Romantic men, part II

The title of my last piece got me thinking. Yes, I know, you could smell the wood burning so you knew the grate brain was turning over. I am sure other people still have wood-fired boilers powering their steam-driven brains too.

It struck me, that, based on the popularity Downton Abbey, what women really wanted in a man was someone else to do the cooking dusting and washing-up for them. Oh and a toffee-nose accent. I can do that at a push, but real life confirms that most women choose to marry — and stay married to — ordinary men, who excel at flatulence and beer rather than hot potato accents and Champagne, and who are not precisely the acme of gentility. In fact, observation suggests that women often crowd around the sort Downton antithesis, which may may explain why genetic selection has not evolved men of us into weak-chinned but ever so noble chaps with spiffing accents.

Now as someone of the heterosexual and male ilk, I honestly don’t really know (any more than heterosexual women would know precisely what pushes male buttons. Males are generally less subtle than women and easier to watch, but they too play to the audience.) just what makes some men the romantic daydream, and some really nice-seeming, keen-on-relationship guys seem to have a kind of really nice-seeming girl repelling fields. The converse seems as true – I’ve met -as a happily married guy a lot of single women where I wonder if the males on the planet have lost their minds – and a lot ‘orrible baggages with some poor guy, where I _know_ at that particular guy lost his mind (and probably his money, and self-confidence). It’s rather like books: there is a perfect match for each person out there somewhere but so often it gets missed. So I was curious: just what is the dreamboat? It does seem to change with every age – I look at the idols of men in paintings from the 16th century and wonder whether it’s just tastes or if women were uglier then? Look at the film stars of half a century ago… not all of them wear it well… and some do. Look at tastes in traditional African society, and Naomi Campbell would have been the girl on the shelf, desperately trying to fatten up. Apparently this was true in Scotland, or at least in the Hebrides too, which has its own genetic possibilities.

And is the dreamboat romantic hero something in real life and something else entirely in print? So: opinions please. I want to write them right. Is appearances or is all in our heads? I’ve tried –

should be a link to one of my romances (I cut it to 99 cents. I’d make it free but I would have to take it down from Smashwords) and I’d be curious to know from anyone who read whether he was romantic hero or not? The physical description is sparse. And before you ask, there is no sex.

And a Merry Christmas to you and all of yours!

24 comments

  1. Trying to find the link you didn’t actually post. Failed.

    I am curious.

    I thought about your question: what makes a man a romantic hero. Reciprocity.

    Physical attraction (pheromones) is part of it. Basic competence at life, including the ability to work at something. A sense of humor. A lack of entitlement. But the most important part IMHO is the ability to let a woman be herself AND appreciate who and what she is.

    If that ability is reciprocated, and the spark is there, they will be able to make things work, and they will be as happy as they can make themselves and circumstances allow.

    Neediness is a killer. Go ahead and rescue the damsel in distress, or the guy who has been hit by a whole lot of life’s tsunamis – but if you don’t have some expectation that there will be reciprocity, that the neediness will go away part of the time, and that the other person will eventually take care of some of your neediness, it isn’t going to work long term. IMHO

    1. 🙂 The link is the Picture. Click on it. I just tested it and it works. Reciprocity… hmm. Look, I get that, and I think I write it, but what is the ‘spark’?

        1. Or, go to amazon.com and search for “The Road to Dundee” — there’s a kindle book there.

  2. I think the best romantic heoroes are people who _do_ things. Who are competent at what needs to be done. Not people, men, who talk a good story, but actually go out and do it, regularly, whether it’s battling eldritch horrors with a magic sword, or picking stocks for clients.

    It’s all well and good to be a “nice guy.” But it’s better to be an OK guy who’s got an interesting job he really enjoys, knows the best micro breweries in town and takes (or better yet teaches) karate lessons every wednesday, than it is to be the really super nice guy with the job he hates, and comes home complaining about, before he gets online and spends the evening slaying faux dragons.

    The appeal of the “Bad Boy,” IMO, is an appeal to the backbrain who is dead certain that an ability to bring home the bacon, or wart hog, by day and slay maurading lions by night is a really useful quality in a man. It appeals to the woman who wants to marry a leader, but not knowing the sons of any Senators, falls for the swaggering “I’m an Alpha Male” bluster of a man with more ego than common sense.

