Men and romance

I was over on James Duckett’s blog this morning reading about a discussion he had with a fellow writer and decided to comment. A blog post later I realized I’d written a blog post. I’m reposting this here, because…well, I put in a lot of work, doggone it!

Anyway, James begins thusly:

While at LTUE today, Wendy Knight had asked this interesting question:

I’m in this panel right now, and they’re saying that men want romance just as much as women, but they show that in different ways. I don’t think I agree…or else wouldn’t boys read romance novels? Thoughts? Opinions?

I replied something akin to, “It’s true, we like it. We don’t read romance novels because they aren’t written for guys, they are written for girls. Since we are wired differently, we need it presented differently.”

She seemed… somewhat convinced, but it got me thinking about it. Yes, I do like romances. Some of my most favorite movies are “Dan In Real Life” and “The Wedding Singer.” All of these have the basic romantic formula (boy meets girl, boy likes girl, boy loses girl, and they get together). So why does this work and not a Harlequin Romance or something like “Steel Magnolias”?

He goes on to examine several movies he feels are good examples of “romance for guys.” At that point I noted some excellent examples on his list, and some omissions. So I added my two-thousand cents:

Yes, guys want romance. At least some guys. Not all women want romance either, at least not the Harlequin Romance variety. Guys just need to connect with it our way. We want it in ways where the men can still be manly. Roman Holiday, Philadelphia Story, African Queen, Casablanca, Adam’s Rib….these are all romances, and they totally rock! Or, to get more modern, your list here does nicely.

I’ve not seen all of them, but Dan in Real Life is SO spot on! I felt Dan’s anguish every step of the way. What guy can’t relate to finding the perfect woman only to find out she “belongs” to someone else who doesn’t appreciate or deserve her? Rick Springfield wrote “Jessie’s Girl” for us, girls, not you! But Dan is damaged goods, and he needs to fix himself–not for her, but for himself–before he can be happy.

You’ve Got Mail is one I would add to the list. Besides being the story of my wife’s and my romance, it fits. Tom Hanks’ character, despite being different from his dad and grandfather, is still more like them than he realizes, and therefore has trouble finding the “right” relationship. He has relationships not for deep connections, but for convenience and, I believe, appearances. He has a girlfriend, but he’s about the only one who can’t see she’s wrong for him (Parker Posey plays her mercilessly unsympathetic). He hangs around with a jaded, snarky crowd, and has learned to act that way, but inside he’s much better than that.

And he’s in an email-only relationship with a woman he’s never met. She connects with that guy inside who he would rather be, but can’t. If he could ever meet her you just know she would set him free. We just know it! So it’s not coincidence that he’s the first to find out who “she” is–and she’s the enemy, the book shop owner who his latest mega-store is  driving out of business, and she’s publicly raking him over the coals! And she’s in a relationship, too (also a real head-scratcher, but at least Greg Kinnear’s character is charming, if clueless.).

Hanks’ Joe Fox has to change, too, but again it’s not for her. He already suspects, because of their email connection, if he could learn to let the real him be seen she would love him. But he has to first learn that it’s okay to let someone into his life–his real life–and to be in love for love, not convenience. And he also has to convince Meg Ryan that he really can be that guy she’s in love with via email, not the horrible public personae she believes him to be.

It’s also a fascinating study in denouement. Once they finally come together in real life the movie ends RIGHT THERE. In a way I’d love to see them together more,but for a movie it’s actually perfect. We already know they’re perfect together–we’ve seen it in every email exchange, and during Joe’s “tweaking” experiment. In this regard Nora Ephron gets it right in a way she didn’t in Sleepless in Seattle. We SUSPECT they are right for each other in that one, but we’re not really given a chance to see it. We know they’re not right for anyone else in the movie, but other than the whole “destiny” thing, how can we really be sure?

As an aside, While You Were Sleeping is another good one. Yes, it’s about Sandra Bullock’s character, but Bill Pullman’s character is such a great, relatable, good-guy I found myself cheering for him to get her as much the women viewers were cheering for her to wake up and fall in love with him.

So yes, there are guys who like romance. We just want it differently. The Harlequin Romance formula doesn’t work for us, and we don’t care much for the whole “bad-boy-changes-for-good-girl” thing, but we can still “get” romance.

7 thoughts on “Men and romance”

  1. An … interesting take on that Thom. My take, “Do men want romance?” Define romance and define men. I recollect a saying that I heard some time ago, “Men play with love to get sex, and women play with sex to get love”. Change the word “love” with the word “romance” and I think that you have hit it spot on for most men, or at least “guys”. Most men/guys aren’t “violently OPPOSED” to romance, as long as it 1) doesn’t take too long and 2) doesn’t get in the way of their ultimate goal. Some guys think that to show ANY tenderness means they are less manly (thank you Hemingway), and to them, life is either sex or “manly pursuits” mixed with or followed by sex. Then there those who enjoy it in some form or another.

    So, I get back to, “Do men want romance?” Define romance and define men.

  2. I’m not sure how more clear I can get than “some guys.” Clearly your experience varies from mine. Whatever. The point was more a discussion of genre/theme, really. Guys who like romance in entertainment are still probably not going to like it in quite the same way the women do, but that doesn’t mean we don’t like it.

    1. I know you weren’t trying to start a fight, though your last statement came across somewhat insistent that the burden of definition should be on me, when I thought I had sufficiently acknowledged already I wasn’t speaking for all men. But I admit I get irritable when people start implying that men are/ should be nothing more than heat-seeking missiles. Perhaps I’ve been fortunate enough to have been sheltered from that, and maybe more men are that way than I want to believe. Humanity certainly seems to want both men and women to indulge, even wallow in, their animalistic natures these days, so it may be a bit of a knee-jerk reaction on my part to keep insisting it doesn’t need to, even shouldn’t, be that way.

  3. So…men like romances aimed at and written around a male MC, which are written in a way that doesn’t make the man look like a wimp who needs a woman to make him into a complete human being.

    1. 🙂 I’m not sure even “not looking like a wimp” is requisite, but then there could probably be some discussion over what constitutes being a wimp in the first place. In “Dan in Real Life” you could say he’s a bit of a wimp in some ways. Perhaps it’s just not being TOO wimpy. And while it’s a fine line, perhaps it’s more that the woman makes him want to be better guy, or the woman gives him the courage/impetus to change. There’s a lot of gray area in there, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the “Guys and Dolls” idea of “Marry the man today and change him tomorrow.” It’s not the man surrendering and letting the woman mold him however she wants, it’s more of a realization that “Hey, there’s this one negative aspect of myself that’s getting in the way of happiness with this woman. I’m going to overcome that and be happy.” One is a subversion of will, while the other is an assertion of will. Does that make sense?

  4. Well, sorry, Thom, I didn’t realize that I was implying much of anything other than romance means different things to different people, and that you are likely to get different reactions to romance, even if you get the right definition, depending on the man. I had no idea it sounded like that much of a challenge. And like you, I think that men should aspire higher.

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