Tag Archives: true love

How to Catch a Man 101: Show More Affection Than You Feel

AKA Dating Advice from Dear Jane Austen

Bingley&Jane_CH_55

Bingley and Jane, by C.E. Brooks. {PD-US}

“There are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement,” [said Charlotte]. “In nine cases out of ten, a woman had better show more affection than she feels. Bingley likes your sister undoubtedly; but he may never do more than like her, if she does not help him on.”

– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 6

Here’s the trouble with romance!

Let me start off by saying this is not true in most books and movies out there. If you took the romance advice of most plots, you’d begin to think the way to fall in love with someone is to be as deliberately antagonistic as possible. Insult him to his face! Slap him! Try to avoid him as much as possible – if he’s really fallen in love with you during that half second that you met, he’ll keep coming back for more. Beyond any reasonable expectation, he’ll keep coming back again and again and again, no matter how much you insist you don’t want to see him. He’ll wait for you to change your mind.

Isn’t that ridiculous?

So – more evidence Jane Austen is a cut above (many) other romance writers out there! She’s dealing with reality here. She’s dealing with the reality most people aren’t masochistic enough to keep chasing someone who keeps pushing them down. Most people aren’t that good with rejection.

But I said this was the trouble with romance, didn’t I? Why is this a reality a problem?

Well, mostly because you have to show a lot of interest before you even know you’re interested, logically.

Most people aren’t going to hang around forever while the person they just felt a flash of attraction to makes up their mind, especially if that dithering looks a shade too similar to rejection. Move on. Plenty of fish in the sea. No time for this.

Not that there’s anything wrong with this – it’s just reality! Just the crazy system we have to live in. It makes us appreciate the true romances that actually work out, that’s all.

And in case you think I’m reading too much into Jane Austen, I don’t think she completely disagrees with her character, Charlotte Lucas (the character I’m quoting up at the top). After all, Elizabeth’s sister Jane does lose Bingley because she is too guarded and he can’t tell how much she likes him. Neither can any of Bingley’s friends.

Elizabeth argues to Charlotte that Jane is just taking her time to get to know Bingley (which seems to be quite sensible). Charlotte doubts whether this is a good strategy for the situation.

Here is Charlotte’s very practical (perhaps cynical?) solution:

“Jane should therefore make the most of every half hour in which she can command his attention. When she is secure of him, there will be leisure for falling in love as much as she chooses.”

Here’s where I (and perhaps Jane Austen) part ways with Charlotte’s logic. Making someone else fall for you first, before you decide to fall – that seems little self-centered. A little too self-centered.

What’s the solution then?

There isn’t one. That’s why romance is a mystery. That’s why it’s beautiful when it sprouts mutually for two people at the same time, and miserable when it only sprouts for one of them. That’s why we eternally write books and movies and plays about it. Because we can’t figure it out.

There’s my thoughts on it, anyway. Have a Merry Christmas, everyone!

(Oh, and stay tuned to this blog in the upcoming weeks! There may be some exciting changes and experiments in the new year!)

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Real-life Romance: The Scholarly Professor and Edith

The young J.R.R. Tolkien. Doesn’t he just ooze romance?

Real life is better than fiction sometimes. More unbelievable than fiction too, but that’s another topic. This post is the second of four to mesh two of my favourite blog topics: romance and history. Because I realized, when I thought about it, that I knew at few stories from history that were eventful enough to be a romance novel on their own. May I present the second Person Whose Life Could’ve Been the Plot of a Romance Novel… J.R.R. Tolkien!

(The first post, “Elizabeth Barrett Browning: From Recluse to Romance,” can be found here)

You might not be surprised to see Tolkien on this list, because I wrote about his thoughts on true love before. Clearly, the man had thought about love at least once in his life–a departure from his usual ruminations on rune-making and language inventing, I’m sure. And he does mention love once or twice in his epic Lord of the Rings, even if he does banish Arwen and Aragorn’s romance to the appendix. But the actual story of his falling in love with Edith–well, it might be more like a romance novel than you’d expect from a scholarly-looking professor who smoked pipes.

Tolkien starts off telling his love story to his son by saying, “My own history is so exceptional, so wrong and imprudent in nearly every point that it makes it difficult to counsel prudence.” Clearly, the reason he wrote it down for Christopher was to teach him something, but feels, like many parents, that his own life was not a particularly good example for his children to follow. He’s talking about how to have a good marriage, and be happy in love, but he’s afraid his way is not really the best way to go about that, even if it did turn out very well in the end.

