We Should All Listen to Romance Novels

[Note: this post discusses only binary, cis-gender, heterosexual romance, as that is the genre I currently consume.]

Buckle up, friends, we are taking a ride!!

Okay so never in a million years would I have guessed or predicted that I would binge romance audiobooks, and yet here I am. I have finished 46 books in 8 weeks–omg that’s almost one a day, holy cow! And that does not count the ones I have repeated!

Every year I have a brief period when I get a little tired of intellectual non-fiction. Here in 2022 it happened about 3/4 of the way through A Republic, If You Can Keep It by Neil Gorsuch. I finished eventually, and highly recommend it–he reads it himself; you can kind of space out during the pedantic parts, and still get to know him (a little) and his jurisprudence (at least a little). I especially recommend it for my progressive friends; but that is for another post.

During these cerebral time-outs, I scroll around on my Audible account for fun books included in my membership. For whatever reason, The Fix-Up by Kendall Ryan caught my interest this time, and it all started there. “Every reader deserves a hot hero and a happy ending,” her website says. Hallelujah, I say!

One of my favorites, and my first recommendation to many friends–great reviews so far!
And Blakely’s novels are generally lighthearted and fun!

Around book #4 my book club met. I debated whether I should tell my new friends what I was doing (how fascinating)–I, the fiction shunner. Then, cosmically, one of them started talking about how she skips over the sexy parts in romance novels she reads, clearing the path for me to share–openly–because I most definitely do not skip the sexy parts! That night I learned a few things: 1. All of my book club friends have enjoyed romance novels; 2. A novel cannot be shelved as romance unless the ending is indeed ‘happy’; 3. There are ‘closed door’ romances, wherein sexual activity is implied, and ‘open door’ ones, which describe it all in detail (my books’ doors swing wide open). Since then, sharing with more and more friends, I have also learned: 4. Romance may be the best-selling book genre; 5. Almost all of my women friends have read them, but we don’t talk about it (still fascinating!); 6. Almost none of my friends can name any cis-het romances written by cis-het men; and 7. None of us know any such men who have read or would read romance.

“Brain Candy.” That’s how one of my friends describes it. It’s pure entertainment, total vicarious escapism. I agree! That’s why we seek it, no? How better and farther to get away from the mundane and stressful grind of responsible, daily adult life? That’s definitely what I wanted.

Finished all but Book 8; highly recommend–short, fun books that don’t take themselves too seriously.

It’s all so predictable and formulaic, which I love, because I can just relax and enjoy. The stories all follow roughly the same arc: Immediate attraction. Some obvious, primary barrier to togetherness (distance, prior relationship wounds, age gap, coworkers, some other made up reason). Supportive friends and family who “knew all along you two were meant for each other, duh.” By about 20-30 minutes left you’re home free, no more conflict, just happy ever after. I had never heard the word kismet before now, and it comes up everywhere in this genre. And there is an entire romance novel language–for body parts, sex acts, desire in all its forms! The best books hook you right away with witty banter, engaging premise, or just hot sex. My favorites have smart, sassy, free-spirited heroines, lots of cheeky dialogue, and fun plot twists.

All of these books are stand alone novels, and it’s also fun to read them in series. I loved this set, too.

These books have really refreshed my outlook on life and relationships–that was a total surprise! They remind me what it was like to be in love–that optimistic, impetuous, idealistic promise of a bright future, that whatever comes, we can face it together. It’s us against the world, baby! At book #29 I journaled notes for this post: “…stories that remind us of how we all want/long to love and be loved.” These 8 weeks of romance consumption have, remarkably, cracked the mortar of my cynical emotional turrets, and loosened some heavy armor I did not realize I had accumulated. Yahoooo!

Working my way through these (listening first to all of the ones read by Shane East).

I have shared these epiphanies with two male friends–dear brothers on the thoughtful, relational, self-reflective journey of life. They were so supportive and loving, listening as I marveled and waved my hands. Their eyes widened along with mine when we asked ourselves, what would it take for men to also be able to enjoy these fun, erotic stories that get us women so (energized), and then be able to share about it safely [insert gobsmacked emoji here]?

Because here is what I think makes these novels so important, and why we should all cosume them (I highly recommend listening, especially if they are read by Shane East):

Contemporary romance novels celebrate and validate, unequivocally and unapologetically, two things that our culture and society insidiously shame us for:

Women’s libido and erotic sexual desires

Men’s intrinsic need for deep emotional connection

They do this by writing from both partners’ perspectives, describing their honest emotions, inner conflicts, self-delusions, and fears. But since these books are mostly written by women and consumed by women (as far as I know–to my cis-het male readers–do you read [write!?] romance?), I wonder if the male characters I read resonate with men who read them? Hence my query for romance novels written and/or consumed by men…

And they exist, hooooraaaaaaayy!