    So, for a fictional hero, you can start anywhere, but he quickly needs to add to his skill set, demonstrate competence, and be headed upward in the social pecking order. Good looks and ruggedly handsome features will only get a fictional hero so far.

    1. I suppose the bluster was yesteryear’s advertisement and equivalent of the Armani suit and Rolex, with the minor difference that not many people will kill you or beat you to a pulp for wearing the Armani suit and Rolex (maybe to remove them from you, but that’s not the same) whereas in the cave man stage bad-boy bluster unless it was the real thing back up by real tough, was real terminal.

      Fortunately faux dragons must have some appeal, or neither of my sons would have found a wife 🙂

      1. Ha! Your entire family is so capable, in so many ways, you could pass for an over-the-top fictional creation. Your sons, being young, are not expected to to have a lot of _experience_ at some things. Even though they apparently grew up climbing vertical rock walls and catching dinner. It’s the nice guys who _only_ play electronic games that aren’t interesting enough or don’t show enough upward mobility to be an attractive life mate.

        Or at least I hope so. Otherwise I’m doomed to have no grandchildren.

        Of course, in fiction, it’s traditional for the blusterer to get beat up, early on. Then go to the gym and get into shape, train in whatever form of fighting the book requires, and then return to _not_ blustering, but competent clean up of the problem. Or desperate, barely surviving, but never giving up, clean up of the problem or whatever.

  3. TXRed’s personal checklist for the romantic male lead: experience in the world, street smarts (at least by the end of the story), polite, self-disciplined, good hygiene when possible, not threatened by strong women or by people who are more competent/smarter than he is. Religious faith is fine, depending on the content of the religion (I’m not into Aztec revivalism, thanks). Good looks are a plus but not strictly necessary. Good cooking skills are a major plus. 🙂

    Send applications to . . . And Happy Christmas, Dave and fellow genii and readers.

    1. (chuckle) The good ones get snapped up before the boxing day sales. Funnily enough it’s the ones who have either had to cook for themselves or a partner for a long time who seem to envy Barbs with me cooking. Both my boys are, for their age, quite competent cooks (and both do most of the cooking I think), but I don’t think it was something their partners even thought about, let alone pre-investigated before falling for them. So cooking… good for the slightly more mature romance reader, maybe.

  4. There were a lot of things I wanted in the perfect man when I was younger. Eventually, I realized that most of those were nice, but completely side issues compared to the things I really needed – competence, humor, a spine strong enough to stand up to me, a mind intelligent enough to challenge me, a heart big enough to love me, a character of integrity, honor, and trust, and communication. After dating everything from a pretty, skinny little goth to a laconic, craggy Alaskan pilot, I married a man who is laid-back to my high-strung, exudes a quiet competence, patient love, and a humility that makes no note of the depths and breadths of his experiences, the steel in his spine and the brass of his balls.

    The “nice guys” I left in my wake often failed in being interesting enough, competent enough, experienced enough, and most especially, in being able to challenge me and stand up to me. I want an equal, a partner, not somebody who’ll let me get away with whatever I want, declare, or argue for. (The exes I stay good friends with are often men who are very competent, thoughtful, intellectually curious and experienced, no matter what field they are in. I hope nothing but the best for them, and rejoice when they find women who complement them.)

    If a person never gets off the couch, or steps away from the computer, then they lack many opportunities to meet new people, and the opportunities to demonstrate the character and competence that are so attractive – no matter how much they may have. A fictional character who spends the entire book working a 9 to 5 in a cubicle pushing paper and evenings playing video games is rarely given a chance to show their stuff, compared to interviewing suspects or disarming IED’s, fighting Death Eaters or sailing a raft made of balsa wood from Peru to the Polynesian Islands.

    Heck, I read a romance recently where the love interest comes onto a chaotic scene, takes control of the situation, and wrestles down an out-of-control… orbital sander. After I stopped howling with laughter, I felt very sympathetic to the man who tried to be kind and tactful to a frustrated, furious, embarrassed, and crying woman while offering to complete the refinishing on the porch. That was a great scene, and made me forgive a lot of rough spots and plotholes in the book.

    1. Having fought with a big orbital sander myself, he has my respect ;-). The blasted things go where they will, when they will. Of course, a lot of people don’t want, or don’t think they want, someone to stand up to them at all. I remain amazed and perplexed by the number of guys (and I gather it’s now a growing issue with successful professional women too) who marry dim doormats who think they’re wonderful, strong and clever. Is genetics too hard, let alone the boredom factor? (I married the the first girl I met who could out-climb me, out-think me, and had read more than I had. Sharing a background and culture made it easier to relate too). But of course that may be real life, whereas the hero/heroine they desire in fiction might be more equal or up to it?

