Trying to describe heartbreak without relying on hyperbole is like trying to run a marathon without sweating—nearly impossible. And when my ex and I called it quits not long ago, I realized why: The galaxy was crashing down, the world surely was ending, and the giant hole in my chest would never be repaired. How the eff am I going to get past this? I thought.
I did my best McSteamy impression and tried to sew myself back together, one Grey’s Anatomy episode, long run, and Bright Eyes album at a time. I tried hot yoga, chopped off my hair (a couple inches, but still...), started a bullet journal, and escaped to upstate New York for a three-day getaway. When my mom sent me two books with "science-backed" advice for getting over a breakup, I thought I'd hit a new low—until I realized she might be onto something. I wouldn't be the first to find solace in the pages of a book. Just maybe not those books…
The back cover read, “I’m not a good man, and I’ve never pretended to be.” Sold.
The first romance novel I bought was called SINNER (in all caps) and had a photo—at least I think it’s a photo?—of a man with Channing Tatum abs taking a shower—at least I think it’s a shower?—on the front cover. The back cover read, “I’m not a good man, and I’ve never pretended to be.” Sold. I slipped it under my armpit to surreptitiously transport the book to the checkout counter, devoured the whole thing in one sitting, and returned to the bookstore the next night for 13 more paperbacks.
According to Maya Rodale, author of Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained, it’s not surprising I bought so easily into the $1-billion industry. “I hear romance readers say over and over again that [the novels] tell a woman that she's worth it. She’s worth the emotional investment and the extra attention in bed and in life,” she says.
“We live in a world where our expectations for how to be treated are very low. Romance novels offer you the opportunity to see the range of what’s possible for love and sex in a relationship,” adds sex educator and writer Gigi Engle. “It’s a good reminder that you deserve more…that you don’t need to be treated like shit.”
When I reflected on my relationship with my ex-bae, I could see the huge gap between what those heroines had on the page and what we had in the flesh.
While I wouldn’t say my ex “treated me like shit,” there was certainly room for improvement. In the stories I was devouring, I saw characters who were experiencing love and sex with a sense of trust, contentment, safety, and satisfaction that I hadn't felt. When I reflected on my relationship with my ex-bae, I could see the huge gap between what those heroines had on the page and what we had in the flesh.
“They're are also fun!” Rodale puts forth as another reason my newfound addiction—in conjunction with a social media cleanse, a spiffed-up dating profile, and time to process my emotions—was helping me heal. “We can talk all day about how they’re empowering and badass and subversive, and they are 100 percent all those things," she says. "But they're also powerful, especially when you’re heartbroken, because they're a fun way to spend your time.” Now that I wasn't spending 24/7 with my ex, I had time to spare, and getting down with my romance novels honestly was more fun than bingeing Netflix.
I’ve read over 50 romance novels in the last few months, and I’ll admit I’m still not completely over my breakup. But I'm getting there. “In romance novels, there’s always a happily ever after,” says Rodale. Each one I read is a reminder that I deserve one, too. And I now 100-percent believe I'll get my happy ending someday—with someone who's not my ex.
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