This seems like an odd way to start a post about romantic fiction, but I hope you’ll see where I’m going with it. So, you know when you have a crush on someone, and every time you see them, you get really nervous that you’re going to make a fool of yourself or have something in your teeth?
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably experienced such a sensation, and if you’re not reading this, I’m not sure how you’re still paying attention.
Why do you suppose most romantic fiction focuses on the first blush of fascination between two people? Well, one would expect that to be the most exciting part of a relationship. You may ask why, and even if you already know why, I’m still going to break this down for you.
We see a story told from the perspective of one party, most often in first person, and this main character is just like us! Super relatable and super flawed and they have a crush on someone. And we see that person through the protagonist’s eyes – oh, he’s so perfect! oh, she’s so beautiful! We know, logically, the protagonist is looking through rose-colored glasses and their crush definitely has flaws, but since the protagonist doesn’t see them, neither do we.
They dance around each other for a period of time, before finally revealing that they love each other and we all celebrate a happily ever after. That’s the part of the story we all know and love. In recent years, we decided that this was a trite way to end a story and storytellers had to add more padding to the end of it to appease our sense of realism, but we all know the truth. The romance is the best part.
We love to watch some flawed person – just like us – get the attention and love of a person who may not be perfect, but is definitely out of the protagonist’s league. We want to be them in those moments, being their complete awkward self and getting the girl or guy of their dreams. We imagine a world in which we could be loved and known so completely and fully. The fiction is so easy; just be yourself and be loved, cherished, and cared for, no strings attached, no expectations.
But in real life, the person we’re thirsting for wants the same thing and they have flaws just like us, so the fantasy falls apart rather quickly once the two of you get to know each other on more than just a superficial level. That’s when you come to the realization that you have to be their dream come true just as much as you’re expecting them to be yours.
It’s hard to be someone else’s dream, and we fail every day, but – and this is really my point here – if we don’t try to be the best version of ourselves, loving that person for all that they are, and not just for the weak image of them we first saw when we met them, then they can never be the best version of themselves for us. Kind of an all or nothing deal here.
Perhaps what I’m really getting at is our cultural obsession with the fantasy, and how much that gets in the way of the messy reality of loving a flawed person every day. You have to give to receive, is what I’m saying. The “happily ever after” is an ongoing uphill battle and you can’t be lazy. Don’t expect your partner to do the hard work of loving you and all your issues if you aren’t willing to do the same in return. In the real world, you have to earn the “happily ever after” if it’s going to last.