April 5th, 2013
Real Men Vs Romance Heroes

There’s been a conversation going on about ‘real men’ vs. ‘romance men’. It’s been taking place on one of the lists I belong to and frankly it’s been fascinating. The opinions seem to be divided between women who don’t think romance men exist and the ones who believe that they do. This whole conversation began when someone asked about romance heroes having chest hair. If you look at all the romance covers with heroes on them, the one thing that should stand out is that NONE of them have hair on their chests. Obviously this is because they’re trying to show off their muscles, but the conversation quickly turned into ‘real’ vs. fantasy.

It made me wonder what readers think of fiction men vs. real men. I’ve never been one of those women who was grossed out by chest hair. I don’t think I’ve actually given it a whole lot of thought one way or the other. I think I look at men on an individual basis. They can have chest hair or not. They can have hair on their heads or not. I don’t think hair anywhere makes a man. It’s behavior.

As a writer, I’m given the option of how realistic (and I use that word loosely) I want my heroes to be. I tend to make them larger than life because I’m trying to entertain. The writers on the loop were convinced that readers don’t want ‘realistic men’ in their books. They get them in real life and want escapism instead. Some of the examples they brought up were: sitting on the couch in their underwear, belching, farting, potbellies, not helping around the house, etc. I suppose that is true of some men, but certainly not all. There are many types of men (just like there are many types of women). I personally think readers would welcome variety in romance novels, but the authors are not convinced.

Reading their responses, one thing struck me. A lot of what the authors ascribed to real men were in fact traits of ‘boys’, not men. I think that’s where the true split lies. Someone I dated a long time ago used to tell me that what I wanted in a relationship was unrealistic and blamed my romance reading habits for my unrealistic expectations. I’m the first to admit that I have HIGH expectations when it comes to relationships and men, but I was ‘convinced’ that I could get what I wanted because I wasn’t looking for perfection. I had a very specific list of things that I wanted in a relationship/a man and that list did not include a single physical trait. I think in order for women to find their ‘heroes’ they have to know what they’re looking for. Handsome, blond-haired adonis is not something to look for in a man (or a woman). If your criteria is that ‘shallow’, then don’t be surprised when the relationship doesn’t meet your expectations. Hair or no hair shouldn’t factor into it.

I have without a doubt married a ‘romance hero’, but he wouldn’t fit in with any of the guys on those book covers. He’s not about to spend three to five hours at the gym everyday. He doesn’t have time. He has a life job. His priorities do not revolve around his body, even though he exercises and cares about his appearance. He’s frighteningly intelligent and has a sharp wit, which he uses to make me laugh every single day. I honestly could not ask for anything more nor would I, if given the chance. Does he slay dragons or fight off werewolves? No. Could he? Oh yeah. 🙂 That’s what makes him a genuine ‘hero’ in my eyes.

What do you think? Do readers want realistic heroes or do they want the fantasy? Why? Do you think romance novels skew women’s views on relationships? On men? Do they hurt or do they help?

8 comments to “Real Men Vs Romance Heroes”

  1. I grew up reading Edgar Rice Burroughs’ characters Tarzan and John Carter to name only a couple. Then came Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian, Ian Fleming’s James Bond, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, and Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm. I never tired of the larger than life heroes, and their nearly non-existent ‘inner turmoil’. Needless to say, I love writing them into my plots too. 🙂

  2. Bernard, I love writing them, too. I guess given what you grew up reading, do you think seeing those types of men influenced the type of man you are and the type of women you’re attracted to?

    Because that’s basically what the conversation was based on. That women who read romance novels have expectations that cannot be met because they’re based on fantasy and that they wouldn’t want reality in their reading due to those fantastical expectations.

  3. I give women more credit than that. There may be a few waiting around for Prince Charming or James Bond, but I think most female readers enjoy fiction like most men – in that they know the difference between fiction and reality. They may see smooth skinned Adonis’s on the covers of books, as men see perfectly formed, air brushed women everywhere. The vast majority of us know the difference.

