Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Reading Girl's Guide to Romance, or the Care and Feeding of Literary Crushes

by Merry Gordon

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man (in possession of a good fortune or not) might just be a hard sell on a writer chick.

You know why?

Because writer chicks are reader chicks.  And I don’t care how good you single men are:  Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott and a whole entourage of fictional top hats and tail coats got to our hearts first. 

For all the ladies who had a “type”—tall, dark and imaginary—and all the guys who’ve ever had to compete with a character, I give it to you straight:  the three stages of classic literary hero love (and how I lived happily ever after beyond the last page).

Chapter 1: Childhood
Little Women

I could never work myself up to pitying those penniless March girls.  Who needs money when you’ve got a hot Italian next door?  ‘Laurie’ Lawrence was everything my prepubescent heart could have desired:  quick smile, nice tan, and black eyes and volatile moods just European enough to make him mildly dangerous—all those “By Jupiters”! (Stop snickering.  At twelve, a couple of stick-on tattoos can turn you into you Jezebel.)  But my copy of the book was the abridgment, which left off charmingly with Laurie beginning to cast significant glances Jo-ward (squeee!).   Eventually, I stumbled upon Good Wives, the second part.  I threw that book across the room 3 times.  Beth dies?  Jo ends up with some old German dude?  And MY LAURIE hooks up with snottypants AMY?  What the heck, Louisa May Alcott?

Chapter 2:  Adolescence
Wuthering Heights

On to high school.  My hair was chemically enhanced.  Some of my classmates were chemically enhanced.  I wore black combat boots, too much eye makeup, and listened to the Cure.  I frequented cafés and used bookstores, which is where I found my next fixation:  Heathcliff.   I was so smitten I considered begging
Cover Girl to make their Oil Controlled Pressed Powder in Corpse so I could mimic the tubercular pallor of my new gothic heroine, Cathy Earnshaw.  That girl knew a Bad Boy when she saw him:  rebel, loner—oozing brutal sensuality, but sensitive enough to cry (and soak a tree in his own blood in a fit of lovelorn agony). Suddenly, the paltry passions of high school boys were hardly enough for me.  You want to hold hands under the bleachers, varsity football boy?  That’s nice.  But would you dig up my dead body thirteen years after my demise for one last kiss?  Now that’s hot. 

Chapter 3:  Young Adulthood
Pride & Prejudice

When sociopathic obsession and borderline necrophilia stopped being cool, I discovered Mr. Darcy—which is to say, the BBC helped me discover that Colin Firth would win a Regency wet t-shirt contest.  Having seen the miniseries in its six-hour glory, I devoured the book and fell in love with Fitzwilliam. He ruined college.  Frat boy come-ons under a haze of Axe now seemed so obvious after Darcy’s refined desire.  “What does he even do?” my male friends sulked when I found them wanting in comparison. Oh, you wouldn’t understand.  Gentlemanly things.  Horseback riding.  Letter writing.  Daydream inspiring. Tight breeches wearing. What’s that you say, Mr. Daaaahhcy?  ‘Every savage can dance’?  I am excessively diverted.  Let’s skip the ball and sneak back behind this shrubbery and I’ll put on my new lip gloss and show you what else every savage can do…

What was I looking for?  Just the boyish charm of a Laurie and the fieriness of a Heathcliff all wrapped up in the polished passion of a Darcy.  That’s do-able, right?

Apparently not.

But since Saturday nights alone with my books didn’t exactly satisfy, I found myself a nice guy.  He wasn’t rich (or Italian, for that matter), and he wasn't much more demonstrative than a casual arm around my shoulder.  While his manners were good, he lacked that urbane air of refinement. I never tried to change him, but I didn’t exactly put Laurie and Heathcliff and Mr. Darcy back on the shelf for good, either.

I  justified. 

I rationalized. 

I could have my boyfriend by day and my literary lovers by night and be faithful to all of them.

And it worked out pretty well—for a while. 

One night I was sick, and my boyfriend showed up anyway.  Reluctantly (as sinus infections aren’t nearly as romantic as consumption), I let him in and we watched Wuthering Heights for the umpteenth time.  As I sighed over the end credits, he turned to me. “All your lit crushes.  Is that really what you want?—I mean, they look good on paper, but is Heathcliff going to pick up Mucinex for you?” he asked, tenderly passing me two pills and sweetly ignoring the Kleenex plugs issuing from my snot-streaming nostrils.

Reader, I married him.

He was right, of course.  Laurie’s charismatic rich boy naiveté would probably get grating when it came down to choosing car insurance or anything remotely practical (on the other hand, with his money we could just hire someone to do it and I could live like the trophy wife March sister Amy).

I had grown out of the emotional sturm und drang of Heathcliff—date nights that could end in impulse tattoos and restraining orders seemed less appealing the older I got. 

And while Mr. Darcy might be a perfect theoretical mate, I couldn’t imagine him scraping toddler vomit off car seats, or comparison shopping for tampons, or any of the other utterly ordinary acts of gallantry my husband performs on a routine basis.

Yes, writer/reader chicks are a tough crowd. But eventually we all come to a crossroads in our literary lives:  either we’re living in someone else’s stories, or we’re writing our own.  The latter is infinitely more satisfying, even when it doesn’t make for a great page-turner.  


  1. Ahh, Laurie. I was just reminiscing with a friend on Facebook about how we’re pretty sure that the whole point of many things in the 90s was Christian Bale... ;-) And the big question for us writers is how do we make our own male characters have that same yummy appeal? Hmm...

  2. Ah, yes. And you didn't even address the whole Gone With the Wind crush on bad boys. :-)
    Reader/writer women are strong. The men they choose must be, as well.

  3. Loved every moment of reading this! I sighed with remembered longing and giggled out loud. Great post!

  4. Merry, this was really fun to read. Thanks.

  5. Thank you, all! And the GWTW crush was stunted after I saw the movie and found out that Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) had terrible breath. (I still sort of love the rascals, though.)

  6. I was in love with Captain Wentworth from Persuasion. But alas, I married a Mr. Darcy. I can prove it. When we just started dating someone asked him if he liked me. His response? "She's just the only girl my age." Which is, of course the equivalent of "She's tolerable, but not pretty enough to tempt me." Yes, I'm still surprised we made it past that. But now we are madly in love. My point is that what we think we need and what we actually need are two different things. Plus, things are so much more romantic on paper than in real life. Trust a girl married to a real life Mr. Darcy! But real life has nothing on fiction. Real life is a hundred times better! You can't kiss a piece a of paper (well you can but the paper cuts could be painful.) you can't get a hug from a book cover, you can't whisper all your hopes and dreams to an inanimate object and have it whisper back. No, real life is much better and so are the men in it.


  8. Testing, testing. Does blogspot hate me? Will it delete my comment for the third time?

  9. No, of course it won't. The minute my comment is pointless and unrelated, blogspot will happily publish it. *Sigh.*

    Since I don't feel like typing out the whole comment a third time, I'll just say this: I loved this blog post!! Made me laugh and laugh. I would delete Heathcliff from my personal list and add Gilbert Blythe, though. Such a dreamboat! :)

  10. Super post! Smiling all the way through. I love the movie Sense and Sensibility with Hugh Grant. He's the best. I always thought Darcy was a bit of a jerk. :-)



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