Reading Romance Novels Taught Me That There's No Single Definition Of How To Love

I’ve been reading romance books for so long I honestly can’t remember not reading them. My love affair with the genre began with young adult books, which I started reading when I was 12 years old, and quickly expanded to the wide variety of adult romance novels. Since then I’ve read through about every genre — historical, paranormal, contemporary, suspense, erotic and the sub-genres within each one.

For me, it all comes down to the happy ending and the guarantee romance provides. Before I start a book, I don’t just like but need to know the story is going to end okay. I believe in love and happy endings, and romance books reinforce this simple, but often forgotten, ideal.

Romance is about the only genre where I can cheer for love to come for a vampire, a werewolf, a reformed drug addict, a sex worker, or even an alien. Love truly has no boundaries in romance novels, and each of these different love stories allows me to open my mind and heart to other possibilities. They expand my often limited world and let me explore without leaving my house. And that is amazing.

I’d always thought of myself as an accepting person, but I admit I stumbled when I first read a ménage book that had full male/male sex scenes. It was different, not what I was expecting, yet so incredibly intriguing. My upbringing said I shouldn’t like it. A large portion of society still said it was wrong, but I couldn’t get myself to feel that way. It was love after all. It didn’t matter who it was between. I scoffed at myself when I realized I was more open to reading about a vampire finding love than two human men, and that was wrong.

That moment changed not only my outlook, but my life. It made me dive past the simple wall of acceptance and into understanding and compassion. I started to question why we as a society judge so harshly what we don’t know. Everyone deserves to love and be loved even if it’s in a way that I don’t comprehend. Once I opened my mind, I saw so much more.

I dove into gay romance then, devouring more books in one year than I’d read in the previous five. Everything from the stories, to the writing, to the characters had me hooked. They were love stories, ones I could root for, invest in and heave that satisfied sigh for at the end. Reading gay romance opened not only my mind but my heart to all ideas of love. They helped me grow as a person and exposed my world to the struggles that so many endure simply because of who or how they love.

After reading ménage romances, I grasp how a sustaining love is possible between three or more people. That’s real and exists even if it’s beyond my experience. Just like the love grown through a foundation such as BDSM, which holds no personal appeal but has expanded my awareness and appreciation for how it does work.

This quest to grow has also helped me as an author. For my novel The Deeper He Hurts, book two of Kick, I spent hours researching and understanding the driving forces behind my characters. I dove deep into the personal and social journey one might go through and by doing so saw how incredibly hard it must be to desire something that so many scorn. I walked away from that story with an admiration for all who push back against societal norms to find their own happiness.

Love is not limited to a man and a woman, and it’s wonderful to see the romance genre embracing this fact. From same-sex to multiracial to triads or more, love is explored in all its variations. There is no single definition of who can love or how to love, and I thank the romance genre for opening my mind to this one story at a time.

The Deeper He Hurts by Lynda Aicher, $3.99, Amazon

Beginning on August 1, Bustle will host Romance Novel Month, a celebration and examination of the romance novel genre. But don't worry, romance readers: the coverage won't end in August. We're proud to support romance novels, and we will continue to do so all year long.

Images: Naeimasgary/Pixabay