The very basis of a romance novel is this: Two people have each experienced certain things in their lives. In reaction, they have armed themselves, so that said things never happen to them again. Then love comes along, and it requires that the armour be removed just long enough for their lover to touch a finger to their skin, directly over their beating heart.
It’s a hugely romantic idea – but not unrealistic, I think. Part of loving special k is that I trust him so completely, he’s the one place I can fully set my burdens down and feel the curious tenderness of being exposed, and know that I’m not about to be hurt.
Not that this armour, these defences, are bad. They’re part of what makes people interesting, and unique. But they tend to be terrifying to let down. And, contrary to most romance out there, unless you’ve been through years of therapy, you probably couldn’t articulate exactly what those defences are.
I did a self-development course a couple of years ago, and I came to the realisation that I don’t share myself. So the challenge was to call people who are important to me and share that information with them. See the problem there?
My experience at that moment was not a thought like, “I am being emotionally challenged by the idea of sharing. I can’t do this.” It was a visceral certainty that the world would end as soon as I opened my mouth.
So every time I read a heroine thinking, “My parents died, and then my first husband was an emotionally cold bastard, so as lovely as this man is, I can’t afford to love him,” it rings false.
Much truer to have a character simply experience the world as a place where love can never happen again. And when love begins to happen, it feels like a world breaking.