A long time ago, in a world before email, cellphones and the World Wide Web, my girlfriends and I had a mantra: "Life is too short for annoying boys."
I was lucky. I met my own Mr. Perfect-For-Me when I was young enough to not feel desperate to find him, but old enough to have already lived a pretty interesting life. I had traveled. I had a college degree. I had a few "lessons learned" relationships in my back pocket.
So it was with interest that I read Patience Bloom's memoir, Romance Is My Day Job. Bloom, an editor for the publisher Harlequin, is exactly my age, and many of her early experiences are eerily similar to mine. Like me, she devoured romance novels in high school and college; we both hid them under our pillows. Like her, I often considered my early romantic relationships in terms of what I'd learned about men from those books.
While there were many similar aspects to our early lives, there were a couple major turning points Bloom endured from which I am grateful to have been spared. One dark event shadows the book, and obviously shadows the editor's adult life. Amid all the running commentary about romance novel stereotypes and how they relate to her own relationships, she only shares one conversation dealing with that particular event, and it is with the man she ultimately marries. His response is heroic.
What makes Romance Is My Day Job unique and charming is the author's arc: a quirky combination of professional, survivor, romance-genre fan and Desperately Seeking Single. She strings together these personas and a rich landscape of life and romantic experiences through a lens of romance novel archetypes — the tragic hero, the alpha, the beta, the secretive; quintessential hero and the innocent-yet-spunky heroine —as well as iconic pop culture phenomena, like Working Girl, Bridget Jones's Diary and Sex and the City.
We can relate to this woman. She has family issues, man problems and bad hair days. She's so much like us, except for when she isn't. And even then, she's dealing with things we never had to, but for the grace of God. And she's dealing with them pretty gracefully, actually.
Interestingly, the things I find most potent about romance novels are the underlying messages Bloom seems to overlook in most of her own journey. Yes, love conquers all, but we must love ourselves first — love ourselves enough to believe that the right one will love us just as we are. Twisting ourselves into pretzels to be lovable to the one we're with kind of defeats the purpose.
Heroes in romance novels are pure fantasy, it's true, but by the end of the book even the most alpha male is tamed by love, and he will do everything in his power to keep his mate safe and make her happy. For most of her story, Bloom is beating herself up for not being good enough for the so-called heroes in her life, when she should be moving blithely along to the next possibility, who can't be any worse than the current one.
Meanwhile, her True Romance is percolating up from an almost forgotten moment in her past — a moment when a wilting, neglected wallflower is given a Cinderella moment by a kind, popular high school Prince Charming.
An axiom of the romance novel is the understanding that this man and this woman are meant to be together, that they bring out the best in one another, and that they are able and willing to overcome their darkest secrets — a questionable past, a difficult loss, a profound sense of inadequacy — with this partner by their side.
In Bloom's story, she must first become her own heroine, convinced that she's worthy of love, and then stop chasing after it. She waits a long time for her perfect partner, but in the end — after a lot of painful maybes — he makes his entrance (via Facebook). She realizes pretty quickly he's The One. True love finally comes to her, and — thanks to a healthy blend of romance novels, life experiences and hard-fought wisdom — she knows it when she sees it.
Romance fans especially will like this book, but almost any woman will find something to relate to in Bloom's story. She tries too hard, too often to impose a romantic narrative onto relationships where one doesn't exist — but she survived the non-heroes and learned the lessons she needed. And since she shows us her best and her worst while becoming a heroine worthy of her real hero, we like her, and find her pretty brave.
Bobbi Dumas is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wis. She mostly reviews for Kirkus Media, and is a founding contributing editor of the writing resource website HowToWriteShop.com.