Romantic Heroes

This weekend had me thinking about romance. How could it not? For I was a bridesmaid at one of my nearest-and-dearest’s nuptials. It was the most beautiful setting, bridal party, food, and couple I’ve had the pleasure of standing beside on their big day. The best part was that everyone in attendance was totally on board with the union (something not altogether common).

As most 20-somethings can attest, these are the wedding years. Since entering my twenties, I’ve been a bridesmaid four times, attended over a dozen weddings, cut a rug to Kool and the Gang the same number of times, and Mazel Toved countless engagement photos. The romance is real, dear readers.

My love+action-packed weekend meant much needed R&R with reading romance novels with pajamas and wine after the fact. This downtime (coupled with my ever-present dreams of travel) led me to recall a conversation I had with Dave during our trip to Troncones.

We didn’t have internet or television to keep us entertained. What we did have were a couple of dirty books I had downloaded on my Nook pre-trip. Had I known we’d be spending evenings with me reading aloud under the comfort of our mosquito net, I might have downloaded a couple of dirty sci-fi novels for him, but we were left with what I had.

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Our literary time began with Dave enjoying the witty, risqué banter between the working professional female protagonist and her similarly successful friends. He even enjoyed that the protagonist spent a good deal of time dwelling on the enigma that was her missing orgasm. This enjoyment came to an abrupt halt with the introduction of the male protagonist’s borderline unrealistic sex appeal and incredible professional success as a globe-trotting photographer. The book was called Wallbanger by Alice Clayton, if you’re curious. I enjoyed it.

Upon that male character’s introduction, Dave and I found ourselves in a debate rooted in the eternal conundrum that is the psychology of the opposite sex. He couldn’t make heads or tails of the themes and characters that exist in modern romance novels, and he couldn’t understand why women seek out that genre. It’s not realistic, he said (in addition to a few other choice words).

He’s not altogether wrong. In these books, the male hero is generally successful, insightful, ambitious, intelligent, funny, charismatic, mysterious, confident, romantic, artistically/athletically inclined, and on top of all of these intangibles, also possesses a body chiseled from the finest stone and is dynamite in bed. This hero knows what to say and how to woo. What few flaws he does possess are dressed up in pretty bows. He’s never been in love and has spent his life closed off to emotional vulnerability until the female protagonist magically opens his heart. Need I continue?

The archetypal female protagonist, on the other hand, is generally self-deprecating, horny, and going through something. She needs these qualities to satisfy the readers’ desire to see something of themselves in the narrator.

Now, I strive to be an objective person. I am eternally curious and interested in why people are the way they are, behaviorally, emotionally, psychologically.

So why did it take me nearly a lifetime of huffing literary love stories like glue to question why I do it?

Life Tip #38: Actively engage in self-reflection.

Mind you, I don’t want someone around who resides only in dreary weather climates, or worse, watches me sleep ala Edward Cullen. I don’t have any desire to put forth the effort that comes with dealing with the psychopath that is Christian Grey. I wouldn’t want to face the constant threat of death and disease to be with Jamie Fraser.

But still, I like getting caught up in individual character and relationship developments. I like the will-they/wont-they and the build up to when they actually do. I like reading this particular genre about beautiful people because it’s more sexy/enjoyable to read the description of the guy’s six pack than his skin condition while in the throes of passion. I like reading about the successful, employed romantic hero because it’s more attractive than the man child living in his mom’s basement. I like reading the drama because it’s entertaining. A perfectly conflict-free book will lose anyone’s interest.

If the archetypal romantic hero was a reality, with that unreasonable level of perfection or drama, I would be bored, insecure, driven crazy, or all of the above.

I think readers of romance take what they want/need from romance novels at any given time. These books wear many hats: escape, fantasy, therapy, nostalgia, foreplay, entertainment.

I’m lucky enough to have a “successful, insightful, ambitious, intelligent, funny, etc.,” romantic hero in my reality, which is just so much more fun than the fiction.

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Having said that, my dirty books are the perfect companion to R&R, and I will never grow tired of reading the sexy woes of that oddly relatable protagonist and her archetypal book boyfriend.

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