      1. Having fought with an orbital sander, the howls of laughter were not because I didn’t understand the situation. They were because I’ve been there.

        My love and I share neither background nor culture, which makes communication a constant challenge – but also makes us keep communicating, through spots where I’ve foundered before on the rocks of “well, he should know!” in other relationships. He grew up under apartheid, I grew up across six thousand miles, major cities and small towns, of America, and sometimes the things we have in common are more surprising than our differences.

        Having met a few couples like you describe, I’ve seen it appeal to a personality that lacks a little something at the center of their character. Having a person who can reassure them that they are wonderful, brilliant, handsome/beautiful, and such silences the inner demon that otherwise whispers that they’re a fraud, a fake, and doomed to have it all fail. They take refuge in their partner, in their own way, and their challenge is to protect their partner from ever having to deal with the same battles and reality they face.

        That’s harder to portray in fiction, especially when you have to convey the world the person is being protected from – and quiet contentment provides little tension to move the plot and pacing along. On the other hand, the spectacular brilliance of clashing wits has kept us laughing at the taming of the shrew for a long time now.

        As for Donald, I’d consider him a romantic hero – competent, principled, defending the weak, rising above temptation, saving (in his own way) the female lead… the world ends on a better, if bittersweet, note, for his passing through.

        1. My cousin married a man from Norway and was worried about misunderstandings due to culture… I told her that at least she’d expect it, that when conversations went sideways they’d both consider that they might have a cultural issue. I said that even if you marry the guy from up the street you grew up in different family cultures, but when the misunderstandings happen, you assume that you’re both speaking the same language.

        2. Oh I see the reasoning behind the dim weak partner. I just wonder if they never thought of the fact that that is 50% of their kids genes. And also reassurance might be nice, but surely only worth getting if it comes from your peers? I suspect it would be hell to write in an attractive way, but that could be bias because I find little that is attractive in such a relationship. Yet nurse marries brilliant surgeon, or typist and glamor-boy millionaire boss type stories are very popular. When you read them, though I notice alpha male is actually not portrayed as vastly brighter (and this may be true. I’ve known a few very bright nurses). I suspect this is some degree of daydream/wish fulfillment.

          As a boring old couple of 33 years (and we’ve been married most of them) we still have these I thought you understood moments, and we actually spend at least an hour a day talking, so yes, assuming that the other doesn’t can actually prevent misunderstanding. Thank you. I hadn’t thought of that and will use it.

  5. I read the story you linked some time ago and I think… I think that the hero was romantic. So, I read it again… yes, he’s very romantic. I think, now that I think of it, that it may apply to what I said (uh… I think it was actually on Sarah’s blog comments) about having character instead of character arc. The hero has character. I don’t know that I should give away the plot so I’ll try not to. The hero has character, does what is right even when it isn’t best for himself and when he expects nothing as a reward. He’s heroic and romantic in that he does this when he’s got nothing at all left *except* his character.

    This is my favorite type of romantic character. I like the warriors and cowboys and those who aren’t protecting the woman because they’re in the process of falling in love with her, but because they’ll protect anyone. Never kick a puppy. Ruthless? Sure. I like ruthless. (Though I sometimes wonder what a person who is ruthful is like. What does “ruth” mean, anyhow.) But part of that, too, is being ruthless in service, and not for personal gain and comfort. Like magic, it’s got to cost something.

    1. I have a feeling ruthful is rather like being inthinuated with someone… If you’re looking for an ideal life-mate a sense of honor would be a good trait for a searcher to seek, no matter what gender… My hero Donald in The Road to Dundee, and oddly, honor with empathy. It’s redemption for both characters, I suppose.

  6. Too short. Too short. And of course a ghost story has no resolution but peace to the ghost.

    But a romantic man, yes. It’s called honor, having a code of conduct and sticking to it.

    The other bit, wishing someone you loved safe even if she isn’t with you, is also good.