First of all, Tolkien falls in love at eighteen with a Protestant. Tolkien was a Catholic. Now, some people might be confused at what the problem is here, but at the time everyone knew there was an ocean of difference between Protestants and Catholics, even if they both called themselves Christians (the Reformation, and some of the wars and violence that came out of that, might have something to do with that). Even today, Catholics and Protestants might hesitate to get involved with each other. But anyway, Tolkien and Edith Mary Bratt fell in love over their shared interest of visiting tea shops with balconies, and using the sugar lumps on the tables to toss into the hats of people walking below. Picture the serious college professor doing that! And, once in love, ran straight into the disapproval of Tolkien’s mentor, who viewed Edith as not only a dreadful Protestant, but also a distraction to Tolkien’s studies. Straight off, this mentor forbade Tolkien to see her. (See? Romantic plot elements 1 & 2.) Except Tolkien, instead of doing the Romeo and Juliet thing, listened to his mentor and stayed away from Edith.

So there is Tolkien, miserably working his way through school and whiling away the time till he is twenty-one and able to talk to Edith again (you know, once he’s graduated school and everything). And Edith–well, she meets someone else and gets engaged. (Romantic plot element 3).  Tolkien doesn’t blame her, as he says, “She was perfectly free and under no vow to me, and I should have had no just complaint (except according to the unreal romantic code) if she had got married to someone else.” But the minute he turns twenty-one he wastes no time writing her and telling her how he feels, to her absolute astonishment. She thought, since she hadn’t heard a peep from him for years, that he had forgotten all about her.

The two of them had a romantic reunion under a railway viaduct, apparently, and Edith returned her engagement ring to the other guy. Tolkien clearly feels inadequate upon his marriage, telling his son, Christopher, “Think of your mother! … I was a young fellow, with a moderate degree, and apt to write verse, a few dwindling pounds, and no prospects, a Second Lieut. on 7/6 a day in the infantry where the chances of survival were against you heavily.” I don’t know what the other guy’s qualifications were, but Edith obviously preferred Tolkien despite all of this. And, according to biographer Humphrey Carpenter, it was a happy marriage despite the rocky start: “Those friends who knew Ronald and Edith Tolkien over the years never doubted that there was deep affection between them. It was visible in the small things, the almost absurd degree in which each worried about the other’s health, and the care in which they chose and wrapped each other’s birthday presents’; and in the large matters, the way in which Ronald willingly abandoned such a large part of his life in retirement to give Edith the last years in Bournemouth that he felt she deserved, and the degree in which she showed pride in his fame as an author.” (p. 158)

As Tolkien tells his son, “the greatest of these [romantic] tales do not tell of the happy marriage of such great lovers, but of their tragic separation.” Fortunately for him, that part of the romantic story did not come true. He and Edith were married for fifty-five years, and died within twenty-one months of each other. And as I mentioned before, Edith was Tolkien’s inspiration for the beautiful Lúthien Tinúviel in The Silmarillion.

And that’s the story. The whole story, in Tolkien’s words, can be found in Letter #43 of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Other sources are Wikipedia and Humphrey Carpenter’s autobiography.

Does this story change your opinion of Tolkien? Any other real-life characters you know of, whose life was absurdly similar to romantic novel clichés?

***

Prince.CharmingReady for some fictional romance? Try my short ebook, Prince Charming, today!

 

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No Thanks, to the Guy Reciting Poetry Under My Balcony

Or, Romantic Reality vs. Fiction

What a Romantic!

The Gallant Officer, by F.Soulacroix. {{PD-US-not renewed}}

If some of the things that happen in romance novels happened to me in real life, I’d probably run the other way. It might make sense in the tightly structured, well-plotted world of the novel, but in the messy real world, not so much. After all, real life doesn’t have a plot, and it has far more dead ends and far less plot armour.

Take love at first sight. It never made sense to me that Romeo and Juliet could be madly in love after a few dances at a ball and a chat on a balcony – enough to run off and get married at the ripe old age of thirteen and twenty-ish, respectively. Here everyone is screaming at me that it’s fiction, and written by Shakespeare on top of that (and of course you have to be a literary genius yourself if you even dream of criticizing Shakespeare). But okay, I’ll go along with this story as long as I have a healthy suspension of disbelief. If, in real life, a guy proposed marriage the day after he met me, I’d freak out. (He doesn’t know anything about me yet! What crazy idea of me did he get into his head that convinced him I should be his partner for life?)

