Romance Novels vs. Real Life: 3 Romantic Clichés Put to the Test
The Sheila dishes on three times when she was living some well-known romance tropes - and how fiction compared to real life.
While everyone in my prep class was focused on learning to read ‘See Dick Jump. See Jane run’, I wanted to read a book where Dick and Jane ran and jumped together. From as early as I can remember, boys fascinated me and drew my interest. However, it was a Baby-Sitters Club book that hooked me on the romance genre.
I’m not sure the book in question even qualified as a romance, but I realized while reading it that I cared more about what happened between the two characters fighting their attraction than I did about any of the characters who were just doing their own thing.
What followed was an obsession with finding similar storylines. My search led me to Sweet Dreams, Dolly Fiction, and Love Stories. And when they weren’t enough, I moved on to Loveswept and Harlequin Mills & Boon – around age 12-13.
As my romance obsession gained momentum, I compared my interactions with boys to the stories I read, imagining myself as the heroine and seeing every interaction with them as the potential scene in a love story. I endured countless comments from adults, like ‘you’ll never have realistic views of men and relationships if you read that rubbish.’ Not that it ever stopped me.
I journaled prolifically during my teen years about the boys I liked – check out my Instagram feed for photos of real poems I wrote as an angsty teen – and my journals read like a romance novel.
Well, except for the part where most of the boys I loved didn’t love me back.
If you read or write romantic fiction, you are undoubtedly familiar with some of the more popular clichés and tropes that are part of the genre.
Here, I discuss 3 times that my life didn’t stack up to my beloved romance novels, and the clichés that let me down.
Example 1: The Good Girl and the Bad Boy
When I was thirteen years old, my best friend introduced me to her brother – let’s call him, B – and I fell in love.
Or in lust.
Whatever it was, it was significant. I’d had crushes before, but what I felt for B hit me harder than a Mack truck going 120K an hour.
My friend warned me about her brother well before our introduction.
“He’s been to juvie,” she told me. “I don’t know how bad what he’s into is, but I know it’s bad.”
For that reason, B should have been the been the last guy that a girl like me – a girl on the straight and narrow – should have been drawn to. But one look at his gorgeous face (what? I was shallow at thirteen), his dark hair and eyes, and his rippling muscles, and I lost the ability to speak or make sense. Something that amused him immensely. Two years older than me, and infinitely more experienced, B was confident in ways that the boys my age just weren’t.
And he knew the effect he had on me. He reveled in it, always grinning at me in a way that made my stomach perform Olympic worthy routines, his eyes full of mischief every time they held mine.
My relationship with B never got further than simple handholding while we were lost out in the bush together while camping with our families. However, if this was a romance novel, he would have fallen in love with me and changed his bad habits.
Since this isn’t a romance novel, he went back to Juvie, and even though he cleaned himself up later on, fell in love and changed, it didn’t have anything to do with me.
Nevertheless, this experience shaped me. When I think about ‘bad boys’, I think about gorgeous men with dark hair, dark eyes, a sordid history and a smile that’s all kinds of trouble.
I also think about how rare it is that it will ever work out. But that’s what fantasy – ah, I mean romantic fiction – is for, right? It’s escapism and it’s often the stories we wish were true.
Let Me Be the One is a story I wrote about a bad boy and the woman who tames him. In it, I rewite history. Which was why I started writing in the first place.
Example 2: The Geek and Mr. Popular
In high school, I was the definition of a geek. Not one of those super smart ones who studied all the time and got good grades. No, I wasn’t the ‘smart girl’. I wasn’t an athlete. I was an overdramatic, hormonal teenager with daddy issues, and I was bullied something shocking. My fantasy world was wayyyyyyy better than reality, and to most of the people in my year at school, I didn’t exist. But did I let that stop me from trying to find romance? No, I didn’t.
As I wrote about in the Sheila vs. Swede blog post about Hero chasing Heroine vs. Heroine chasing Hero, I was happy to chase boys – the result of the build-up of emotion inside of me that couldn’t be contained.
While my friends were studying for math quizzes and science projects, I was writing love letters and poems, and journaling out all the angst I felt over my crushes. And also fantasizing about declaring my love and having it returned.
When I was fifteen, I was in love (I’m using the term loosely, people) with one of the most popular boys in school. He was gorgeous, smart, liked by everyone, and succeeded at pretty much every sport he tried his hand at.
In my hormone addled state, I decided it would be awesome to take the poem I’d written him and slip it into his locker. I was going to woo him with my heartfelt words.
Where’s the facepalm emoji when I need it?
