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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Trouble with Romance

by Dina Sleiman
I Corinthians 13
4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8Love never fails.


That’s God’s definition of love, but where does romance fit? Doesn’t sound much like feelings and passion to me, not that there’s anything wrong with feelings and passion. I would have to say that I for one am a great fan of feelings and passion, but at the end of the day, they don’t make for love that never fails.

As a young lady, I had unrealistic expectations about marriage, and I think reading too much romance was one factor. Now, I realize personality and personal weaknesses must also factor into the equation, but here are my thoughts on problems with the typical romance scenario.

1) Romances take place over a short period of time. So feelings develop quickly and don't have much opportunity to mellow into something lasting.
2) There is a sense of the hero "sweeping the heroine off her feet," which is also based on feelings.
3) Much of the story centers around physical attraction.
4) A lot of fighting takes place between the hero and heroine, but alas, (sigh and put back of hand to head) love conquers all.
5) Heroes are almost superhuman. Although they may not see eye to eye with the heroine, or have some very specific flaw, overall they are way better than real life men.
6) Even the “happily ever after” itself is a farce. It should be “basically content although they'll still face real life problems ever after.”
7) Finally, romance novels end with the wedding. Real marriages begin with the wedding. So romances leave the reader in the midst of a high, which in actual life is short lived.

For me, here were some of the results. I met my husband and was overwhelmed by his alpha male personality and good looks and married him less than three months later. Makes perfect sense in a romance novel. He swept me off my feet and made me feel like a princess. We seemed so sure of ourselves that our pastor and parents supported the decision. I believed the fact that my husband was in such a hurry to get married proved how much he loved me.

Actually, my husband was impetuous and impatient about everything back in those days, and ended up making many horrible decisions because of it. He’s Lebanese, sexy accent and all, (Catholic background, not Muslim--people always want to know) but we had huge cultural differences, which we were in no way prepared to deal with. We were painfully poor. However, with his alpha male personality he thought he'd have a big business break any moment and went further and further into debt trying to accomplish just that.

Worst of all, the “take charge” attitude I loved so much, translated into an oppressive male who tried to control everything I did and squelch my personality.

I know that sounds awful, but the first five years of my marriage were awful. And by the time they were done, despite my strong Christian upbringing, I was convinced I made a terrible mistake and feeling desperate to escape and find someone else. The right kind of guy. "True Love." Like in the novels. I never did physically betray or leave my husband, but in my heart, I was long gone.

I could go on trying to justify my poor behavior, but let me wrap up this portion by saying what I learned. God is not interested in putting us with someone who will make things easy on us. He is interested in accomplishing His purposes in our lives and the lives of our spouses.

My marriage has been hard, but we've survived. The result of all those hard years is that my husband is now a great guy who is leading a major ministry. I don't think he would have ever gotten there without an American wife who stood up and forced him to change. And for me, well, clearly my "god" of romance has been smashed on the altar.

I asked my husband to read this post, and when he got to this part he said, “But your readers won’t be satisfied with the lessons you learned. They’ll want to know how the story ends.”

The truth is, I don’t know. This story isn’t over yet. When I told that to my husband he said, “I’m sorry. I know it was hard. I love you,” and gave me some gentle kisses. I guess that bodes well for the ending.

To wrap it up, here are some things that I think make for awesome inspirational romances with the right kind of message.

1) Making the relationship more about why God would want the couple together, especially if it doesn’t fit their plans.
2) Hearing God's voice about getting together.
3) Having to overcome old hurts, prejudices, and weaknesses in order to fulfill God's plan for hero and heroine to be together.
4) Heroes with plenty of real life variety flaws, but heroines that love them anyway. (Has anyone ever had a hero pass gas or burp in a book? Now that would be realistic.)
5) Show physical attraction and feelings coming and going, but ultimately it is a choice to love and fulfill God's plan.
6) Make sure that the hero and heroine really know and love each other, flaws and all.

So these are my thoughts. Again, I love romance, and I think there are very good ways to write romances. I’ve read some great ones by authors like Francine Rivers, Mary Lu Tyndall, Julie Klassen, Deeanne Gist, and Ruth Axtel Morren. I like when despite the strong feelings between the hero and heroine, a lot of prayer and even God's supernatural intervention are required to get them together. I also love the silly chick lit novels that have romance but on a much more realistic level. Okay, and I like it when the hero is totally hot, as long as the right message comes through :)

What’s your favorite romance?

Today I’m giving away a favorite historical romance of mine, Measure of a Lady by Deeanee Gist. To enter leave a comment with your email address and spaces around the @ for your protection .

On a different subject, if anyone would like to hear more about the inspiration behind the book I wrote in six days, check out my new "Awesome Inspirationals" post. You can link to it from our sidebar.