Turns out, authors Leigh Greenwood, Jessica Blair, Emma Darcy and others are men writing under female pen names (huh–more to unpack there, eh?). Now I have to get my hands on their books–will I relate to their female characters? Many have also pointed me to Nicholas Sparks, so he’s on my list, too. And guys, there’s even an article that lists 7 romance novels to gently set you and your gender on the romance path! “The best thing about romance is that love is for everyone!” it proclaims, and I wholeheartedly agree! What will it take for you to dip (or dive) in? What’s the best thing that could happen?

So there you have it, my unexpected, uncharacteristic (or not?), utterly awesome and ongoing journey into romance audio novels. I’ve never consumed this many books in one year in my life, by a long shot, and I could not possibly be happier about it. Not sure when I’ll get back to the other stuff… (she smirks)

Girl Balls


Why use we such a ubuiquitous male genital expression for strength and courage?

And no female ones?

Consider the female gonad. When you rip open a new wound on yourself every month for decades on end, ready and waiting each time to overtake an entire body, orchestrating the coordinated and prolonged creation and delivery of an entirely new and unique sentient being, which the body then must sustain for months longer with only its own nutritional synthetic power, how is it that you are still not crowned the queen of all organs of strength, capacity, and resilience?

“Balls out”, we say, when we hold up boldness and assertiveness–but only when referring to men. Do we only see it when men are heroic and daring? What about when women take dauntless risks, so often on behalf of others? How do we express our admiration for this? BOOBS OUT, I say, when I want to validate a woman’s right to assert her power, agency, and independence, out loud and in front. But it doesn’t do the conviction justice. “OVARIOS,” my friend suggested, when it came up in conversation years ago. Hell yes. I’m still waiting for this to catch on.

Of course strength, courage, and resilience are not always manifest by taking impulsive public action in the face of immediate threats to survival, ego, or status. For how many generations have women held collective humanity up, well after birthing it, serving as tireless caregivers, counselors, mediators, peacemakers, scapegoats, punching bags, breadwinners, and confidants? What countless family and professional units would outright unravel and disintegrate, and then the fabric of society follow, if not for the ovarios deep in the weave?

I write this post not to devalue men or their contribution to society. Their role and relevance are unquestioned.

But please, friends, let us elevate and amplify our praise of women, yes? It is well past time, and there is plenty of room to share on the pedestal.

For a heartfelt rendering of women’s strong, stoic resilience, check out my colleague’s post on her Smiling Grandma.

Onward in solidarity.

Strengths and Struggles


“Creative, resourceful, and whole.”

This is how life coaches are trained to see their clients, first and foremost–or at least I know it’s how Christine sees me. She tells me all the time.

In a coach-client relationship, this fundamental framework sets the stage for the client’s strengths to shine, even as they struggle mightily with themselves, their circumstances, and those around them. By making this commitment of attitude, the coach positions herself to call forth the client’s highest and best self, and for the client to answer with authenticity, confidence, and agency. The client’s  fundamental need for psychological safety in this intimate relationship is satisfied up front and
without question, immediately creating space for honest, vulnerable work.

What if we all saw one another this way? What if we at least practiced more awareness of our default opinions, narratives, assumptions, and expectations of ourselves and other people?

As physicians counseling for habit change, as parents guiding behavior and skills development, as leaders coordinating team collaboration and working for collective goals–how often do we look down at those around us, seeing first their flaws, deficiencies, and pathologies? How often with spouses, bosses, coworkers, siblings, neighbors, and people of other races, classes, genders, sexualities, and professions?

Who do we see first as admirable, worthy of respect and reverence? How do we show up differently to these people, compared to others? And how does this impact–no, incite, inspire, or create—how they show up to us?  Don’t you find that a person’s vibe precedes them when they approach you?  You feel it
in your body, no?  Our species could not survive, evolve, and dominate without this instinctive, innate sense.  How much more could we accomplish, how much more potential could we realize, if we all approached one another with the sincere intention to bring out one another’s best?  Or if we each just did it a little more often?

It’s humbling to notice what negative assumptions and narratives I tell about people, and how blind it makes me to their gifts, talents, and contributions.  But the moment I can let go these mental chains,  I’m free, and I free them, from these unspoken yet deeply held limitations on possibility.  If I can choose more often to hold people first and foremost as Creative, Resourceful, and Whole, I know at least my own life will be much better, because I will show up to people joyful and curious.  And I bet I can make a much bigger, lighter, and more loving impact in everything I do.