By contrast, authors like Murakami and Kundera tell the tale in reverse. Their heroes start out with their beloved right in their arms, and yet they repeatedly struggle to make a meaningful connection. Whereas the typical romance novel deals with overcoming external obstacles — whether it’s becoming more attractive, ignoring the disapproval of others, or crossing land and sea to be together — in this sort of romantic fiction, the battle is internal. The protagonist is paralyzed, despite feeling some vague murky depth of strong connection, leaving them trapped behind a glass door, their loved one waiting on the other side. Nothing keeps them apart, except for themselves.

I think these stories tend to get mistyped because romantic fiction is expected to be hyper-expressive. It’s hopeful and optimistic. It assumes the hero is willing and ready and able to love, if only they are given the opportunity. Whereas this version of romance is hypo-expressive, centered on the tragicomic inability to say what one means to say, despite desperately wanting to.