Sixteen years ago today I married my high school sweetheart. I still laugh to think we ended up together, because through three and a half years of high school I pegged him as an arrogant jock. It’s funny how things changed during one car ride home from school.

Back then, few kids had access to cars during the day, so if you knew somebody who had wheels, you treated the vehicle like a clown car and piled full, riding all the way home in discomfort. (At least it saved you the discomfort of riding the bus.) Packed in the backseat of a Geo Tracker, I was forced to listen to this arrogant jock tell jokes and, heaven help me, I had an up-close view of his beautiful smile.

When it was my turn to be dropped off, I remember pushing through the back screen door feeling like I’d been punched in the gut. It hurt to breath. My eyes burned and my head pounded right along with the heart in my chest. (My journal stands as proof.)

You see, the game had changed. And my life has never been the same.

I’m not sure what this point is called in a plot. (As a pantser turned plotter, I’m still learning the lingo.) What I do know is that in many romance novels the heroine has a similar experience. From Page One, for or one reason or another, she thinks the hero is a jerk, and she tries to ignore him religiously. If she can’t ignore him, she treats him with disdain and even humiliates him. But then in what seems like a single moment of clarity, everything changes. He’s smarter than she thought. Funnier. He’s better looking too. Or if she thought he was good looking to begin with, she notices something endearing like a dimple or his high-voltage smile.

I asked my husband if he had a similar moment with me, and he says he can’t remember. Maybe guys don’t think like that. Heck, maybe non-romance writers don’t think like that either. But the more I think about it, the more I see how life imitates art.

We’re living our happily ever after now, but our romance had its “rug pull”—when I overheard him talking to a friend about a girl he met over the summer, causing us to have our first real fight and question how serious we wanted to be—and “catastrophe”—when he accepted a scholarship to play baseball far away from me, causing us to choose between the doomed long-distance relationship or the pain of breaking up before he left.

I’ve heard people trash romance novels as unrealistic and as irresponsible because they set women up for lives filled with disappointment—real romances aren’t like the romances in fiction books. I disagree. Unless you’re reading a pirate, bodice-ripper from the 1970s, today’s romance novels can be downright autobiographical—all the better if you’re a showgirl or you’re married to a sheik or you’re the wedding planner to the stars. *grin*

Seriously, though, romance is a gift. On my sixteenth anniversary, I’d like to thank my husband for twenty years of heart palpitations and mind-numbing kisses, and I’d like to thank the authors of romance novels around the world who taught me a love like this was possible.

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