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Compare the Netflix smash Love Is Blind to the waning grand dame of dating shows, The Bachelor

Compare the Netflix smash Love Is Blind to the waning grand dame of dating shows, The Bachelor

A new streaming adaptation of a wholesome romance seems to pop up weekly, from Netflix’s take on Katherine Center’s novel Happiness for Beginners, whose premise is more or less Wild as a rom-com, to Paramount+’s Love in Taipei, a breezy new adult romance based on Abigail Hing Wen’s YA novel

Henry and many of her peers play to their audience by writing the stories they treasure into the book. (There’s a whole subgenre of romance novels about people who love to read and write, including Henry’s Book Lovers.) Like Laura Jean in Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, January was a romance reader first; she discovered the genre when she picked up a paperback in the waiting room of her cancer-stricken mom’s radiologist. “It was the first wave of relief I’d felt in weeks, and from there, I binge-read every romance novel I could get my hands on,” she recalls. “Mom’s first diagnosis taught me that love was an escape rope, “but it was her second diagnosis that taught me love could be a life vest when you were drowning.”

That life raft is a booming business. After a lockdown bump, and as the genre continues to trend in the corner of TikTok known as BookTok, Publisher’s Weekly reported a precipitous 52.4% increase in romance book sales in 2022. This summer, along with Happy Place and Icebreaker, romances by Ali Hazelwood, Ann Napolitano, Taylor Jenkins Reid, and publishing powerhouse Colleen Hoover dominate bestseller lists.

But the wholesome-romance sensibility isn’t just a sales trend within an isolated publishing niche. Nor is it simply the latest incarnation of the rom-com, which both entails a more specific format and allows for more variation in tone. It’s about our society’s shifting orientation towards romance, regardless of genre. The yearning for grounded love Etiopian naiset etsivГ¤t rakkaus dating nГ¤htГ¤vyyksiГ¤ stories about regular, well-intentioned people with relatable goals-marriage, professional achievement, maybe kids-has become evident across narrative art forms, from high-brow novels to low-brow reality TV.

Elsewhere on nonfiction TV, series like Netflix’s Dating Around, which follows regular people on a series of first dates, and Showtime’s Couples Therapy allow us to eavesdrop on various stages of real-life romance. Vicarious indulgence in the minutiae of other people’s relationships is a trendlet unto itself; Esther Perel’s hit podcast Where Should We Begin? is another option for couples-therapy voyeurism. In this year’s breakout indie romance film, Celine Song’s Past Lives, a young woman must choose between a childhood friend from Korea who might have been the love of her life and the American man she married. In the end, she makes the safe decision.

Nora (Greta Lee), Arthur (John Magaro), and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) stroll through the East Village in Past Lives. Courtesy of A24

While the latter is a glittering fairy tale of courtship, like Cinderella reenacted by a cast of influencers and models, the former throws a couple dozen millennials into isolated “pods,” where they build bonds with potential mates sight unseen. Before they can gaze deep into each other’s eyes, cast members establish compatibility by comparing values, ambitions, religious beliefs, financial circumstances, desires to procreate.

Love Is Blind creator Chris Coelen has built a flourishing brand of shows premised on priming young adults-usually white-collar, middle-class professionals-for long-term partnerships: Married at First Sight, Perfect Match, The Ultimatum and spinoff The Ultimatum: Queer Love

Some of the biggest recent literary novels have riffed on the tropes of the wholesome romance. Irish author Sally Rooney became an international sensation with books that contrast romance and friendship with the everyday misery of 21st-century capitalism-and posit love as an imperfect refuge. (Rooney’s Normal People and Conversations With Friends were swiftly adapted into Hulu miniseries.) The genre-hopping Nigerian writer Akwaeke Emezi articulates this idea in their acclaimed 2022 romance, You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty. “I think we’re just figuring out how to survive a world on fire… that it’s okay to be alive,” says Emezi’s heroine, Feyi. A young widow, she witnessed her husband’s car-crash death and has denied herself love and pleasure since. But Feyi is also an avatar for anyone struggling to feel truly alive at a time when COVID and war and opioids and climate crisis make us all, if we’re lucky enough to survive, witnesses to large-scale death.

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