Then there’s the things the romantic hero does for the girl in these books. The worst example here is Twilight, of course. I’d never, ever, ever want a guy standing by my window watching me sleep, before I even had an inkling that he liked me. Yet somehow, because this is fiction, girls all over the world have called this ‘romantic.’ I disagree, but only by limiting such actions to a fictional world can anyone even make the argument that it is romantic. After all, in fiction the heroine can be reasonably sure the guy is actually ‘good,’ because up until that point he’s been hitting all the plot points that mark him out as the romantic hero. (In real life, you wouldn’t be waiting to see if he has a good heart or not, you’d be calling the police). Also, because she is the heroine, she can be reasonably sure he’s not going to murder her in her bed – that’s what I meant by ‘plot armour’ in the first paragraph. If it’s a tragedy, he could possibly murder her at the end, but considering this occurs halfway through the book, and the girl is our main character and point of view so far, it isn’t likely he’ll murder her now. So readers who enjoy this kind of thing can make the argument that in this particular fictional situation, these actions are ‘romantic.’

But my main point is this: some things that in books make me go awwwwwwww, would make me feel horribly uncomfortable and awkward in real life. And this is okay, as long as you recognize it – fiction is not real life, and awareness of the gap between the two is essential (otherwise you’ll be wishing to live in a dream world). And it’s good for authors to know this too. Some things that sound ridiculous if they were to happen to you today, may very well be the perfect addition to your story. Fiction, after all, is all about exaggeration.

In real life, I’d want a guy to do stuff that shows he thinks about me and cares about me, but not to go over the top. Not to do something crazy to prove to the whole world how WONDERFUL our relationship is, and how utterly devoted we are to each other. Fictional relationships are three-way relationships, with the couple mainly performing actions for the benefit of the reader. The characters have to exaggerate in fiction, to bang into the poor reader’s head that this is ‘true love.’ But in real life, I’d hope we wouldn’t have to put on a show for anyone. It’s enough that just me and the guy I like know.

Those are my thoughts on reality vs. fiction in romance – what’s yours?

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The Missing Ingredient in Too Many Romance Novels

 

True medieval love

True medieval love.

The Over-stated Role of Attraction

There are a couple typical plots for romance novels, but most of them go something like this: Girl is frustrated at being single/sick of dating jerks/doesn’t have time for romance. Girl and Guy meet cute. Girl and Guy hate each other for some contrived reason (usually one of them is arrogant). Somehow they’re attracted anyway. They fall in love. Something happens to separate them (Lies! Misunderstandings! He’s actually a reporter in disguise! She spies him having dinner with a beautiful women who turns out to be his sister!) And once this simple barrier is overturned, after many, many pages of anguished heart-searching on the part of both of the Guy and the Girl, they realize that they are each other’s True Love and they get together. Forever, unless it’s a more modern, more cynical work.

My problem is that so often books skip over why they are attracted to each other in the first place.

Usually if they start by hating each other, the author explicitly points out that they are irrationally attracted to each other anyway, and at some point this irrational attraction overrules their better judgement and they get closer to each other. So, pretty much these romances are based on the fact that one character is a guy and one character is a girl, and thus they must be inherently attracted. The flaw in this plan, I think, is that not every girl and guy is attracted to each other. Especially if they’ve given each other good reason to hate each other. After all, I don’t fall in love with every arrogant jerk I run into. To me, using random irrational forces of attraction to get a couple together is a cop-out for the author. It was magic, I swear! 

I get the feeling that often the authors are not very committed to making their characters truly dislike each other. Because the author is pretty much in love with one character or another anyway, so of course their destined romantic partner will be too. Unfortunately, in real life, if you don’t like someone you usually need pretty strong evidence before you change your mind. Otherwise this dislike is merely a formality the romance novel has to get over – a puny little barrier that can be knocked over with one hand.

Honestly, I’ve read far too many books where once the ‘meet cute’ and ‘initial dislike’ is over, the plot grinds to a complete halt. I read one novel where the couple got together in the exact middle, and nothing else happened until the second-last chapter! Really, chapter after chapter of idyllic romantic scenes, when you haven’t given me any insight into what these two characters like about each other (other than ‘she’s beautiful,’ and he’s ‘confidant and handsome’), is less than enthralling.

So, tell me again why Romeo and Juliet like each other? Is it just because they can both make silly rhymes? (Says Romeo: My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand/To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss. Quoth Juliet: Well, saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.) Or because it’s just thrilling that one is a Montague and the other is a Capulet? Sorry to harp on this particular couple so often, but they’ve been held up as the epitome of romantic love for so long, and I can’t understand why.

