I once asked a romance writer if they’d ever thought about writing a novel about two poor people meeting and falling in love.
They said they had, in fact, written one – but when they began to talk about the story line, it turned out that only one of the people in the book was “poor” – and that by “poor”, she meant “not incredibly wealthy/has to have a day job”, and that the other person in the relationship had “once been poor but had worked really hard and gotten rich”.
No, I said. A book about two people in dead-end, minimum wage jobs, where every month it’s a toss-up which bills get paid, and how they have to make the Ramen Noodles last till payday. A book about a guy who couch-surfs and a girl with two kids, three jobs and no education. A book about the love that might flourish between two people who won’t get married because neither one has the $100 needed to get the paperwork part of “marriage” done.
She looked at me as if I was crazy. It wasn’t even that she thought no one would read that book.
It was that she couldn’t imagine those people as – well, as “people”. They were statistics, they were political footballs, they were sights to turn one’s eyes away from and to hurry past, but they weren’t “people”.
But she was vaguely interested, because even romance writers have heard the word “inclusivity” and her publisher had mentioned that they were looking for “new angles” on romance.
She went off and tried to do a little research, but she discovered that she didn’t really know any poor people. She got some suggestions on how to meet some, from her husband, who was marginally intrigued.
She job-shadowed a mutual friend who was doing social work, but she had to stop after three days because she kept trying to offer “money-saving tips” to people on welfare, and the social worker asked her to not come back. He had a job to do, and that job didn’t involve suggesting the recipients buy $10 worth of potatoes when their entire food budget for the month was only $30.
Then she tried helping out at a place that feeds the homeless. She discovered that not only was she not able to stand on her feet for the two hours they asked of her, but that people who have no access to showers smell less than minty-fresh. So, although she’d promised them a week, she didn’t make it through Day Two and just left, and ignored their phone calls.
She managed two days at a women’s shelter, before being asked politely to go home and stop trying to tell these women they just needed to get jobs and stand on their own two feet.
And then she wrote a book about a world-famous model with a poor self-image and disbelief in her own beauty who meets a shipping magnate who loves her for her beautiful soul and taste in poetry, and whisks her off to a Greek island for hot sex and long swims in the Aegean.
Poverty is not romantic.