In the past week, I’ve participated in several Twitter writing prompts. The challenge is to share or write a 280-character blurb using a specific word. This has been tremendous fun for me – and more than a little stressful. These blurbs have inspired me to start several new story ideas.
There are already ten or more story ideas or mostly-written novels languishing in my files.
Another result of these writing challenges is that I need to examine the way I look at romance: in movies, in books, in television, and in my own life. My reality is that I have been married to the kindest, sweetest, least toxic man for nearly 30 years. He is an artist and has the soul of a poet and is FAR more romantic than I, and I know I am exceptionally lucky that he hasn’t run for the hills – yet.
My fictional boyfriends, however, are on the other end of the toxic masculinity spectrum. Examples include Supernatural‘s Dean Winchester, Logan Echolls from Veronica Mars, Dallas Winston in The Outsiders, Han Solo from Star Wars, and my first ever love: the dark and brooding Heathcliff, master of Wuthering Heights.
Why do I – why do WE – swoon over these characters?
This last week has been all about Logan Echolls, one of my ultimate examples of the bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold. He is introduced as the “obligatory psychotic jackass” in the first episode of Veronica Mars and yet, before the end of the first season, he becomes irresistible. Then I started thinking about Heathcliff, who is half of one of the most toxic couples in literary history. Oh, how he made my little 14-year-old heart flutter. (Not gonna lie, he still does.) Despite his – and Cathy’s – boorish behavior, he is still romanticized.
And I loooove writing the bad boys; the ones who push everyone away as a defense mechanism, who sacrifice their own chance at love and happiness for the greater good, the misunderstood dark hero who just needs someone to see the real him that only true love can reveal.
Why would anyone with a rational mind think these brutes are so desirable? One of my dearest friends tried to read Rebecca by Daphne De Maurier last year and she hated it. HATED it. The protagonist was weak and Maxim de Winter was a bully. I loved that book and movie growing up and never really thought of it that way. But my friend is considerably younger than I am, and that got me thinking about how the different worlds we grew up in had an effect on the way we see romance.
Here are some of my thoughts:
- At a young age, I watched old movies from the 30s and 40s where that kind of uber-masculinity ran rampant. Women were women and men were MEN. They were dismissive and rude and sometimes downright cruel, but any tiny spark of kindness had the leading lady following him to the ends of the earth. Even beloved George Bailey declares his love for Mary by grabbing her arms and snarling in her face that he DOESN’T love her.
- I was in middle school when I read Wuthering Heights and the writing sang to me, the words flowing so beautifully into my soul. Having had only my adolescent crushes, the all-consuming need between Cathy and Heathcliff seemed to be everything I wanted. Even now, there’s something about that kind of desperate love, that irresistible possessiveness that grabs people, even though we know it’s toxic. (Yes, Twilight, I’m looking at you.) There is a very fine line between passion and obsession, and stories like this not only blur it but almost rub it out.
- As little girls we were told that if a boy picks on you, pulls your hair (like Gilbert in Anne of Green Gables) it just means that he likes you. The fact that we were taught a little boy trying to hurt you was actually sweet and something to be happy about is crazy in today’s world. I’m sure there’s psychology behind it, where our little ape minds don’t know how to handle the strange feelings we have toward another little ape, so we poke it. I don’t know; humans are weird.
- Looking back, it seems to me that we were taught, subliminally, that it was our responsibility to ‘fix’ these broken people and not to give up on them. That the more nurturing of our species bears the brunt of molding and bettering the beings around us. That all they need is the good love of a partner to steer them right. This is also, I believe, how we continue to have such a catastrophic level of domestic violence. But make no mistake: abuse is never the victim’s fault and only the abuser has any control over their actions. You can’t fix them.
While I have definitely seen a trend for healthier relationships in entertainment media, there is still a market for bad-boy romance. I can’t help but wonder why. There is a case for ‘nurture’ where that kind of trope is front and center in tv, movies, and literature, and our subconscious gobbles it all up. But is there also something deep inside us that craves that kind of addiction? Is it because the writer lets us see inside the bad boy and know he’s actually virtuous? Maybe it’s because we love a challenge and are obsessed with ‘fixer uppers’? Or do we want so badly to know what it feels like to be someone’s captivating ideal, the flame that entices the moth?
A little deep for a Saturday morning, I know, but I can’t stop thinking about why I’m drawn to these characters, even if I would never put up with it in real life. 🤔