Romantic men

Ooh look. Dave said a dirty word.
Maybe there’ll be some man-titties in the next frame. Actually I don’t have any problem with man-titties on covers, but do feel it’s rather discriminatory not have equal numbers of females versions of the same on covers, without the fuss.

It’s interesting how the word has become a catch-all for what is de facto soft porn, as well as some books which are anything but. It isn’t of course much to sex alone, but you could be fooled at times. A chaste kiss at the end of a story of mutual attraction and the path to that kiss is rare, these days.

Still: It does seem to have become synonymous with books where the action is principally between the emotionally or physically attracted protagonists. And it’s a female-dominated genre in its own right, with both readers and writers. The logic applied to this is men are not romantic, only interested in sex, and therefore this is right and normal.

It’s also about as logical as an emu on acid. There is very little genetic material not shared between men and women. The hormonal cocktail is a different mixture and it does have physiological and sex-drive effects, but it’s mostly the same hormones. Nurture is, increasingly, much the same. Yes, there are differences in median male psychology and median female psychology. There are also a large proportion – probably nearing half, who don’t fit neatly into one or the other. The male group psychology and female group psychology dynamics are quite different, basically due to testosterone and its effects on behavior.

But honey, before you go off to la-la land and say well, it’s all testosterone and group pressure then… consider this. Testosterone also makes men bigger and stronger than women. Yes, Natasha the Russian Lady weightlifter could crush Joe Average, but if Joe Average wished by physical means to force his will on Jane Average, he could (which is why if I have grand-daughters, they’ll learn to shoot, but that’s another subject) and if all Joes felt the same way about all Janes by sheer physical force… they could have their way. So: if romance exists it must be by some degree of willing collusion by men. That’s merely by logic. Speaking from history and personal experience, men are if anything, less pragmatic and more idealistic and therefore more illogically romantic than women, they just don’t deal with it quite the same way. Part of this is the different group psychology. Letting your male peer group know you’re just big soppy puppy wanting to strew rose petals is not going to help your social status there.

And yes there is sex involved, but seriously, hookers are a lot cheaper than flower, dinners and chocolates and much easier than bad love poems, for a far more certain outcome. Emotional attachment must be important to both genders. The big difference, I think, is males 1) don’t talk about it among themselves much 2)in evolutionary terms surviving fights or catching dinner was more important to men, and getting the right hunter and looking after babies more important to women. Very unfashionable now to think of it that way, but it is still something in the way the genders and their peer groups see the world and deal with it. And yep, some guys are good with babies and do the interpersonal relationship gossip well, and some girls can hunt and can’t do chit-chat. We’re not that different, and we share a lot of genes and nurture. This blog is about writing, so on that subject… anyone who says men are not interested in books with romance in them is missing a good 70% or more of men. However -and this is a generalization: 1)I’d guess they like less dissection of it (AKA less angst, less Chamomile tea) 2)and more OTHER (action, setting, non-relationship drama) to a book. And yeah, they really don’t want their peers looking at them reading slushy romance.
That’s how I try to put it in my books 🙂
So: what’s your take?


  1. Yes to romance, no to unalloyed romance. I think Cuttlefish has a good balance – they’re focused on survival and romance happens. I especially liked their first kiss.

    1. 🙂 Ori, That precisely was my feeling about it. It’s actually very normal: the whole emotional/physical/mental attraction combination. Yes, I am sure a mere physical attraction is very common too, in both genders. But that’s not romance. And while the relationship is important, it’s a bit dull to me if that is the whole story.

  2. This particular female prefers to avoid the angst and have more other stuff in a book. I don’t think the male half of the species is alone there.

    1. Sometimes the angst ‘does she/he love me or not’ combined with lots of lusting and rolling in bed can be downright frustrating. Say there is a murder mystery, one of the protagonists is being hunted by the killer and/or has just lost a family member/best friend to the killer, and all they can think about is sex? Have read a few (or parts of few…) in that vein. Mostly my reaction tends to be ‘What the hell is WRONG with those people!’ plus some book throwing.

      Yep, I want more of that other stuff too. Unless the whole story really is supposed to be just ‘does he/she or doesn’t he/she + sex’, which can, occasionally, work okay, especially if it’s humorous, lots of angst is irritating in those too. But if there is supposed to be something else going on too, spy story or murder mystery or who stole grandma’s necklace or how can the heroine save her family farm, please, please pay some attention to that part of the plot too. And make the characters do that too.

  3. Sex is PART of life. Romance is PART of life.

    When things get out of balance, too much of either, I find it unbelievable, unmotivated, and rather boring.

    The getting there, the possibilities of intellectual (yes), emotional, and physical connections, all those things are more interesting to me (and thus more present in MY writing), than books which focus mostly on sex or romance. Personal preferences.

