Sunday marks my sixth wedding anniversary, and almost exactly ten years since my husband and I first met. As anyone who has been a long-term relationship with another human—romantic, platonic, or even familial—knows, relationships take a lot of fucking work. Sometimes when the deck is stacked against you, in the outside world or just in your own head, it feels like the only thing to do is walk away from it. Sometimes it is the right thing to do. But sticking around even when things absolutely suck, when you know it's not irretrievably broken but you have no idea what to do to fix it, is what long-term relationships are made of.
Every single day, I am so glad that both of us were too stubborn (and maybe a little too stupid) to throw in the towel and walk away. Even when it would have made perfect sense to do it.
And now for TMI (look away, Mom). Not all marriages are built the same, but ours is one with romantic love at its heart, and for us, sex is kind of really important. Except that for years of our relationship, I could not have cared less about it. A combination of internal and external factors, not least my struggle with major depression and generalized anxiety disorder, left me with no interest, and worse, guilt and anxiety about that same lack of interest. A fun and exciting cocktail of lady boner killers, if ever there was one.
I tried everything I could think of. I addressed my mental health issues. I got medicated, I went to therapy, we went to therapy together. I struggled to get myself out of my head and into my body. And finally, in a fit of 'what the hell could it hurt' I read a contemporary romance novel. (I'm not telling which one.) And it...gave me pants feels. It felt like a freaking miracle.
Romance novels saved my marriage. Really. Reading romance, aside from being entertaining and filled with sexy fantasy adventures, gave me a vocabulary for expressing what I wanted when it came to real-life sex. I could point to specific passages and scenarios when talking to my husband, and that felt less risky to me than trying to put words to desires that had only ever been nebulous at best.
Romance gave me tools to have agency over my body again. For years, I felt betrayed by a body that just. Would. Not. Cooperate with me. But in reading so many (so many) novels that celebrate pleasure and agency, I found ways to put my head and my body back together again.
I devoured romance across genres and heat levels. I hated some, I love some. I've reread others multiple times, and not just the sexy parts. When romance writers are good, they're damn good. And I keep reading them, not only for the dirty bits, but because at their core, romance novels are about hope. The hope that two (or more) people can connect in a lasting and meaningful way. That love really can conquer all. Even when they're dark, romance novels promise us that we can have a happily ever after. That we deserve a happily ever after, no matter how flawed and fucked up we are. And the world needs more of that right now. More hope, more love, more working to overcome our fears so we can connect with others.
So along with celebrating my anniversary with my husband, I'm celebrating my love affair with the romance genre. Thank you, to all of the writers out there, putting more love and joy and yes, sexy sex out into the world. Thank you for making me one of you, for helping me find my own calling writing joy, love, and sex. For giving me hope.