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Harlequin syndrome


When I was growing up, the mother of my best friend in late elementary (and junior high) school was a total romance junkie. She had a book of the month club subscription to Harlequin Romances. She would receive four quick-read trashy novels each month. The program had a 4 for 1 deal, where if she sent back four books, she'd get one free. I don't know if she took advantage of the deal, as she had three of four long bookcase shelves full of these books.

In late elementary school, right about when girls figure out what boys are, but boys still think girls are icky, I started reading them. I'd borrow a handful of the books and plow through them faster than my friend's mom. The descriptions of sex in the books were fluff, so a pre-teen reading the books wasn't going to get any type of sex-education from the books.

She was, however, going to get a seriously misconceived view of romance.

The biggest moment in all of these books was The First Time™. The first meeting. The first kiss. The first tear-off of all the clothes, including the overflowing bodice. The first fight. The suspense for each First was palpable on the page. The anticipation of each of those moments that was kept the reader engaged.

There was never any discussion about the aftermath.

Let's not talk about how, after the heroine survived locusts, hurricanes and an abusive, lustful insert some archetypical bad male character here, to find the hero and fall in love, she still had to wake up like the rest of us. She still had to cook, and poop, and work, and sleep, and, you know what, sex after children is just not that fun.

So, let's just stop the story at, whoo, they get together.

After about a year of the trash romances, and a lot of puzzlement from my friend ("Why do you read those books?"), I stopped reading them in disgust. They became time and time again all about the anticipation of love, with no substance. I grew weary of the strong, independent woman turning to mush over a man who probably wouldn't change from his quiet, stoic self, and suddenly open up. There was no realism in the books.

Of course, realism really isn't why people read these books in the first place.

I had difficulties with the basic fundamentals of the books. Ignoring the fact such a romance-novel perfect man couldn't possibly exist, I couldn't get past the implausible situations created for the two main characters to meet. The situations that were, 99% of the time, completely absurd.

So, yeah, I stopped reading them.

What lingered, however, was the sweet taste of anticipation. That moment leading up to the First Kiss? Oh, that was pure heaven. The act of falling in love has been show scientifically to be a cascade of various hormones that induce good feelings, happy emotions and, unsurprisingly, addictive behaviour. The rush of love follows the same pathways as the rush of some illegal drugs, making it sometimes as desired as those drugs.

Given my pre-pubescent trash novel literature tastes, is it surprising that I dated a lot in college?

Heather brought over Veronica Mars Season One last Saturday for Kris and I to watch. She had been watching for the last two seasons, and knew that we had run out of shows to watch (having gone through Firefly and Battlestar Galactice and Lost from Mike). She ordered the Season One DVDs, and brought them down for us when she stayed with us on Saturday night.

I watched the first three discs (that would be nine hours of television) by Sunday night. I finished all the shows by Tuesday night. Too many 1:00 am (natch: 3:00 am) nights these last two days for my own good.

Okay, disclaimer time: stop reading if you're going to watch the show and haven't yet. I'm about to comment on events on the fifth and subsequent discs, thereby spoiling the first 17 episodes for you.

Like you'd stop reading.


The fifth disc has that wonderfully delicious moment of the First Kiss. The anticipation for the kiss isn't there in the sense the build-up to the moment is short, but the writers did a good job of building up the potential for the relationship. Usually the suspense isn't there, and the anticipation is faked by the characters on screen, rarely felt in the audience.

This moment was different. The guy is a jerk, but you're rooting for him anyway.

It might have been because the characters portrayed were in high school, and the tortured memories of that period never really fade. You always hope that something good works out for someone of that age, because it never seemed to work out for you. It might be because the actor looks like a good friend. I'm not sure.

I think the his look of desire for her made the moment. That look reminded me of falling in love. It reminded me of that rush of emotions, that promise of good, that anticipation of sex and that closeness of the moment.

I've missed that emotion.

I hit rewind and watched it again.