    For a moment I thought this post was made by a woman – and I was delighted to see it was written by Dave Freer. And that the content is human: “The logic applied to this is men are not romantic, only interested in sex, and therefore this is right and normal.”

    I am curious what you think about some of the great novels of the past, such as Jane Eyre (not Wuthering Heights – still scratching my head about that one, and I got an A+ on a paper I wrote in college on Heathcliff’s psychological makeup). And the later books of Dorothy Sayers – where she took Peter Whimsy from a rather dry stuck-in-the-mud stereotypical English detective to one of the most romantic heroes in the literature of the 20th century (my opinion). What do men think of Gone With the Wind? – I assume all the ticket buyers weren’t female.

    Do some men feel that way – and will they read that kind of novels? I’m gambling on yes (it increases the potential reader-pool by a factor of 2, obviously).

    1. Erhm. I am glad you excluded Blathering Heights. I couldn’t stand it. I enjoyed Jane Eyre – As you will discover if you read RATS, BATS and VATS, where the brain-damaged heroine gets her language center from a brain inserted chip which includes Bronte sisters novels. As for gone with the Wind… couldn’t it have been a bit shorter? (yes, I am a philistine), but the part I found fascinating was the setting and not the romance. I’m hardly typical as I cheerfully admit to enjoying historical romances – Grace Ingram and Georgette Heyer are favorites. I suspect quite a lot of men would, but it’s less easy to handle the peer pressure if you’re worried by that. Romance where there is male and female POV I do find a lot easier going. Unfortunately that’s pretty rare, except where romance is merely an aspect of a bigger story. I find I like romance as an element rather than the whole cloth which I suspect is quite average male.

      1. Michael was a big fan of Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer and Dorothy Sayers. He liked wit — very much — and he enjoyed humor. (This is why I’m now re-reading P.G. Wodehouse. One of the writers that other writers should at least know about if not emulate — it would be tough to emulate Wodehouse — especially if you write a lot of comedy.)

        I’m unsure what to say about other men as most of the others I dated or were around were not romantic in any sense of the word whatsoever. But I do think that if a man is smart, and he wants to be with a special woman (or partner, or whatever), he should be aware that sex isn’t about the gonads as much as it is about the brain.

        Great post, Dave.

        1. 🙂 We men frequently claim we read it for the wit. Heh. Rather like reading Playboy for the sf story… 🙂 (ie the wit must be there, but that’s only part of the reason. But it is good protective coloration.)

      2. The great thing about ebooks is that no one can see what you are reading. Or at least no one other than your immediately adjacent neighbour when travelling on some form of public transport. audiobooks are even more personal if you listen with earphones

        BTW I really like the Freer level of romance in a story. Sufficient to get you interested in the characters but not taking over the whole plot. It seems to me that this is yet another thing common (for the most part – Oh John Ringo No definitely excluded) to Baen authors and thus probably yet another reason why I like Baen books. A lot of the “classic” SF (e.g. Asimov ) did this relationship thing really really badly and that probably helped ghettoize SF.

  4. Sounds a bit like what happened when I tried to write a Gothic Romance. The MC shook her head and said forget it, and the Byronic Hero informed me that he was in love with a lady mechanic. Which seems to be about as messy as most real life romance that I’ve been in or around. 🙂 Meaning if you don’t have interesting characters, a hint of plot, and some decent writing and settings, “thump” it goes against the wall. (Or “shwoop” into the electronic rubbish bin.)

  5. Dave…there’s a reason why, for more than a decade most romance novels are referred to by those of us who worked the retail end of it and our customers…as BODICE RIPPERS. 🙂

    1. I’ve always wanted to know why? Did the heroine’s bodice explode, or was it ripped off? If the latter I am surprised (not. not a soft male target, female Romance authors and female audience) that they have not been attacked by rampaging feminists.

  6. Oi… I was promised some manboobies here…

    Well, it’s kind of a bad idea for me to have an open-ended question and time to let my fingers ramble. Apologies in advance.

    I’ve dated a guy that was into Grand Gestures. But we hadn’t been dating very long at all (I’m not sure… a month or two?) when our first and only Valentine’s Day came up, so I genuinely didn’t expect anything except maybe a visit and a kiss and a handful of Hershey Kisses or something. I literally put no thought into the day at all.