    I’m constantly astounded by the silliness of the idea that someone would want to marry a spouse knowing for sure that person didn’t love them. Maybe it worked in feudal societies – where people had nowhere else to go, and it could affect the survival of their children to follow someone penniless rather than agree to marry whoever was offered. A woman with no dowry would have only youth and beauty to offer, and that only for the short time it lasted. It was fairly standard for people to fulfill their roles – wife, husband – rather than to marry for love in those cases.

    Death was frequent. Death in childbirth frequent. Death from disease.

    And there were few options. It made sense for people to maximize possessions and status when they married.

    Supposedly, we have more choices.

    1. My parents were an arranged marriage, and they are still happily together these many years later, for all that my mother most emphatically did not love (or even care for) my father when they married. Leave aside the cold calculations of maximizing possessions and status, because that’s not at all what usually takes place. Instead, it is the fulfilling of duty, the doing what is normal and proper, and the understanding that love does not have to come in a flash and be present to make a life together. When you are fully committed to a marriage, love will grow over years, slowly, like a tree that no storm can shake. It is not just some feeling of attraction, but the acts done for each other that bind a couple together.

      I once asked my mother if she loved my father. She laughed, incredulous that I had even asked. “Do I love him? I’ve washed his clothes, mended his socks, for twenty years. I’ve borne him two children, I cook his meals! Do I love him! Hah! What do you think love is?”

      1. Isn’t that from Fiddler on the Roof? Sure, “Do you love me” with the father and mother… for 25 years I’ve washed your clothes… but do you love me? … it’s nice to know.

        1. You know, when I first saw Fiddler On The Roof, it did fondly remind me of my mother. (The rant from my mother was translated into English, and cut down by about thirty minutes – I escaped the haranguing about love and men and marriage and how she couldn’t find any good families to arrange a marriage with me by finishing the dishes and bolting for my homework.

          Years later, when my fiance asked my father how many cows he wanted for his daughter, my father was a little taken aback. My mother, on the other hand, was not only pleased she wouldn’t have to provide a dowry, but blissfully satisfied that I’d finally found a man who understood the proper order of the world. Hah! But we are all creatures of our culture, and for all we’ll never see eye to eye, I love her dearly.)

      2. My mother married my father because she was in her mid-30’s and wanted a family of her own, he her (this was mostly my mother’s speculation) more or less for the same reasons, he thought it was time and she was still free and both thought the other was okay, good enough for what they wanted. They stayed married until my mother died, and according to her she was always content with her marriage, and had come to care for him well enough (he doesn’t talk about things like that, and I don’t want to ask, but he took her death hard so I presume he had developed feelings for her too).

        So it seems you don’t necessarily need strong feelings in order to have a good, and working, marriage, at least if you enter it knowing what you are getting.

        By the way, from a couple of things my mother said at times I think the reason she remained unmarried to such a late age may have been because she had been in love once, but lost him during the war. Perhaps she tried to find similar love after that, for a while, but then settled for just having that family. And from what I heard from some relatives I’m afraid my father may have been one of those ‘bad’ boys once, lots of women and partying, not even looking for a wife until he got older.

    2. As much as I love romances, I am skeptical about love. One day I’ll write up an essay: How can it be true love if you can’t be true? But a person can be true without love, or can chose to love. Or maybe love is what you do when you don’t feel like it? But in romances being in love means that you do feel like it and being true becomes effortless. That’s the bad-fantasy portrayed, I think. The honor, the code of conduct, the determination to *love* another person when they’re unlovely or when temptation comes your way. That’s true love… emphasis on “true”.

    3. Hmm. You were de facto a prisoner in that marriage, and women moreso than men. And not all women were well-versed enough to season their man’s pottage with henbane or arsenic. So it might appeal to man – or a woman – who wanted someone as, in effect, their prisoner and subject to what they might do to them, with no avenue of escape. I suppose it might also appeal to the daydream (and I know several folk who have followed this one) of they’ll come to love (or at least like) me eventually.

      Better too short than too long :-). Actually that story illustrated very well the huge problem of writing a short where the history and mythology are complex (this is set in the Scotland of just after Bonnie Prince Charlie’s failed Jacobite uprising) and a lot of your audience are unlikely to know very much of either, but a few are likely to know it all and more. The woman has become a glastaig – a kind of fuath – and they’re more like vampires than ghosts, neither dead nor alive, but between. I certainly intended it to be clear that Donald’s ancestor had been shamed when her body was found had to live with the disgrace for the rest of his life. So in a way the she was the loose end, as was Donald.

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