Is Courtship Passe in Romance?
Courtship is traditionally defined as the period of dating before marriage.
One of the things I love about romance books is the courtship. The meet cute (or just the meet), the stirrings of new feelings, and prolonged tension between a couple as their desire for each other mounts are all elements that I love to experience in a romance story. One aspect of chick lit books that spoke to me was the articulation of the courtship: the dating rituals, the awkwardness and uncertainty, the fresh new feel of it.
Jill Monroe’s November Blaze, SEALed and Delivered, featured a sweet romance in which the couple went out on a number of dates to get to know each other, to confirm their feelings for each other. The seeming lack of need for the couple to be sleeping with each other every spare moment helped me buy into the HEA which would require fidelity over long periods of separation given that the hero was a SEAL.
I don’t want to say that sex is not part of courtship. It is and can be a very important role, but sometimes I feel that the need to bring heat to a relationship early in the story can overshadow the actual falling in love aspect. The word “love” is bandied about too easily and the state of permanency is entered into without much thought. When love and permanency are easy to come by, those concepts are diminished in power.
So many of the paranormals today feature a soul mate trope. The question that I have is whether the concept of courtship can exist in a soul mate trope. If a couple is destined to be with each other what need is there for courtship? In soul mate tropes, either through magical means or biological imperative, the mates belong together. In some stories, the soul mates recognize and bond instantly. The soul mate almost always requires external conflict to drive the plot because if the main protagonists are together and cannot be parted and emotionally accept this, what could be left to discuss?
I’m not adverse to the soul mate concept. I love the CL Wilson series which relies heavily on the mate concept, but she really shows you the dark side of the mate bond. I think the mate bond is something that can provide some very poignant romances, but in others, it can create an emotionally insubstantial story and in a romance, more than any genre, an emotionally insubstantial story is a tragedy.
Part of making me believe in the HEA is showing me (versus telling me) why the two characters belong together instead of with someone else. On the whole, I think romantic suspense is one of the harder areas to pull this off. So much of the book takes place over a truncated period of time that you get the sense the characters are more in love with surviving than with each other. (Let it be known that I am a big fan of the romantic suspense sub genre). Conversely, I think marriages of convenience are well suited to showing why the characters fall in love. They are forced together, but what keeps them together?
My favorite stories are when I’m shown how the characters’ strengths and weaknesses overlap, where they gain mutual respect and admiration for each other, where their feelings are based on something other than a physical high. In fact, it is from the deep well of emotion that I presume their physical highs arise. (Or at least that is how I want to see it). I have told others that the one reason I think BDSM is so popular for erotic romance readers has less to do with erotic romance readers’ fantasies about being tied up and whipped and everything to do with how the BDSM authors tap into the headspace of the characters. In successful BDSM books, there is a level of trust and understanding that has to be reached before true physical release can be achieved. The characters tear down barriers to get to that point. In a way, those negotiations between partners about sexual fantasies are courtships in and of themselves.
I guess I want to be romanced in a book and I’m seeing less of it than I would like. What do you readers think? Is courtship passe? Are you being emotionally satisfied? What books do you feel have the best or worst falling in love storylines?