The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
My discovery of “spicy” BookTok was no accident. I too was once a Wattpad girlie. On weeknights I would stay up well past bedtime to binge yet another Boxer x Nerd romance, stifling my laughter as I read the hilarious, and sometimes highly inappropriate, comments. If you are familiar at all with the platform, you know that this dialogue is what completed the experience.
BookTok is its reincarnation, on steroids.
With TikTok quickly becoming the top social media platform, its versatility as both a forum and entertainment hub is apparent through its multiple sub-genres. Beyond thirst traps and dancing videos, you’ll find shorts about college hacks, NFTs, dating advice, and, of course, book recommendations.
BookTok, as this category is lovingly called, breaks down into even more niche categories. Realistic fiction, memoirs, celebrity recommendations, and more can be found in the plethora of content by, and for, literature lovers. Romance is perhaps its most popular area, ranging from list-type videos to trailer-style content.
As a lonely, touched-starved, hopeless romantic trudging through the pandemic, this discovery was a godsend. My camera roll became a gallery of screenshots of ratings, quotes, and covers of novels I would only read in the privacy of my own home.
So I finally picked one up.
“The Roommate” by Rosie Danan probably sounds familiar to avid fans of BookTok’s steamy side. It tells the story of a whirlwind summer romance between Clara Wheaton, an innocent east-coast socialite, and Josh Darling, a snarky porn star.
On that note, this book’s got plenty of smut to match the two’s playful banter.
Their romance feels as easy as the summer weather, just smoldering enough to maybe cause a sweat, but not over-the-top with innuendo. It’s a quick read that bares all for the sake of tantalizing the imagination.
The downside is that it left me craving more.
Beyond the spiciness, we don’t really explore Clara and Josh as people outside of their chance encounter. It’s as if they’re actors placed perfectly in the small (and albeit, borderline voyeuristic) window of their lives.
That’s the issue with this and so many novels touted by “spicy” BookTok – they’re temporary fixes for a genuine lack of interaction. And continued consumption of these very idealized stories only contributes to stratospheric-level expectations for real-life partners.
When I finished “The Roommate,” I pored through my saved videos to find where I got this recommendation. The comments were “down bad,” as one might say, no thanks to the uncertainty of COVID-19 and extended periods of isolation. But seeking fictional respite from very real feelings of lovelorn is an expedient, not a solution.
Partner idealization can very well result from exposure to overly sanitized and polished romantic protagonists. However, this does not mean a book fanatic’s relationships are doomed to fail. Dr. Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton says otherwise, detailing the surprisingly positive effects of partner idealization in married couples. A 2011 study conducted on newlyweds found that couples who saw each other as the “perfect partner” had less of a decline in their satisfaction.
The kicker? Couples that saw each other as “perfect” were able to see their partners as ideal despite their blemishes. While this is not an uncommon sight in romance novels (i.e. Clara overcoming familiar disproval and Josh battling insecurity), it typically happens in such a whirlwind manner that leaves no room for questions.
Real romance has no “last page.” Often, there are no chance encounters or coincidences that lead us to our partners. That doesn’t make that attraction any less authentic or raw or beautiful than the ones confined to a paperback.
Take this as a reminder not to let female-written romance discourage your appreciation for the tangible, imperfect love already present in your life. Your wallet, screen time, and relationships will thank you later.