I like stories that require a character to be brave, and which give them the opportunity to be a hero, their own or someone else’s. Sometimes that means killing the monster, sometimes that means outwitting the evil mastermind, sometimes that means telling unpopular truths, and sometimes that means being emotionally vulnerable.
Loving is an often overlooked act of bravery, and my favorite romances show that. I am a connoisseur of stories about romances that require a little extra bravery, that in some way challenge stereotypes. Loving within our given social boundaries is hard enough, but I have so much admiration for the people who find love that doesn’t fit into the boundaries prescribed by other people.
I have a theory that most of the unhappiness in the world comes from moments of cowardice when facing the pressures of societal rules. Not that societal rules are bad in themselves. In many ways, they are our primary safety net in any interaction with other human beings. And because of this, when faced with the choice of being unhappy or of going against societal rules, it is easy to take the way that is safe, to follow the rules.
Love is never safe. Even if our loved ones return our feelings unconditionally, agree with us on everything of significance, and never betray our trust, the world does not let love remain a safe activity. Every day people get sick, die, move to new places, face new challenges, grow and change. Loving someone is one of the most dangerous and bravest things we can do, and something the human brain is programmed to seek out. And yet love is also frequently twisted and misused. Perpetrators of the worst acts of terrorism, abuse and violence often attempt justify their actions with twisted misinterpretations of love: revenge for a loved one lost, or against a loved one who didn’t see love through the same lens; jealousy and fear of losing love; or out of love of a deity, homeland or ideal.
It’s cliche to say there’s a fine line between love and hate, and I go back and forth on whether I truly believe it, but I see a parallel to the line between bravery and cowardice. I like the definition of bravery as acting not without fear but in spite of it. Both bravery and cowardice occur in the presence of fear, and in the moment of choosing between the two, that line can be infinitely wide or almost nonexistent, depending on the choices available in the moment.
And there is no clear line between the kind of person who will choose bravery or the kind who will be cowardly. Someone who always faces monsters bravely may shrink from telling unpopular truths. Someone who can outwit any evil mastermind may throw up every shield available when faced with emotional vulnerability. And yet, even when a character follows these patterns to a T, there is always room for growth, for facing up to a challenge previously avoided at all costs. That is often the greatest type of bravery, for it faces the greatest fear. We always have a chance to be braver than we were yesterday.
All of my favorite romances that challenge stereotypes also have an element of equality. I believe that when there is a perceived/constructed/chosen imbalance of power in a relationship, the love and the risk it brings are unstable as well. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are unhealthy, just unstable in some way. My interest in equality does not mean that all my favorite romances are about people who are the same. In fact, what interests me most, and what I am exploring in my own stories is how to weight the scales of power so that both parties come out equal, even when they both thought they were too different to ever find equality.