What Men can Learn from Romantic Fiction

Romantic fiction can teach men a lot about how to treat a woman. Maybe.

Hi. My name is David and I read romantic fiction.

Now, I personally don't see anything wrong with that. But as most people give me a funny look when I admit it, I feel the need to be defensive and explain why I read "women's books".

I read everything. I read more, and faster, than most people I know. If it's got words on it, I read it. Compulsively. I read cereal packets. I read every last line of the menu at a restaurant. Twice over. And again before dessert. I read the ingredients on the little packets of salt you get in a fast-food place. (Contains: Salt. Well duh.) While growing up with two sisters, it was inevitable that I would read their books when I finished mine. And I never shook the habit.

Romance isn't my first choice (my first love will always be science fiction), but it is a genre I enjoy and have read widely.

Peregrine crossed the expansive office, her heels clacking on the tiled floor, her eyes fixed on the broad back of the man standing at the window.
"Monsieur d'Almation?" she asked.
The man turned from the picture window, through which he had been contemplating the sweep of Monte Carlo harbour. Disconcertingly, she found her eyes level with his shirt collar. His tie was loose and his top button open, revealing a dark curl of hair.
"Oui. I am Bradford d'Almation," he announced, his words softly accented.
Peregrine raised her eyes to his strong, handsome face. Twin flecks of grey flint swept her body, taking in her tailored suit and resting for a long moment on her full breasts.
"And let me say right now, Ms. Falcon," he continued, contempt in his voice, "that the world of international finance is no place for a woman."

Everything I know about women, I learned from reading romance novels. It's very educational. I strongly believe that all men should be forced to read a selection of romantic fiction before even attempting to deal with the opposite sex. After all, these books are written (primarily) by women and read (primarily) by women. I have to assume that the novels are basically female fantasies. The behaviour of the male lead in a romance novel, therefore, can give us an insight into what a woman wants from a man.

Let's analyse the male-female relationship in a typical romance novel.

From the start, let me say that there are good romance novels and there are bad romance novels. The same is true in every genre. And there are novels which break the rules completely and don't fit any of the observations I will make here. But there are many conventions of the genre which most romance novels follow to some extent.

Hold on a minute.

Excuse me?

Yes, I'm afraid that's the case.

On their first meeting, the characters argue. He's arrogant. Contemptuous. He looks at her body before he considers her personality (her body is usually better than her personality, but that's beside the point). He is sexist in the extreme. He thinks that women belong in the bedroom, not in the board room.

And still, despite this wealth of negative characteristics, the woman wants him. She feels a frisson of sexual desire whenever they are in the same room. When they first kiss, she goes all weak at the knees. And, oh yes, a first kiss rarely stops at just a kiss. So devastatingly handsome is this man that the woman is willing to do anything he asks after just one kiss. Wow.

Oh yes, then there's the "punishing kiss". Romantic heroes have a way of inflicting a "punishing kiss". This is some kind of dominating kiss filled with such contempt and male arrogance that the woman hates him for it (while still going weak at the knees, naturally, and hating herself for her weakness). I've tried really hard to master this kiss, because it seems to guarantee a sexual conquest, but somehow I've never quite got it.

Sooner or later (often sooner), despite the man's arrogance, contempt, disdain, despite his spurning her, despite his sexism, despite the number of time he forces tears from her, despite his subjecting her to horrendous psychological torture, they end up in bed. And of course he's the greatest lover in the world. (But he never says "I love you", though she's desperate to hear it, and she feels really cheap, knowing he's using her for his own selfish pleasure while she means nothing to him. More psychological torture. But it's all ok, because he's the greatest lover in the world.)

So that's it? It's all about sex? You can act like a pig towards a woman and, as long as you are handsome and good in bed, she will still want you? Cool! This sounds more like a male fantasy. (I suppose that's why I read them.)

Needless to say, I have spent my adult life aspiring to be the ultimate chauvinist pig. I'm not particularly happy about this. I would much rather be a nice man. But that's not what women want.

I'm expecting flocks of women to fall at my feet (or, at least, on my bed) any day now. Yep. Any day. Can't fail. It's their ultimate fantasy and it's all there in print a thousand times over.

I hope I haven't offended anybody with this. I tried to write it humorously, but I actually think it's a serious subject. Romantic fiction is sending out a very confusing message to men. Please take the time to think about what I've said. I would appreciate your comments.

Thanks for listening.


© 2000 by David Meadows. All rights reserved.
17 September 2000