I recently blazed through the first four of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books. The series follows Claire Beauchamp, a feisty former WWII nurse who falls through time into 1743 Scotland, just before the second Jacobite uprising. As she struggles to return to her own time, she meets Jamie Fraser (my kinsman by fiction), and must determine whether or not her future lies in the past.
While some (I’d call nasty) critics categorize her books as romance novels, most others accurately describe them as historical fiction with a love story component. Oftentimes in novels romance and love are conflated or linked. I would argue, however, that they are separate entities and that the distinction is extremely important in non-fictional, contemporary relationships.
First, it is important to note the caveat of novelized romance & love: they are almost always told from a single protagonist’s perspective, and therefore the representation of romance and/or love is skewed. It is hopeful, jealous, and idealized. But is it true? Hardly ever.
Romance in real life is fleeting, I think, albeit charming. Romance is the sappy, quiet smile that dances over one’s face when their crush contacts them; it is the time and care put into giddily preparing for a date; it is when the relationship is shaped by idealized notions of a person.
Romance novels aptly capture this state of being, from one party’s perspective. They then typically lead the characters’ love through sex. This simple formula “Romance + sex = love” limits romance novels to be only a facsimile of real romance.
I would contend love is at the same time more mundane and powerful. Perhaps more importantly, it is shared, a perspective that romance novels often lack.
To me, love is picking up groceries for dinner together. It is listening to your partner tell about their whole day with snarky comments, not just the bullet point version designed for office memos. It is holding each other in bed because you want to, but also because at a certain point neither can remember how to fall asleep without the other. Love has faith in continued presence. It involves making sacrifices – by both, for both. But most of all it is about sharing: about sharing a narrative, thoughts, opinions, children, affection, romantic gestures, and time in its many fashions.
The Outlander series is composed of riveting historical fiction plotlines, but its love plot is equally complex as it demonstrates the importance of shared experience. The series is a dual-narrative with two protagonists. It cares about the lives and histories and secrets of both leading parties because they are as important as individuals as they are to one another. The characters’ love hinges upon more than solely physical interaction or romantic feelings; instead it also reflects love in boring, everyday details of togetherness.
I tend to think of myself as a practical romantic: I look at love critically and with great affection. In addition to being great historical fiction, Gabaldon’s novels reflect my attitude towards love and partnership. And thus, for me, the difference between romance and love (in both novels and life) is how love is not a question or a doubt: it is the presence of routine joy amidst the heather of passion and romance.
Author’s Aside: (Conveniently, I also find a similar joy in reading; therefore, I highly recommend you go purchase the whole series now and get a good stock of cocoa. You could find yourself smitten within no time!)