Today is my wife’s 30th birthday and the only thing she’ll hate more than me making a big deal of it, is me making a big deal of it on a blog that reaches tens of people. So instead of writing a sappy post about how amazing and beautiful she is (both of which are true) I’m going to tell you about some literary love stories that don’t hold a candle to our love. That is not to say that I don’t like these books, in fact, many of them are favorites. They just don’t compare to us.
1. Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare
Romeo & Juliet has long been respected as the pinnacle of love stories. But I’ve never understood why. Romeo and Juliet are two teenagers who ignore their parents’ wishes and throw caution to hormones. And then they kill themselves. I hope this isn’t a spoiler. Like, I really hope this isn’t a spoiler. But at this point, I don’t care. If you think Romeo & Juliet is a beautiful story of love and loss, I’d be okay if you navigated away right now. (Please don’t stop reading. I’m not finished destroying other books you love.)
2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
They’re kids, drawn together by sucky circumstances. So much of their relationship is built on their common suffering. And yes, a long relationship is built out of understanding and commonalities. But Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters fell in love with each other out of convenience. It’s idealized. It’s fast. It’s everything teenagers are supposed to feel and feel hard. It may be real, but that kind of love is fleeting.
3. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
I have a lot of feelings about Me Before You and very few of them are good. Nearly everything in this book is misrepresented. I don’t want to get into this, but if you want to read a really well-written column by a writer whose feelings align with mine, you can go here. This book was touted to me as this amazing love story that shows how love conquers all. BUT LOVE DIDN’T CONQUER ANYTHING HERE! Louisa was so brave for loving Will, despite his disabilities. Will loved Louisa so deeply and it shows in his treatment of her. Seriously?! This book was highly offensive in so many ways. Please don’t ever compare my love with this book. I’ll vomit. (It’s really hard to explain all my feelings without spoiling a book and I try very hard not to spoil books, excepting Romeo & Juliet, of course.)
4. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
If you’ve not read Eleanor & Park, you need to right now. Stop what you’re doing and go to a bookstore and buy it now. (Bonus points if it’s an indie store.) And then come home, open the first page, and don’t stop reading until you’re done. Then breathe in deep, close the book, cry, and thank me for giving you the best afternoon ever. If any of the stories on this list represent the kind of love I hope I display with my wife, it’s this one. Even then, though, it’s teenage love. And teenage love is like a flash in the dark. It’s not a slow burn. And Park loves Eleanor, but Park also sees himself as Eleanor’s savior. I often find it hard to connect with a love story that evolves from a hero complex, probably because I don’t think every woman is a helpless princess. Probably because I don’t want to rescue a damsel in distress. Not that Eleanor is a typical damsel in distress. She’s strong and broken and beautiful, she just needs help. Needing help doesn’t make you a damsel in distress. But often, these types of loves depict just that.
5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Seriously. Is there a better opening line in any book than this one? And I love this book. I love Elizabeth Bennet; she is one of the funniest characters written in literature, ever. But so much of Pride and Prejudice is the overcoming of class and society at the time. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s story makes for exciting fiction, but I hope nobody feels they have to defend my relationship with my wife by saying “but it defied all the odds.” Like The Hunger Games, I want the odds in my favor.
This isn’t even the tip of the iceberg on bookish romances. I could start writing today and not stop until next year. But you absolutely don’t want my opinion on every love story I’ve ever read.
Where are the books about the slow romances with long courtships that are kind of boring and wholly wholesome? Where are the books about two friends who grow very close and love each other more every day? Where are the books about sacrifice, on both parts, to support and uplift each other? Those are the books that could compare to our love. I feel, though, that these books are all nonfiction. I fear these books are based in fact, not fiction. Because fictional love is big and loud and overwhelmingly beautiful. But it’s nothing compared to what we find outside of the pages of a novel. (But don’t give up reading those love stories. They’re important. They shape us.)
So, happy birthday to the love of my life. And to the rest of you, happy reading.
The Plucky Reader