Finding elusive love in the modern world of dating
“Chick-lit” is, of course, the slang expression for those books appealing especially to women. Though not politically correct, most men and women use this moniker when thinking of romance novels, most Christian fiction, books that address feelings (Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus), many self-improvement books and even diet books. The all-time classic chick-lit novel is undoubtedly Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a book that many women treasure and which wise men wishing to better understand women read.
Patience Bloom’s Romance Is My Day Job: A Memoir of Finding Love at Last (ISBN 978-0-525-95438-5, $26.95) might well epitomize modern-day chick-lit, for Bloom not only writes of her love life over a period of 20 years, but has also worked for 16 years at Harlequin, the publisher extraordinaire of romance novels.
We begin our journey through Patience Bloom’s many loves — that name, by the way, is near perfect for a fan of romance novels — when Bloom is in a private high school. There she first becomes enamored with romance novels. There, too, under the spell of these novels, she commences her search for a romantic hero who will someday sweep her off her feet, carry her off to bed and seek her hand in marriage. After her first real date ditches her at a school formal, a student named Sam with a wild reputation asks her to dance. For a short part of the evening, she feels a surge of affection for the young man, but eventually he returns to his own date and the moment passes.
Throughout the rest of the book, we follow Bloom from city to city, job to job and man to man. In college she dates a wild, often-drunken student inclined toward suicide; in France she flirts with waiters; in Colorado she teaches, works on a higher degree and suffers more broken relationships. Finally, she returns to Manhattan where, while working as a temp, she wins a job at Harlequin. Having never lost her love of romance novels, she now finds herself in her dream job.
Past 40, still unmarried but always encouraged by various friends as well as her mother and her brother Patrick, Bloom one day receives an invitation on Facebook to accept Sam as a friend, the young man she had briefly loved so long ago. They began chatting, and then skyping — Sam is teaching in Israel — and soon they become attracted to each other. With his teaching obligations at an end, Sam flies to New York to meet the girl he had danced with so many years ago. To say more than this would spoil the conclusion of the book.
In Romance Is My Day Job, Bloom has given readers a courageous book. Despite her excellent education and sophistication — she spent a good part of her childhood in France and was raised in a world of high academics — Bloom readily admits her deep desire for real love and for marriage. Though disillusioned at times, she views dating and relationships, at least in some ways, as mirroring the situations found in romance novels. She confesses her yearning for a man, admits to various relationships that explode in her face, and takes pride in the work she does at Harlequin, a firm publishing books that serious publishers and critics scorn.
From her many experiences, Bloom also beomes a keen observer of the dating scene. She dates all sorts of men and reports on the consequences by comparing her adventures, often humorously, to the heroes of the romance novels she adores. Her informal, straight-up style enhances these descriptions. Here, for example, she describes a train ride into Manhattan with “Superman,” an extremely attractive lover who, as she well knows, will break up with her when they reach their station:
“This would be nice — a hero who tries to woo me back into love — but usually this hero reactivates his dating profile immediately. Superman can’t possibly be dateless for long. I will savor these last few minutes. I steal glances at him, snoring away openmouthed as the train whisks us along more breathtaking vistas. Even in deep slumber and with a hint of drool off the side of his mouth, he is hot. Thick fisherman’s sweaters. Jeans. Perfect hair. Towering over me even in a train seat.”
Romance Is My Day Job does have its flaws. Bloom’s story bogs down in the middle of the book, and she relates so many tales of different dates that they soon blend together. Her use of various romantic figures from the fiction she edits as a counterpoint to real-life men sometimes becomes confusing.
She more than makes up for these weaknesses, however, when she relates her growing attraction to Sam. She reveals to us — men, take note — how much effort she puts into her appearance before she and Sam first meet, from the color and size of her dress to the makeup on her face. By these descriptions, she creates suspension about this meeting, and her planning once again reveals that many women, if a man has attracted their interest, approach the first date, and subsequent dates as well, with the care and planning of a general embarking on a major campaign.
In the end, Romance Is My Day Job reminds us that love and romance are real, that they often arrive unexpectedly, and that the willingness to risk being hurt can sometimes portend love and affection.