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While dining at a local Italian restaurant with my 10-year-old daughter, she read an ad for an upcoming Valentine’s Day special, which sounded like serious romance to her. “You and Dad should come here for that,” she sagely advised. I told her that we didn’t usually do a lot for Valentine’s Day. “Dad’s not really the romantic type. Flowers and valentines are not his thing.”

My next nugget of wisdom, had I gotten it out, was going to be something about how he enjoys spending time with me, that he shows me he loves me whenever he fixes the doorknob or makes dinner, and that he listens when I need to be heard.

She stopped me in my tracks with a dubious look and the heartfelt question, “What were you thinking?! When you married him, I mean?” I laughed out loud and gave my version of romance anyway, which didn’t seem to make much of an impression.

As a teen, I myself spent an inordinate amount of time immersed in romance novels. I ran the gamut from the mother of all Christian romance novelists, Grace Livingston Hill, to Janette Oke, made the jump to Danielle Steel, then on to, well, even less pious romances. In each I found some of the same elements.

A virtuous, intelligent and usually gorgeous but overlooked young woman (preferably with long, flowing hair) falls in love with a strong, handsome and often wealthy young man who exudes a sense of mystery. This young man will likely have a dark side, a rebellious nature and our heroine will help him with whatever personal agony he must endure.

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In the Christian romances, he becomes convinced of the error of his ways and marries his virginal bride. In the others, he turns out to be a good man, deep down, no matter how dangerous he might be, and the couple’s relationship also comes to consummation, though usually more explicitly and well in advance of any wedding night.

There are shades of this framework in everything from Jane Austen to Twilight. And there’s a reason. Who wouldn’t want to marry handsome, wealthy Mr. Darcy? What teenage girl can resist being such a temptation and obsession to a surreally beautiful man, even if he is a vampire?

Unfortunately, girls who devour these romances can be ruined for real men forever. I mean, really, who has the Darcy fortune? Who among parents thinks it’s a great idea for girls to evangelize through dating? And, seriously, what man can compete with the book form of Twilight’s Edward, whose very breath is dizzying, always, and who makes you the absolute center of his universe? Any man who sneaks in your window to watch you sleep every night and who follows your every move is a stalker, not a prospective life partner.

As my daughter enters the age of romance, I hope that she can see more than the hearts and flowers that decorate her room, her wardrobe and her imagination. I also hope that as she begins to form relationships with the opposite sex, she grows to know love beyond the urgency of first infatuation. I know that she sees her parents as being rather dull. Dad is neither mysterious nor particularly rugged. He likes hanging out at home. I certainly do not fit her expectations of a glamorous woman – no earrings, no makeup and less-than-flowing hair. “A boring old mama,” as she summed me up a few years back.

I pray that God will someday bring just the right imperfect man for my beautiful, imperfect daughter, if marriage is in her future, and that she’ll find her value in being a child of God first and foremost. And I’m grateful for her grandparents’ long marriages, which are a wonderful affirmation of the everyday reality of love and commitment. No half-price Valentine’s Day pasta or soon-faded flowers can compare to that kind of romance.

What Do You Think?

  • What depictions of romance influenced you as a child?
  • How might a Gospel vision of romantic relationships differ?
  • What are ways to counter unhealthy romantic expectations that society presents to kids?

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