The Thing About Romance Novels
I regret that I lost my innocence so young - that perception of the world that is pure, naïve, and trusting. I wish I had clung to it tighter and respected the boundaries that my parents set for me growing up.
I still remember the conversation so vividly. My dad sat on the edge of my bed, on top of my white coverlet that looked more like a big doily than a blanket (I was going through a really feminine, everything must be white or pink phase). I was probably just twelve or thirteen, but he had caught me reading a romance novel... yet again. I wasn't quick enough to hide it under the covers, so I prepared myself mentally for another argument with him about my reading decisions.
But, there wasn't anger in his voice. There was no condescending parenting lecture or yelling. He didn't take the book away. All I heard was sadness. But, I didn't get it.
It wasn't almost a decade later that I understood my dad's words about the impact that romance novels and entertainment have on young women. I understood because I looked around at the young women around me and my heart broke.
Girls wearing makeup in elementary school (usually purchased for them by their mothers). Girls wearing skimpy clothing from the juniors department in fifth grade (or younger!). Girls dating around, experimenting sexually, and even with drugs - sometimes all before they've even hit puberty. And then comes high school with cliques, boys, and the pressure to get into a good college. Even in college, the perfect college experience has us doing crazy things to our bodies, friends, and even our beliefs.
Because girls today? We grow up fast with the weight of the world in mixed expectations for what we should look, act, talk, and live like.
We see the things on our TV screens, on the Internet and on the pages of our favorite novels, we want those things. In a society filled with "reality TV" and the growing influence of bloggers, the line between reality and fiction has become incredibly blurred.
Most of the time, we acknowledge that what we see on TV and online is not real life. Logically, we get it. But our hearts and minds? They are still influenced by the images and messages we see and hear. Like walking through the city on a rainy day, the rain, smells and filth of the city settles around you - burrowing into your pores and silently coating you in a thin layer of smog.
The thing is, I never thought that love was anything like romance novels. I am cynical and the typical things most girls find romantic, I see as frivolous and unnecessary. I wasn't the little girl who dreamed of happily ever after and Prince Charming. In fact, most of my young years, I feared and dreaded falling in love. But, I still read a lot of romance novels. Even when the sappiness level made me almost gag in cynicism and disgust, I kept reading.
Honestly, I didn't think they affected me - it was fiction, a distraction, and an exercise for my imagination. But, I've realized recently that those romance novels have influenced the way I think about men, relationships, and even daily interactions between men and women. All those stories add a layer of romance that I feel like I need to see every time I come in contact with a guy. Or, I judge myself mercilessly for not fitting the typical description of a romance novel heroine or a damsel in distress.
I believe that I am not alone. Most girls recognize that love is not what it seems like in our favorite chick flicks, but a small part of us still holds out hope that maybe you'll be the exception and someday, your love story will also feature you as the girl a guy will do anything for.
Or you see the flings and series of one-night-stands that led your favorite heroine to her happily ever after and you trick yourself into believing that you really do have to go out there and kiss a few frogs before finally finding the elusive one made for you. So you date around and share your romantic disasters with your girlfriends - sometimes laughing, other times crying - thinking that this is the way life, and love, works.
We recognize the amount of skill and expense it takes to make actresses look the way they do on the pages of magazines and movie screens. But, when you get dressed in the morning, that standard is all you can compare yourself to and you slowly begin to hate yourself for falling short every time.
Before you know it, your innocence holds on a by a shred of hope.
You're cynical of men and their intentions.
You see other women as competition and a measure of your worth.
You begin to see make-up as a requirement and a size two waist as an ideal.
Love, sex, and marriage become just another thing to add to your list of accomplishments.
You even doubt God and His alleged plan for your life.
Because your heart is broken. You may feel worthless and inadequate. You're probably cynical of the world and everyone you meet.
And by you, I really mean me. Maybe you've succeed in staying away from the influences of the world and kept your heart pure and protected from the falseness of society's standards. I envy that.
But, I have found myself stained by the false expectations that I've been watching, reading and observing over the years. The pressures of society's expectations and my personal fictitious standards of how my life "should" be weigh me down to a point where some days, it's even hard to look at myself in the mirror. Because you can never un-see that sex scene in the latest chick flick or un-hear the foul language of that famous comedian.
My point is, what you take in through your eyes and ears take in is who you are. Kind of like people say that you are what you eat. Once it's in, it's there to stay. Eventually, it begins to shape who you are as a person, filling every nook and cranny of your mind, heart, and life.
Jesus doesn't compete with the world though. He will wash you clean as a fresh blanket of fallen snow and cast your sin into the greatest depths of existence. He will fill your heart with peace and love. But, if you're going to fill your life with the world, even tidbits here and there, Jesus can't co-exist with that sin. You can't have one foot in the world, and one on the narrow path. Because Jesus Himself said that you can't serve two masters at once.
If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. -John 15:19
So today, I urge you to fight for your purity. Hold on to your innocence for as long as possible.
Please, don't let the world tarnish your glow or strip you of your hope. Cling to the word of God with all your might and don't allow anything to distract you from Him - not wealth, beauty, fame, comfort, or fear.
Because if I could go back to the day I read my first romance novel, or watched my first R-rated movie or even saw a TV, I would hug that little girl so tightly. I would tell her to not look at the world at all. To keep her face facing upward towards the Son at all times.
People may tell you that it's okay to experiment, to make mistakes, to make your own way. But that's the world talking. All Jesus said was, "Come, follow me!" He made a path for you, and promised to guide you every step of the way. He overcame the world for you, so that you may walk through life in His strength.
Since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” -1 Peter 1:16
The truth is, you'll make mistakes. And sometimes, bits and pieces of the world will stick to you. Fight it. Don't let anything keep you from those pearly gates. Darling, your life is on the line.
// image one // image two by sally kate photography // image three via Downton Abbey