    We may be influenced by strong characteristics in heroes and heroines we read about, which is perfectly normal. Do we look for those characteristics in a woman or man… possibly – but in a toned down fashion, because I think we know better than to expect Wonder Woman or Superman. 🙂 I always wanted a real woman I could depend on as a partner, not Xena the Warrior Princess. 🙂 I got one. I don’t think fantastical expectations are as much of a reality as the media wants us to believe.

  4. Bernard, That is very well put and quite insightful. I think you’re absolutely correct about the ‘toned down version’. I believe most people fall into this category.

    You’re a wise man, my friend. 🙂

  5. OMG I can’t believe the “women expect too much after reading romance novels” idea still persists. It’s like a cockroach. Yeah because we totally don’t know what “fiction” means. Also? Wanting a man with heroic traits, i.e., willingness to do what is right, caring about others, and all the other positive traits that make a hero of any type of story heroic whether that character is male or female is not in the least unrealistic, either. It’s healthy. You shouldn’t want a man who is lazy, selfish, unwilling to take a stand, or a woman either. Adults seek adult, equal partners, the end. And if I want to read about Greek tycoons and their secret babies, this does not mean I don’t think my husband in any way falls short of heroic.

  6. I know Charli. Isn’t it crazy?

    The adults seek adults thing was my point on the loop. If you’re attracted to children, then don’t be surprised when they end up acting like boys/girls.

  7. Jordan,

    Before the Wright Brothers, flying machines weren’t realistic. Using that same logic, I have to argue that a man can become a romance hero if he wants to be, and these books can sort of serve as a guide.

    Im reading RED right now and I’m delighted to find that there are two more books in the series. Its my first romance novel of any stripe, and when my wife saw me buy it, needs to say she raised an eyebrow. Im reading it for its educational value though if you will. As a writer it gives me a handle on what a romance plot really is, but even more importantly, as a man it gives me another perspective on what a man could be. Take Morgan Hunter for example: alpha male and all that implies, as versus myself very beta male. While it would be foolish to do a wholesale mental rehab based off a fictional character, there are certain traits of Morgan’s that could be adopted or even simply approached in order to be a better man than what I am now.

    I have always seen men and women this way: when comparing the two sexes (not genders here), women on average are more mature, smarter, prudent, and convicted then men. Men are more prone to acting on their emotions, have delicate egos, control issues, megolomania, nymphomania, penchant for propoganda, etc. Men must struggle to resist the desire to become pathetic and wormy (even dark brooding anti-heros have more resolve than the typical “slob man”). All my life, I have tried to exemplify the traits of what I saw in the movies, read in the books, read in the bible and so on. I think I have made some headway doing so, thus if I could, I would encoaurge men to try to find ways that they can become like these supposedly fake romance heroes.

    Afterall, if you can imagine it, it becomes possible.

  8. Adrian,

    I’m glad you’re enjoying RED. I’m currently re-editing the book in preparation for re-release. (I want to add more paranormal elements.)

    I think it’s great that you’re studying the book for educational purposes, but I probably wouldn’t use RED as your guide to ‘romance plots’ because the book isn’t set up that way. (Though originally that wasn’t my intention.)

    Most typical romance plots wrap up at the end of the book. The romance in the Dead World trilogy carries on through all three books. That’s actually more in line with an urban fantasy subplot than a romance series.

    I’m not trying to discourage you. I think you should read all types of romances, if you’re working on your craft and want to know more about the genre. The more ‘spins on the norm’ you encounter, the better grasp you’ll have when you attempt to write your own romance books.

    As for characters, I think it’s admirable to strive to become more like some of the characters you look up to in life. If a character has traits that you don’t (that you’d like to have), then why not use them as an example. As long as you’re not trying to change who you are as an individual, then working on becoming the person you want to be is never a bad thing. 🙂