren, the one who read romances for fun, the energetic, optimistic newcomer who made daily treks to the library. I feel like I’m buying a book for a picky friend: while I mean well, I have no idea how she’ll respond.

The book has been sitting in my To Read pile since Saturday, languishing in a purgatory of buyer’s remorse. Looking at it now, the plot sounds silly: geeky girl-turned-Cinderella meets the teen heartthrob of her dreams. The publisher peppered the back cover with buzzwords like “fandom,” “cosplay,” and “totally adorbs”

Everything in me says this purchase was a mistake.

Still, I’m going to try.

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