There's something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I call it the Fantasy of Being Special. In romances, it most often manifests when the hero leans in and says to the heroine, "You're so different from all the other women I've known."
But here's the thing: nobody is different from all the other women. It's natural to feel that way sometimes. I was a nerdy girl in high school who didn't wear makeup or know how to flirt, and I loved reading books where plain, bookish, sensible girls like me had their inherent value recognized by the hero while those other girls, the girls I felt as if everyone wanted me to be, were shown up as shallow, boring, or mean. But...the fact that there are so many of those books out there means I couldn't have been all that special. There were lots of girls like me.
When you've been told your whole life that you're the wrong kind of girl, it's natural to want to say, No. She's the wrong kind of girl, and I'm the right kind. But in the end, you're playing the same stupid game: that there is only one right kind of woman to be, and only that kind of woman deserves to be rewarded with the ultimate prize: male approval, attraction, and attention. The truth is, it's okay to be any kind of woman. It's not a competition. It's not a zero-sum game.
We are all special. Everybody is special.
Think about doing a jigsaw puzzle. The hardest part to do is always the sky, right? Or the water or the trees or whatever the big undistinguished part is, because the pieces all look more or less the same and there are seemingly an infinite number of them. And yet, most of those pieces aren't matches for each other. So when you find two that aren't obviously different from any of the others, but that fit together perfectly--it's the best feeling.
If the hero is just picking the heroine over some beautiful but transparently nasty femme fatale, or the demure porcelain-doll girl who nags everyone to follow all the rules, or whatever, how romantic is that? But he's picking the heroine over every other person in the world. Some of those people are pretty cool! Some of them might tell better jokes or be prettier or share his abiding love of the lesser Shakespearean tragedies. But there's something about the heroine that calls to him, anyway. Something says, this one.
Lady Serena, the heroine of my new book A Lily Among Thorns, is very very clear on one thing: she's not like other women. Other women didn't run away from home. Other women didn't end up working briefly as prostitutes to support themselves. Other women don't run their own successful hotels. Other women aren't angry, other women don't avoid expressing their feelings, other women don't have trouble making friends, other women aren't afraid of rejection, other women don't ever say nasty things to men they really, really like.
Then Solomon, the hero, shows up, and he says, "Oh, stop being so melodramatic, you're not that weird or intimidating. I like you, let's hang out. Do you want to bake pear-almond tartlets with me? Hey, I've got aristocratic connections but I work for a living too, we have so much in common! Can I kiss you? Oh, and could you try to stop freaking out and saying nasty things to me? It's kind of obnoxious." And that's terrifying to her.
It's easy to say, "He just didn't get me because I'm too special." What's really hard is, "It didn't work out even though I wanted it to," or even worse, "I tried really hard to make it work with this guy because I really care about him, and it could have been great but I messed it up."
Romance novels are all about coming to realize your own worth. For Serena, that's partly about understanding that she's just a person with problems, like everybody else, and that that doesn't make her any less special or unique.
Tell me about a time you thought you were the only person in the world who..., and then you found out you had company! (Little things are fine! For example, I thought for a really long time that I was the only person in the world not attracted to Ryan Reynolds.)
Melanie Murray is the moderator of Romantic Reads, BN.com's all-romance, all-the-time community forum.
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