A fellow forum member over at the FTN Forum posed this question on our ongoing discussion of Twilight. It inspired such a long answer from me, that I thought I'd go ahead and repost it here for all of you to read and discuss.
(from the forum, slightly edited)
Ha. We actually were recently talking about the fact that women write better romances than men. Because I mean, really, if you look at the Classics, the romantic classics (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Christy) were all written by women. Men tend to write things like "The Count of Monte Cristo" and "A Tale of Two Cities" which, even though they have love stories in them, are not really romances.
That brings us of course to what really is a romance. I believe it was Nathaniel Hawthorne that defined a romance as a book that dealt with matters of the heart. By that defintion his work "The Scarlet Letter" is a romance, though it does not fit the commonly accepted idea of a romance (a love story).
A really good romance, like any sort of book, is one that we can connect with and relate to. We connect with Jane Austen's works because she portrays the human nature, specifically in regard to romantic relationships (though also the relationships between sisters) in a way that humans of all ages and both genders can relate to. "The Count of Monte Cristo" hinges on love relationships as well, but they don't grip us in the same way that the relationships in Pride and Prejudice do. That is because the driving theme of "The Count of Monte Cristo" is not a matter of the heart, but a matter of the soul. (Is revenge for man to take or to leave to God's judgement?)
I think this is because romance is far more important to women than to men. As a guy friend of mine pointed out, men could survive without romance, but they use it because it is so important to women. By that token romance is important to men as well, but only because they need it to woo women.
The best books, however, the ones that become classics, are about more than romance, however. A woman like Jane Austen can write a romance that becomes universally loved because she is writing about the human nature. All classics are, essentially, about the great truths of human nature. And yet the best books usually do have a strong romantic element because romance is such a vital part of human life - and because it is the element that women identify the strongest with. As a woman, I can enjoy almost any kind of genre (except horror, which I hate) as long as it has some romantic aspect in it. However without romance, it becomes much harder to relate to. Now something like "The Great Escape" is just such a cool and amazing story that it doesn't matter at all whether or not it has romance in it. However I could not emotionally connect with the Red Badge of Courage because it was such a masculine story.
However, that said, do I think it's impossible for a man to write a good romance? No, of course not. Not any more than it is for a woman to write a good fantasy (like Harry Potter) or a good mystery (Agatha Christie). It just takes a man who is intuitive, and probably one who is also willing to observe and listen to the women in his life. (Just like women who write action adventure should be open to the critiques of the men in their life).
Plus, of course, any good author must also be a good observer of people.