Dina Sleiman

34 comments:

  1. Don't enter me for the contest because I already have the book, but that was a great post. Very candid and real and sometimes that's what is needed.

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  2. Thanks, Adge. I appreciate the encouragement.

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  3. I fell in love with the guy I couldn't take my eyes from, but later I married the man God intended for me. There's a lot of pain sandwiched in between those sentences.

    I don't blame romance novels--I blame my rebellious spirit. I was so ready to say, "Thanks, Lord, he's great, I'll take it from here!"

    That way usually lies disaster.

    I'd like to win the book...I love DeeAnne's writing and this is one title I DIDN'T acquire in Denver. LOL

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  4. Thanks, Dina, for your honesty. As a girl who read lots of romance novels, I was right there with you. I, too, had a "romantic" meeting with my husband and then some hard years after, but it's amazing how God has used that to grow us into the people He longed for us to be!

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  5. Good point, Deb. The real problem was in me. On the other hand, since many of us write romance, I think it's important for us to be very careful of the messages we send to young women.

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  6. Excellent post, Dina. We need more transparent believers like you! Thanks, too, for mentioning me in your list of authors. Oh, and no need to enter me for the contest--not only did I read and enjoy Measure of a Lady, I edited it. :)

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  7. Very true blogpost. Thanks for like Julie said, being transparent!

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  8. I'm printing your list off. Those are awesome, and would certainly make for a deeper, lesson-filled romance. Thanks for sharing!

    P.S. I'm sorry to hear about your marriage trials, but you're so right, God uses adversity to grow us and mold us into the people He want's us to become!! Even spouses are instruments to that end.

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  9. I appreciate Christian romance precisely for its differences with the main stream. I think that, by definition, secular romances can only provide a very shallow mirror image of true love, that's why they so often end up focusing on the physical aspects of attraction. But we CBA authors get to add in the element of the spirit and it makes all the difference in rounding out both our characters and our stories.

    Thanks for sharing your real life story Dina. I think it is romantic, much more so than one of the so called love stories that Nicholas Sparks writes. That you both changed enough to agree to a post like this is absolute proof of love. His for you, yours for him and God for you both.

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  10. So much wisdom and courage in this posting. These are thoughts that should be put into realistic romances. I too believe as Christian writers we have an obligation to show what real love is all about. I hope to read more from you, Dina. You have so much to offer from your wealth of experience, and talent.

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  11. God has been speaking to my heart recently about how important transparency is in Christian ministry. Most people seem to think the opposite, that leaders need to act like they have it all together. In my experience, that route doesn't work nearly as well as honesty.

    God has given each of us a story, and if we tear out some of the pages, what good will it do anyone else?

    Dina

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  12. Susanne, I heard of a new release by David C. Cook publishers called something like Romancing the Vampire. Anyway, from what I understood the premise is that the vampire hero is a poor imitation for what we truly seek in Christ. Kind of fits what you're saying.

    Dina

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  13. Dina,
    thanks for being 'clear' and transparent!
    Your story is proof of the transforming love of God. May He continue to bless and use you and Dani to reach others for Him!

    I bought into the romance notion back when Barbara Cartland was on every shelf. Needless to say a Rake and a Rogue sometimes stay that way. What's exciting in a dating relationship may not make for a good marriage! The realization can be devastating if we don't go into a marriage with a true knowledge of what love is, and that's so hard to do when we're young (especially to the dreamers among us!)

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  14. Hey Dina, thank you for the insightful post. I know you've blessed many today with your words.

    I deleted my previous comment because I wrote it quickly and it didn't come out like I wanted it to, but anyhoo, I was referring to the Twilight phenomenon and the possibility of girls' (and women's) expectations that their husbands, future and present, will behave with Edward's slavish devotion to Bella. If that shapes a girl's view of what a husband is, she'll be disappointed.

    Lori Lundquist has a great post on her blog about our longing for perfect love. (www.lorilundquist.blogspot.com)Sounds a bit like the book you mentioned, Dina (I'll have to check it out!)

    Thank you again for the candid post. Many of us can relate to it, I'm sure.

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  15. I think one of the reasons I so enjoy inspirational romance is that, having removed the sex from the equation, the characters have to find other ways to develop their relationship, and faith is usually that way.

    Don't you wish more folks hung in through "the hard years"? Many of us have them. There are loads of stories to be told there.

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  16. Great post Dina. I know your husband very well and I'm shocked that you are still with him :)

    Dear all,
    If you think that Dina's post is very transparent and revealing, wait until you read her upcoming book that she wrote in 6 days. (She rested on the 7th day:) I stayed up late last night reading it and I think that she did an excellent job covering most of the seen and unseen areas of our lives.
    Now when I look back at our life together I see God's finger prints all over. I praise Him for the wonderful person that He sent to share my life. It was very tough but very much worth it.
    Love you Dina. Keep up the good work.
    Dani

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  17. Great post. Do not enter me in the contest. I have already gotten the book. It was awesome. I love her books. thanks.
    tarenn98[at]yahoo[dot]com

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  18. Thanks Dani and all.

