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What I’ve Learned about Romance From My Characters

Making the romance real.

There’s lots of relationship advice floating around out there about how to achieve a happy ending. Some people might think that fiction isn’t the best place to go for romantic advice, but I’ve learned a lot from the characters in my books.

From my very first book, Spy Who Kissed Me, I learned that it doesn’t hurt to be skeptical when it seems like the perfect man has just dropped into your lap. Sometimes I think women give more thought and time to buying a car or an appliance than the man they are giving not just their time, but sometimes their bodies. It is a simple fact that sex clouds the judgment. Only in books are there no consequences to pre-marital intimacy. Stan, my heroine, wasn’t embarrassed by being a virgin and neither should you. Memo to your self: everybody doesn’t do it.

Dani Gwynn, from The Last Enemy, is one of my favorite characters. Life has kicked her trash to the wall and she’s still standing. She didn’t want to fall in love with tough guy, Matt Kirby. When it doesn’t look like Matt can get past his issues, she tells her best friend, “Love isn’t about what you want–or it isn’t love…If he can’t ask me to be a part of his life…then he isn’t right for me.”

When I wrote those words, I knew that Dani wouldn’t die from unrequited love. She was strong enough to be alone, rather than settle for something less than what she wanted. In fiction, I could give her the happy ending she longed for. Real life isn’t so simple. We need to be strong enough to be alone, to walk away from a relationship that isn’t giving us what we need and deserve from someone who claims to love us. It takes courage to let go of the dream for reality. Second memo to self: the truth and nothing but in your relationships if you want to be at peace with yourself.

Byte Me reminds me that love begins with hope. Phoebe had a lot against her when she fell in love with Jake Kirby, but she couldn’t quite give up hope that there was a way to work things out (and they had a lot to work out!). If we didn’t have hope something will come out of interaction with others, we wouldn’t bother to spend time with anyone. We’d stay home and get our romance vicariously from the movies or television. Hope is great in a relationship–if you have a right to have that hope.

If someone is married, run and save yourself. Someone once said that kindness without love is deception. I’d add that selfish love is also deception–and it won’t satisfy in the long run. Any relationship begun by an act of selfishness is poisoned from the start. And a man who will leave his family for you could, and probably will, do the same to you someday. It’s not a popular idea, but it is the truth. You can’t build something solid and lasting on a selfish foundation.

Missing You is a book about letting go of the past. Luke Kirby had to learn to let go of his deceased wife before he could be open to a new love. We pack our own emotional baggage and we can unpack it and put it away. Immutable truth of the universe: healing is always possible, but only if you let it happen. (This includes letting go of those people who don’t you love you enough, too!)

You don’t hear this much, because too many people have forgotten that life is about choices. We are born with the power to choose, but too many times we just give it up. Love is a choice. Getting over love is a choice. Walking away from the wrong relationship is a powerful choice and act of courage that will bring you real happiness.

A Dangerous Dance has a lot of lessons about the destructive power of selfish love. Anyone who puts their happiness ahead of yours doesn’t love you. It’s just that simple. A successful relationship grows, not from two perfect people, but two people willing to put the other person first and themselves second.

Learn to listen to, and trust, your instincts. If a guy makes you feel uneasy and nervous, get out, get away. Don’t worry about being polite or misjudging someone. Trust and friendship are earned, not given away as gifts to anyone who comes along. No one deserves to be trusted or loved because they are breathing.

Do Wah Diddy Die is also about choices and regrets, about not having the courage to embrace love when it is offered. Good guys are rare gems in real life. Only in novels do bad boys make great husbands (and only after they’ve been reformed by the love of that good woman!). Don’t overlook those guys who seem a little dull, who do the right things because they want to, not because someone is making them.

I’m not saying bad guys never reform. I am saying that they are bad by choice and only they can choose to be good. If you go into a relationship hoping to change someone, you’ll just end up disappointed and disillusioned.

In the end, the only person you can fix is yourself. Two people can be happy together, but no one can make you happy or give you happiness. Happiness is a gift that gets bigger and better when shared with Mr. Right, but it starts with a choice.

In Out of Time, my heroine Mel learns about sacrifice and doing the right thing, even when she wants to seize her own happiness. In many ways, Mel is all my heroines rolled into one. She’s brave, she’s kind, she’s strong and she knows when to let Jack do his guy thing. She doesn’t have to do all because she knows its more important to get the job done.

If you read my books, you’ll know that my characters don’t become intimate before marriage. Again, not a popular notion, but I’ve lived long enough to know one thing for sure: you’ll never find out anything important about a man by going to bed with him.

And you’ll find out a lot, by not doing it. (g)

Guys are at their most eloquent when trying to talk a woman into bed. Okay, the last memo to self: what a guy does tells you more about who he is and what is important to him than what he says. Talk is cheap. Talk is easy. Doing is hard.Acting takes courage and self-discipline. If he isn’t doing what he’s saying, do take yourself out of the relationship.

It’s nice getting flowers, but a guy who will do the dishes before going to work, so you don’t have to face them when you get up, is a keeper. Sticking it out, going to work and taking the trash cans to the curb year after year after year, loving me even when I look like death warmed over…now that’s true love. Grand romantic gestures are easy. Sticking with someone through the hard stuff isn’t.

Okay, so my characters didn’t teach me about romance, but they did help me define and distill l my own beliefs about romance, intimacy, and marriage. I’m not an expert on a lot of things, but after forty years of marriage, I think I can safely style myself an expert in how to find a keeper and then keep him. And I happen to believe that you can, too.