In a world where social media is adding to the countless romance titles on our ‘to be read’ lists, are our favourite book men setting the bar too high when it comes to our standards and turning us into toxic women? 

If you were to ask a single, heterosexual female romance reader what their ideal man would be, we would probably respond with: ‘Six-foot something, tall, dark and written by Emily Henry’.

We are infatuated with the idea of love, and we are equally overcome with anxiety that it will never find us, that no one will love us fiercely enough, and so we turn to literature to fill the void.  

Romance is a female-dominated genre, meaning our beloved book men have almost always been plucked straight from a woman’s mind. 50% of romance readers confess that they devour a book weekly, proving that we’re always on the hunt for our next fictional boyfriend to restore our faith in the male species.

The writers start by letting us dip our toe into reality; the love interests usually have traits we simply wouldn’t tolerate in a partner.

They are emotionally unavailable (Adam Carlsen, we’re looking at you!), jealous and brooding (Conrad Fisher, please stand up…), and they tend to have emotional baggage— usually from previous relationships— that we spend chapters getting to the bottom of (Miles Archer, tick tick tick). But then we fall headfirst into a lagoon of driving passion and happy endings, where we find out that he has loved her all along and was hiding how he felt about her just in case she didn’t feel the same.  

These men are charming and mysterious, and we defend them at every turn because we think these grand romantic gestures will never happen to us.

With the turn of each page, we are reminded that if book men do exist in our world, they must all be on house arrest because they don’t seem to venture to bars and certainly aren’t hidden in the deep, dark realm of dating apps. 

Connie Copley, 20, is part of a GoodReads romance book club and feels that books have sent her standards skyrocketing. 

She said: “Being in a book world where the man has all the qualities of a dream boyfriend- educated, independent, supportive, genuine- clouds the reality that not all men are like that, and at the end of the day, it’s just fiction. 

“I think those expectations do pass through into relationships because they set the bar so high”.

This is the exact reason we find ourselves indulging in romance novels— they allow us to experience the best parts: the tension between office ‘enemies’ doing everything in their power to keep their eyes away from each other, the childhood sweethearts reuniting and the couple in the fake relationship who are forced to stay in a hotel room together. 

It is far from anything we are experiencing in our own love lives– let’s face it, a drunken kiss in the back of an Uber definitely isn’t cutting it… 

If you’re guilty of this, you’re certainly not alone.

Romance novels are selling more copies than they have in over a decade, which is no surprise; just glancing over the ‘TikTok made me read it’ table in Waterstones would be all the evidence needed. 

Online reading communities, like our trusty ‘#BookTok’, which has over 132 billion views, give readers a platform to bond over their favourite book boyfriends, allowing the genre to expand beyond a guilty pleasure. 

When we are presented with other females who think just like us, it fuels our fire- we have created a virtual hate club for men who don’t live up to our extravagant expectations. 

Unfortunately for us, we are stabbing ourselves in the back: 45% of women surveyed by Cosmopolitan admit that they’re unhappy with their love life, hence why we simply exist, waiting for our favourite tropes to find their way into our lives. 

We are clinging onto the slightest bit of eye contact with our workplace ‘enemy’, waiting for our male friends to confess their undying love and writing a pros and cons list of moving to a small village. 

The harsh reality is that the time we are spending obsessing over a perfect love story is the time we could be spending out there, looking for our Mr Right. 

You have to feel sorry for these poor souls on Hinge, who spend their precious time curating their profiles, selecting their best pictures of themselves with their most attractive friend and a close-up of their Cockapoo. They will then spend a few more seconds scrolling through our profiles, deciding which of our selfies is going to fall victim to their insufferable pick-up lines.

Who is going to tell them that it isn’t going to touch the sides with us, as we’ve probably got our noses in a 300-page fantasy land where the protagonist has just found out that his bedroom walls are painted the same colour as her eyes? 

Karen Perkins, a dating coach, feels that in an age dominated by online dating, young women crave an exciting love story. Karen compares setting out standards to creating a ‘shopping list’ and says it is far from a toxic trait, but we must hold ourselves back from quitting at the first red flag. 

She said: “The thing about romantic literature is finding good books that make you feel happy and enlightened and tempted to move into the dating world. 

“Readers need to find things that they like in the literature and hold men up against it.

“It’s easy to waste years moping, thinking ‘I’ll never meet someone’, but if you put yourself out there, it’s all good practice for when you do meet the right person later on. 

It seems our books have clouded our perception of love: Whether we’re sitting on a train or on a park bench, we are anticipating an epic ‘meet cute’ and spoiler alert- the chances of it happening are extremely slim.

We need to remember that everyone gives and receives love differently, and this is something that divides us.

Psychologists tell us that women are more empathetic than men, and sorry boys, there is science to prove it. We are more likely to empathise with our fictional favourites, going through the motions of their relationship with them.  

Karen also feels that men who aren’t as open about love- and hide behind the comfort of their dating apps- may feel overwhelmed by our enthusiasm towards it. 

She said: ‘I think there are lots of men out there that find it difficult to connect with women, which is a shame because it’s likely that they are often the nice, quiet ones.

“It’s all about pulling the nice people, who have the potential to meet your expectations, out of their social media landscapes and into the real world”. 

The bottom line is that our dating checklists will not be impossible to tick off. In fact, it will actually be pretty easy if we just put our bookmarks in our romance novels and give real men a chance: by doing this, we may just find exactly who we have been reading about. 

If you liked this post then read Toxic Tropes: Should bad boys be banned? or Cyber love: Romance novels in the digital era next.

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Karen Perkins

Karen Perkins is an accredited life coach who has been working with MatchMakers since 2014. She aids her clients in their pursuit to find the perfect life partner by offering vital pointers and tips, as well as assisting in the acclimation to online dating.

Image of author, N.E. Davenport and her book, The Blood Trails