    Here's Deb's email so she will be officially entered in the grand prize drawing as well.

    kinthu @ att .net

    Dina

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  19. Dina and Dani,

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. Light only shines through transparent glass!

    I also am finding a place over my keyboard for your list of what a Christian romance should have.

    Wenda

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  20. I love the story you posted, the older couple is myself and my husband. we are coming up this next March to 49 years married. Four children, 8 grandchildren and 3 g-granddaughters. Our family has really grown, but we are just as we started living alone with each other again,

    Please enter me for a chace to win this wonderful book


    mamat2730(at)charter(dot)net

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  21. Thanks for your honest post. I think that we all get married with certain expectations. As we mature and grow in our relationship with God we see how silly some of our preconcieved notions are. I can look back today and think back to how silly I was about some things. It is a good thing that God is so patient. As for romances, I love passionate romances because I equate it with the passionate relationship we should have with Christ. I want to feel the deep, raw emotions of the characters. It really is a shame that so many secular romance writers confuse passion with sex. There is a difference.

    cherierj(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  22. Thanks, Edna, for sharing about your lovely family.

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  23. Cherie,

    I really like your comment about having a passionate relationship with Christ. In my new nonfiction book I have a chapter talking about marriage as a symbol for our relationship with Christ. I was having a hard time finding positive scriptures about passion.

    Then I switched to the Message version. It had tons of positive scriptures about passion. That made my day.

    Dina

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  24. Dina: You and Dani were obviously meant for each other, though He wasn't going to make it easy! Thanks for the honesty -- as well as the HEA ending thus far.

    Communication between a couple is one of the most important factors. But it's one that must be practiced and honed.

    Your website is awesome. I have tons more to add to my list. Yours right up there on top.

    We leave them (our characters) at the alter. HEA. That's why I don't always enjoy 'series' books. Because then I learn that the couple I swam upstream with are now just normal and boring like
    most of us! :-)))

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  25. Connie, my Dance of the Dandelion book is the first in a series. Each will have it's own new romance, which should keep the readers happy, but I will also have a chance to explore some of the real life trouble Dandelion and her hero experience. And it's not just boring trouble. Some of it's pretty dramatic since Dandelion made some poor choices in her youth.

    Dina

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  26. Dina, Wow, what a tonic of reality/dose of encouragement! Not an easy thing to do, Dina!

    My favorite romance?

    A Passion Denied FOR SURE!


    If you read Julie Lessman's first and second books but haven't made time for the third, RUN to get the third. What I love is the development of the relationship between the sisters and the metamorphosis into their married behavior, the struggle of a "rock solid" marriage a la Patrick and Marcy O'Connor, and the introduction of sociocultural issues from the time period.

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  27. Patti, I need to check out that series. I keep hearing great things about it, and I know Julie Lessman has stopped by several times. It's on my mental "to be read list." Now if I can just get through the actual stack of books beside my bed, maybe I can buy some more.

    Dina

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  28. Dina, this was absolutey lovely. I've been thinking about it all day, but couldn't post until now. You are a truly gifted writer. It seems, no matter your subject, you touch me. Thank you. I'm so glad you were able to work through your rough spots.

    I also went into a marriage thinking it would be like a romance novel. Then the real world walked in. The good news is, we will celebrate our 27th anniversary next month.

    Last, but not least, your husband's comments brought tears to my eyes. He is truly a gem. He read your book! Seriously, I'm so happy to see the love and support you both demonstrate toward each other and I pray you will have so many wonderful and blessed years together.

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  29. Oops! 28 years next month, not 27. And I love your website, Dina. I'm very proud to be part of this blog with you.

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  30. Aw, shucks, Susie Jo. Thanks.

    Thanks again to everyone who gave so much great feedback today, and thanks for your support of honest, transparent writing. I feel like this is a confirmation of the direction the Lord has been leading me lately.

    Dina

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  31. Good post Dina. I think that this understanding of the 1 Cor 13 definition of love also translates into other major life circumstances we find ourselves in. Especially when it involves commitment. For me, I sometimes have a love-hate commitment to my job and want to 'give-up' when my role or identity in the job is challenged. For others, it may be kids or ministry.

    But I like the idea that God brings us to places, people and even situations to refine our character and grow in this unconventional definition of love. I think 1 Peter 1 speaks well to how our faith is refined by fire. The fire that can come to marriage, job or family refines who we are in Him....I needed this post today.

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  32. Yes, God's view on love is pretty unconventional, even radical.

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  33. The Winner of Measure of a Lady is April!

    Dina

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  34. Oops, missed the line where April mentioned she already had the book. That means our new winner is Deb!

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