    So when the Valentine’s Day rolled up and fell on the same day as SCUBA class and I had lady pains quite awful I said, “Well, I’m certainly not going. It’s cold, I hurt, and it’s too much trouble to mess around with a pool today.” My roommate at the time tried to hint that I should “really go”. And well, I did feel guilty about it because the guy had been so into SCUBA that he insisted I take the classes and paid for them himself to make sure I went. So I felt terribly guilty about missing one, but I was miserable and didn’t want to and I believe there was the implication (though it may have been an outright statement) that I wouldn’t see the guy because he was busy with finals or something. So there was no reason for me to be remotely suspicious.

    Apparently by not going, I screwed up one of his Grand Gestures and they (he and my roommate) made me feel quite rotten about it. At least until later when I realized that it would have mortified me terribly to have a Grand Gesture made in front of the whole class and anyone else using the pool that day. And it’s totally unfair to spring crap on me. I hate that. And I like flowers where they belong: in the ground. I do like chocolate, though. And – well, we hadn’t been dating that long! And we’re college students! Spend your money on things that make sense!

    Boys and their romantic notions. He sulked worse than any woman I’ve ever known over that. And it was in a way that I still to this day find particularly hilarious that he complained that he was “the woman in the relationship”.

    The trappings of the “traditional” western view of romance are still mystifying to me. I’ve been sent flowers before, and I’ve appreciated them, but it’s always seemed like a waste of time and money to me.

    I’d appreciate a bouquet of paper flowers a thousand times more. Or a living arrangement in a pot (though that would mean passing it off to someone who would take care of it. My room is a cave and the plant would die – and well, I’d forget about it because plants don’t meow for food). I’m sure the transient nature of the gesture is part of “why” it’s meant to be appreciated. “See this waste of money? It’s for you!”

    Jewelry? I like it just fine, but I only wear it on special occasions and my taste isn’t towards the norm anyway so it’s a bit of a crap shoot if I’d get something and go, “Ah, thank you.” and think, “Gosh, it’s boring.” or even “oh god, it’s ugly and expensive and if I don’t show that I appreciate it, I’ll be the jerk.” or whether I’d get and go, “oh wow, how’d you know I liked this sort of thing?” and later have to go, “Well, of course I liked it. You do realize I spend over half my week in pajamas, right? I suppose I could throw on some jewelry, but…” Jewelry is such a pain as a gift.

    Dinner dates? Eh. Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s a perfectly fine reason to wear jewelry. And I love dressing up. But you do not know the anxiety I have over dressing for one of these things. Am I dressing up too much? Not enough? Oh god, why are you so vague about dress codes? You’d think the prissier guys I’ve dated (meaning the type where this sort of thing means something to them) would be aware enough to be more specific about the dressing expectations of the venue but NOT ONE of the guys who’ve taken me out has ever, EVER given me more than a, “Oh, it’s casual…” response. Casual. That could mean anything from teeshirts and jeans to dinner jackets, you numpties. And then we get back to “why are you spending money on this???” response I have. Not that I have anything against food, but I object to spending twice the amount for the same dish a casual dining place would charge just because I dressed up and the waitstaff have straight spines rather than smiles.

    Wine? I don’t drink much. And making me feel obligated to drink something because you went through the trouble to hunt down something is not going to put me in the mood. Especially if you point out how much it cost.

    Perfume? That’s worse than flowers and jewelry combined. I like the bottles (sometimes, anyway). I don’t have a nose to appreciate scents in that way. But gosh if so many of them didn’t trigger reactions sometimes. Hell. There are some “flavors” of Burt’s Bees lip balm I can’t wear because the scent makes my eyes water.

    Cars? (Not as gifts, obviously, but as general bait and aphrodisiac.) I don’t care. Is it clean? Is it safe? Good. Next.

    I could go on. Oh – I could very much do so. But pretty much everything you could bring up that fits into that sort of … area, I tend to think is foolish, boring, or a waste of money – and often all three. And since guys are at least generally portrayed as feeling the same way as I do, I am utter sympathy with them and their position. But I can tell them that it’s not any easier being the one expected to coo and melt over the gestures than it is the one expected to think of making them and paying for them. Because when my reception is, “Oh… thank you. You shouldn’t have, but thank you for the lovely thought.” their reaction is often, “Wait, what? Did I do it wrong? STUPID RULES OF COURTSHIP WHY U FAIL?”

    And I’ll stop rambling now and just note that I am very much looking forward to reading your steampunky series.

    1. It gets better, it really does. The difference between dating boys and dating men is that boys try hard to follow the cultural rules so they get the expected cultural result. Men just pay attention to you. I once dated a boy that gave me a dozen roses after I broke up with him, thinking this would woo me back into his arms. Because flowers!

      Men – well, my husband bought the gun I really wanted but could not find, for valentine’s day. And then went through hours of trying various holsters before coming up with a pattern to fit exactly what I wanted, and got a holster custom-made. I adore that man with all my squishy little thumping heart muscle.

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