To beat another dead horse, in Pride and Prejudice both Darcy and Elizabeth find each other somewhat attractive at first (she is “tolerable,” and he is a “fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien”). Yet that does not prevent them from developing an intense dislike for each other – a dislike that takes the whole book to get over. That is character development. That is an obstacle to a romantic relationship that is not minimized by saying, “love conquers all,” (which is not true, anyway), but by treating it realistically.

Okay, so sometimes people are irrationally attracted, and sometimes they are stupid and get together with someone against their better judgement. Unfortunately, this usually ends in tragedy, not the run-of-the-mill happy endings applied to every romance novel.

 

Maybe I’ve just been reading really bad novels. Have you read any that were better than this?

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Tolkien’s Take On True Love

Edith Tolkien (PD-US)

Since we’ve been talking about romance, here’s Tolkien’s take on the subject. He actually wrote an astoundingly long letter on the marriage to his son, in typical Tolkien style:

 “But…  only the rarest good fortune brings together the man and woman who are really as it were ‘destined’ for one another, and capable of a very great and splendid love. The idea still dazzles us, catches us by the throat: poems and stories in multitudes have been written on the theme, more, probably, than the total of such loves in real life (yet the greatest of these tales do not tell of the happy marriage of such great lovers, but of their tragic separation; as if even in this sphere the truly great and splendid in this fallen world is more nearly achieved by ‘failure’ and suffering). In such great inevitable love, often love at first sight, we catch a vision, I suppose, of marriage as it should have been in an unfallen world. In this fallen world we have as our only guides, prudence, wisdom (rare in youth, too late in age), a clean heart, and fidelity of will …”

– Letter to Michael Tolkien (March 1941)

He goes on to say,

“Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might be found more suitable mates. But the real soul-mate is the one you are actually married to.”

 There’s got to be some truth to that – we read romance because we want a glimpse of true love, yet this true love seems impossible to achieve because we all have flaws (and whoever we get involved with has flaws too). Tolkien’s conclusion is that true love involves commitment, and doing your best by the other as well as you can.

The full version of the letter is very interesting. He actually goes on to relate his whole tumultuous love affair with Edith Mary Bratt (for Tolkien fans out there, the rumour is he based the characters of Arwen and Luthien on her).

There’s a shorter excerpt to be found here, and a longer version (Letter #43) to be found here.

 Thoughts?

***

Lookin' Good

cover 1

Prince.CharmingDid that get you in the mood from some romantic reading? I’ve got a few great stories for you: Lookin’ Good, Spring Fever and Prince Charming. Enjoy!

 

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Healthy Romance Makes Bad Novels

Teen Romance, by Oteo. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

What’s a Novelist to Do?

 I come up against this problem all the time when I try to write a romance about two healthy, well-adjusted people – what on earth should come between them and prevent happily ever after? This is related to ‘The Trouble with Modern Romance.’ In the good old days, the couple could be threatened with disinheritance by an evil old uncle. Nowadays, that’s a stupid reason not to marry someone.

This probably relates to the fact that my idea of real-life “healthy” romance is rather prosaic and matter-of-fact. The guy likes a girl? He tells her so. She says yes if she likes him, and no if she doesn’t. Sensibly, either they connect and it should work, or they don’t and it doesn’t. I’m not in favour of prolonging drama if it’s never going to work. Not much of a story there.

Romance novels irritate me to no end when the guy and the girl spend the whole time staring at each other and worrying, and refuse to take the risk of actually communicating (one mark of “healthy” romance). She’s jealous of the girl she saw him sitting with in the coffee-shop the other day? Why doesn’t she just ask him who it was (and find out it was his sister, or something equally cliché), instead of giving him the silent treatment, making him think she doesn’t like him, making him ask out her best friend in order to get close to her…

Sigh.

So I concluded conflict in romance novels should come from internal forces, not external ones, in ‘The Trouble with Modern Romance.’ Logically, authors could assume unbalanced people create more conflict, and thus more drama. Which may make for better books, but it might get to the point where pop culture doesn’t know what a functioning relationship looks like anymore.

To finish, here are two ideas that relate to my idea of “true love” in real life (true love between all people, not just romantic love). I haven’t quite managed to work these ideas into a novel yet, but I have to admit, novels are not a perfect mirror of real life. Authors can only hope to connect to something in other people’s experience.

 

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

 

Stay tuned – next week I’ll look at literary examples. What are your thoughts on healthy romance, love and conflict?

 

Go to Healthy Romance Makes Bad Novels, Part 2

 

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