I started reading romance novels when I was about 14. I went to a very conservative Christian school and a Baptist church. I wore a True Love Waits ring. Because of and apart from all that, I had some big fears around sex, thinking it was dirty and shameful and secretive and gross. But I had boys on the brain. I was a serial crusher. Convincing a boy to hold hands with me was my driving purpose in life. (One that wasn’t fulfilled for another 14 years, but that’s another story.) I was also in my first of many major depressive episodes, as part of my emerging bipolar disorder. I was numb and looking to feel. Feel something, anything. And I was also a big reader in a house full of romance novels.
My mom was a big romance reader, picking up the newest Harlequin releases with the groceries every week. The books were scattered in piles all over the house, filling cabinets, overflowing the closets and tucked away in trunks. I’m not sure what made me pick one up for the first time, but it quickly became my secret after school activity. I didn’t want my parents to know I was reading them. I wasn’t sure if I even should be reading them, but once I started, I was hooked. Admittedly, I started out skimming to the sexy parts just to see what the fuss was about but eventually I started reading whole stories.
The first book I remember reading was The Heart of Devin MacKade by Nora Roberts. Sexy cop, single mother recovering from a history of domestic violence, sexy brothers (with their own stories, as I later discovered). The hero was so patient and gentle and dreamy. The consent was enthusiastic. The ending was happy. That’s when I realized these books were fun and could make me feel things. Not that romance novels cured my depression, but they alleviated the crushing numbness for a little while.
But time went on, I got older and more religious and more guilt-ridden and I couldn’t justify reading about all that premarital sex. I tried Christian romances but the closed door, kiss on the cheek just wasn’t doing it for me. (Except for Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. I liked that one. I should re-read and see how it holds up.) And in college I became a big time literary snob so I was too cool for any genre fiction at that point. Years passed, I’d occasionally read a Nora Roberts or Harlequin Silhouette title at my mom’s house. In that time, I got less book snobby and less evangelical and more mood-stable. I met and married a patient, gentle man and had a gentle, impatient baby.
And one day (We’re up to late 2017 by this time.), I realized I wasn’t reading much anymore. I wanted something light, easy, and feel-good. I bought the MacKade brothers series for my kindle and they were just as good as I remembered. So I checked out more Nora Roberts from the library. And then I found Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and it spiraled from there. I discovered Tessa Dare and then Sarah MacLean and then Courtney Milan and then I found paranormals and m/m and menage and all the other wonderful subgenres out there. I don’t read much romantic suspense or darker books, but pretty much anything else, I’ll try.
I still have some residual shame/embarrassment over reading “trashy” and “dirty” books. Yes, I know those terms are insulting and shaming. But so is my inner monologue, but I’m working on getting better. I enjoy the enthusiastic consent, the strong heroines, book boyfriend guys, and hot sexy times. I think reading romance has made me happier and more confident about my sexuality, certainly more comfortable with it. And it’s definitely increased my reading pace. So I’m admitting out loud that I’m a romance reader. And even aspiring writer. But that’s a story for another day.