A Tale of Two Romances

Today I welcome a friend who’s generously agreed to write a guest post to continue the discussion of Romance for Men! (Previous RFM post is here.) Please welcome author K.R. Treadway to discuss the tale of the two romances.

Many men’s romance fans are also readers in the traditional romance market. The “trad market” is just a shorthand way of referring to mainstream published romances—the books you find if you visit the “Romance” section of your local bookstore. If all you know about the trad market is a bad joke about bored housewives or Fabio selling a butter substitute, here’s a quick summary:

Women make up the vast majority of both the authors and the readership of this market segment, but men shouldn’t feel like they’re trespassing. Many men regularly enjoy these books. According to the RWA (Romance Writers of America), approximately 18% of mainstream romance readers are men (and that number is going up). There are also plenty of male authors in this space, but most of them prefer to write under female pen names or pick a name with (ahem) abbreviated first initials.

So journey to the back of the bookstore and browse away, I swear there are books there that men will enjoy. You don’t even have to wear sunglasses and an overcoat to disguise your identity, because the traditional romance community is extremely welcoming to men.

So long as you stick to Romance: the Genre.

As a guy who’s been a mainstream romance fan (and writer) for years, let me clue new dudes in: when referring to the vast community of romance readers, it’s super important to understand that there are actually TWO Romances.

The first is “Romance: the Genre” (RtG). This is what I’m usually talking about when I talk about Romance: that huge collection of love stories stuffed with “happily ever afters” (HEAs) that makes up 23% of the entire fiction market. This is a community that’s for everyone, because everyone deserves love in their lives. Women should be celebrated for pioneering this genre, but they don’t own it. Every gender and sexual expression has a seat at the table.

The other Romance is “Romance: the Safe Space” (RtSS). As a genre, Romance has historically served as a safe space for women for decades, a place to indulge their fantasies without being denigrated or mocked by men. When you consider how much society still mocks romance (and yet doesn’t make fun of traditional men’s fantasies, like James Bond), it’s clear that RtSS is still very much needed.

You’ve probably spotted the Gordian Knot here: RtG is inclusive, and RtSS is exclusive, yet both of them exist in near perfect overlap. What’s more, most fans of romance won’t even see the distinction. That means that men will generally be welcomed and celebrated in RtG, but if you threaten—even unintentionally—RtSS, the retribution will be swift. You will get shut down, and the backlash can get ugly.

Understand this: the fear that men will barge into their beloved community and start calling the shots is very real to many female readers. People can be vicious when they see their status quo being threatened (lest we forget how men have treated women trying to assert equal rights in business and society). It’s not fair, and it can be deeply hurtful, but these are the social dynamics at play.

[Side Note: If you are a white male, you probably haven’t experienced the ugliness of a “majority elbow drop” before. Suffice it to say, the romance community has added quite a few emotional IQ points to my own perspective.]

RtSS is not really our concern. I mention it so you’ll understand why you might say something very reasonable and sometimes still get your arm broke. It helps to be aware of it, and respect how important and vital it has been (and continues to be) for women, but it’s not our space.

But Romance: the Genre is our space. It’s everyone’s space. Embrace it! RtG is a massive tent, and it can certainly accommodate men underneath it (it already does). So if you see me in the romance section, give me a bro nod and strike up a conversation; I’ll be the guy desperately trying to get someone to read Mary Balogh.

K. R. Treadway writes romantic shorts and novels with male-friendly themes. His most recent book, His Orc Charioteer Bride, is currently available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.

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