The first time I fell in love with the idea of falling in love, I had a mills and boon novel in my hands. These books depicted what perfect love looked like. They made me, and almost every girl I knew who read them warm and fuzzy inside. It was an introduction to a world we were too young to experience, yet impressionable enough to look forward to. The happy endings were all that mattered as I raced through every story to the end of the novel. I wanted to read about the declaration of love, the moment it happened and the acceptance of it. But I did not know that for most of my teenage years, these books would inform my approach to relationships.
A couple of weeks ago, I was speaking with a friend about my teenage life, expectations and relationships, and somehow, mills and boon books popped up in our conversation. With nostalgia in my tone, I shared how these books were perfect for old soul romantics who love chivalry and a good dose of thoughtful romance. I shared about how these books inspired me to seek romantic relationships and helped me develop love interests as a teenager. As I write this now, I realize that in itself was probably problematic but at the time of this conversation, the idea that these books inspired a teenager to actively seek romantic relationships was not the thought that stopped me in my tracks.
Something unexpected dawned on me as I dreamily rambled on about these books, and it did not have the nostalgic, exciting effect I had when the conversation first started. If anything, I was scared as the realization hit me. Mills and Boon did not just arouse the desire for romantic relationships in me and many other young girls I knew. It aroused the desire for toxic romantic relationships.
Think about it. In all the mills and boon novels I read, there was always a charming handsome man with a well-built body, blue or green eyes and a dose of arrogance to go with his looks. Then there was the woman – the object of his desire – innocent, naive and in many instances powerless in the face of his charm. They meet, and even though the attraction is clear from the start, there is a considerable amount of effort put into concealing this. The story goes on until perhaps the first kiss or maybe even sexual encounter. It is magical, everything she has ever dreamed of. It is a moment full of hope for the relationship she is now looking forward to. And this is where the stories often take a sad turn. He ‘disappears’.
He stops making contact, stops answering the phone and makes it a mission to walk past her when he bumps into her in public. She starts to question herself, starts to wonder if she read his emotions wrongly when they kissed or had sex. Eventually, she accepts that he is not into her and starts to hate him for making her fall in love with him. But…just at the time when she starts to hate him, he resurfaces, apologizes for his actions and opens up about his battle with personal demons. He confesses his love for her, explaining that the strong emotions provoked by this love made him ignore her, and somehow, they end up happily ever after. Not too shabby for a romantic story right?
But should this be how romantic stories go?
As I spoke with my friend two weeks ago, I realized that these books may have conditioned many women, including me, into believing toxic relationships where men pay a lot of attention on one day, and totally ignore our presence the next day is normal. They have planted seeds in the minds of women to make them believe that men who act aloof or ignore them after an encounter are simply battling their emotions and are not good at expressing what they feel to the women they desire. It creates the idea, in the minds of impressionable young girls that being ignored by a man who seemed to desire them is not enough reason to let go of him. A man who ignores you after leading you on is not a man you should cut off. Instead, the man is painted as one who is fighting personal demons when in reality, that is not the case. Many men who lead women on only to ignore them later are really not fighting any demons to be with said women. They are simply uninterested and in some cases, have moved on to new pursuits.
But, due to conditioning, which I do not place solely on the shoulders on mills and boon novels, many women tend to believe these men will be back. They await the day he is vulnerable with them and the tears-inducing declaration of love that will lead them to happily ever after. Sadly, for many, those days never come.
Did mills and boon novels influence your idea of relationships when you were young? Would love to read your experiences in the comments!
Post credits: featured image from notsalmon.com