After reading too many teenage love stories where Mr. Popular finally sits up and takes notice of the unpopular girl, I had grand visions of him reading my poem as I walked down the corridor. I imagined what would happen when his eyes met mine as he finally realized that I existed and that he was in love with me.
Needless to say, this story does not have a happy-ever-after, and twenty years later, I cringe and laugh over the memory. If you want to know what happened, the answer is very anti-climactic. Nothing happened.
I didn’t sign my name under the poem – thank goodness for small mercies – and he never knew the poem was from me. I’m not sure he ever really knew I existed, either. Despite my little brother yelling out to him on more than one occasion that I was in love with him. Even when I sat behind him and his date in the cinema one day and popped a bag in their ears when they wouldn’t stop making out in front of me. Jealousy was ugly on my poor fifteen-year-old self.
This wasn’t the last time I gave a guy a love letter, but it should have been because I destroyed friendships the next time I tried this method.
But that’s a whole other story.
If my life had been a romance novel, Mr. Popular definitely would have known my name. Maybe we would have been partnered up during a science project, or we might have lived next door to each other. Perhaps once upon a time we’d been friends, but we’d fallen out of contact when we started high school. Since my life wasn’t a romance novel, I poured my heartbreak into my journal and moved on to my next crush.
Example 3: Student-Teacher Love
Eh, this isn’t one of my favorite tropes. I do love the forbidden element of these types of relationships, and I did love Slammed by Colleen Hoover. But I don’t go out of my way to read these books, perhaps because I know that they have the potential to end in disaster.
I wish I could say my teacher was hot and that was why I fell for him. I wish I could say that he was a young guy in his twenties, who had just finished his teaching degree. Then, perhaps, my reaction might have been understandable. Alas, the guy was in his late thirties, early forties. Old enough to be my dad. I mentioned I had daddy issues, right? He wasn’t even…good looking. And yet I was crazy about the guy.
So crazy that I almost messed up my entire high school career.
By the time I was sixteen, I was borrowing Harlequin Mills & Boon books from the local library every chance I got. These books were older, set in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. The heroes were older, authoritative and worldly, and the heroines were often young and innocent. For this reason, many love scenes revolved around the heroine losing her virginity.
Oh, how I looked forward to the 50% mark in these books – the staples in the middle always marked the right spot. Page 90 was where the magic happened. In a moment of tenderness, the hero would claim the heroine and ‘make her a woman.’ Of course, it would hurt, and she would shed a tear or two, but it always seemed so romantic. I was conditioned to believe this was the way things happened. So, maybe I should have listened to the adults in my life who warned me these books were far from realistic.
But I digress.
After reading enough of these books, I started to spend a lot of time imagining what a love scene between my teacher and I would look like. Not only did I start fantasizing about it, I wrote it down. I penned a sickeningly sweet and tender moment, in which my teacher deflowered me on a desk in a classroom. Of course, the moment changed my life and resulted in a happy-ever after. Because, that’s what happened in the books I was reading.
This scene qualifies as the first piece of smut I ever wrote, and I was pretty proud of it. So proud, in fact, that I decided my teacher – the teacher – should read it.
Since I hadn’t already learned my lesson from writing a letter to Mr. Popular, I made plans to submit my epic piece of writing along with my major assignment – an assignment which was worth 30% of my total grade. Because I was taking an advanced subject, it was a subject that would determine the score I needed to get into University.
On the day my assignment was due, I put my epic love scene in the same plastic pocket as my project and walked to school with my bestie. Thankfully, she told me in no uncertain terms that I should not submit my sex scene to my teacher.
It was her verbal beatdown that made me hand in my assignment sans smut, preventing me from ruining my grade, and maybe getting suspended – or worse, expelled. I should probably write her a note right now to say thank you.
Except I’m kind of done with note writing now.
If my life was a romance novel, I wouldn’t have been desperate enough to write down a sex scene and give it to my teacher. He would have been drawn to me because of my looks and intelligence (it’s fiction, I’m allowed to be super-hot in it). And he probably would have had sex with me in the classroom, because that’s what titillates the people who read this trope regularly.
But looking back on the incident, I feel like writing what I did was super creepy, even if I do laugh about it. And when I think about what it would have been like if my teacher had made any kind of move on me, or put his hand on my leg, or said any of the things I imagined him saying to me, that would have been more than creepy.
In fantasy and fiction, a teacher hitting on a student, or a student pursuing a teacher is sexy. In real life, a forty-year-old guy and a sixteen-year-old girl have no business being together. It’s just gross.
What about you? Have you lived out any of your favorite clichés or tropes? Tell us about it in the comments section below 😊