Friday, March 4, 2016

To Love Me Is To Know Me?

I think back to our argument. No matter how many times I tried to brush aside my unease by telling myself we'd find a compromise on the issue, there was one stubborn nugget of hurt that wouldn't budge. "I realized the reason that the whole thing upset me so much was it—it made me feel like you didn't even know me." —Bethany Chase, The One That Got Away

In mid and late 20th century heroine-only POV category romances, hearing the hero speak the words "I love you" typically served as the climax of the story, the point at which the virginal, innocent heroine could be declared the winner in the romantic battle between the unemotional, detached masculinity and emotion-filled, connected femininity. Because heroines were typically flat characters, placeholders for the reader, discovering their individual uniqueness was not a requirement on the path to falling in love for any category hero. Oh, the heroines might be praised for being innocent, or kind, or smart, or embodying any similarly generic positive characteristic, but rarely for any distinctive, unique talent or personality trait. Emotion given voice, the hero's love declaration was a promise that he would care for, protect, and cherish the heroine. But rarely was such a promise built on a special knowledge of the beloved, a knowledge that others did not share.

Though the out-loud love declaration is still an essential element of the majority of romance novels today, I've been wondering if that declaration has lessened in importance. Or, perhaps that the declaration carries less weight, at least in the more realistic contemporary romance, if it is not preceded by a recognition of the individuality of the beloved, a knowledge of the beloved that others around her often are not able to see.

Though there were many clues before the above in Bethany Chase's The One That Got Away that narrator/protagonist Sarina had chosen the wrong man, as soon as I read that passage, I knew that Sarina's relationship with her fiancĂ© was not long for the page. Though said fiancĂ© takes issue with her claim—"So, you're breaking up with me because I can't read your mind"—Sarina, and many a romance reader before her, does believe, or at least hope, that the one she loves will know her well enough to know things about her that she has not previously explained or discussed with him (in Sarina's case, her desire to keep working after they have a child). You can't love me if you don't know me, Sarina's claim implicitly argues.

Though romances, rather than women's fictions, far more often celebrate that knowing than discuss its lack, the assumption that one's romantic partner will know one, often better than one's colleagues, friends, and even family members, seems to me to have become a staple in much of realistic post 20th century contemporary romance, in a way that it wasn't in older works of romance fiction. I could point to many, many lines in the novels I've read which express this sentiment. Loving someone is no longer enough; a romantic partner must know you, too.

Have you noticed this trend? And if so, what do you think is causing it?

Photo credit: A Quote a Day


  1. I have noticed something of the trend you point out and am a little troubled by it. I've read 21st-c heroines who sometime say something to the effect of, "You knew me better than I knew myself." I read those novels as presenting the hero as the authority on the heroine (her body, her desires, her romantic feelings). I'm also troubled when I read a heroine who expects a hero to understand something the heroine has failed to communicate: it IS reality-defying to expect a romantic partner, no matter how ideally suited, to live up to expectations that have never been articulated, or to understand him/her on the strength of intuition. The expectation that a hero will *know* the heroine seems to set up situations in which healthy communication is given short shrift.

  2. I think it's more about sharing values, but it is alarming when a female character expects a male character to know her better than she knows herself or mind read, so that they never discuss intimacy, etc.