Happy Valentine's Day.
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."
Wendy and one other person called me on it, saying that my answer was a little enigmatic, so I bumped into Wendy in the hallway and tried to explain myself. For coming up with it on a whim, I pat myself on the back, but I don't think I did a very good job. It went something like this:
"Romances are written for women in ways that women find romance attractive. They will spend pages and pages describing the characters, dedicating a full paragraph to the guy's belt and how/if it matched his shoes. Men aren't interested in that. We are more interested in the relationship itself, so when we read page after page after page of how hot and attractive the girl and guy is, we aren't all that interested."
In books I like that contain romance, there isn't such a focus on the looks. Harry Potter for example... not once did JK Rowling wax eloquently page after page about how Harry thought Ginny Weasley looked sexy or hot or anything. Ron and Hermione didn't spend chapter after chapter of them lusting after each other. But, I was glad to see both of those relationships form.
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"?
I think it comes down to two things.
First, and this might shock some (most? all? none?) of you, but I look nothing like Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Humphrey Bogart, or Matthew McConaughey. I like the story of an average Joe much more. Why? Because I can relate to him more. I can understand why they question themselves and if they are fit for the relationship. It seems that with the romance novels I see, and the movies that bring girls to tears, the cover has somebody like the names I just listed or Fabio. It isn't that I feel intimidated by them and it isn't that I'm jealous I'm not them (well, there might be some of that), but I just don't get emotionally invested in the movie. Steve Carell and Adam Sandler? I identify with them a lot more. They represent the everyman, and I love watching the everyman find happiness.
Second, the character arc. I can't stand it when men are expected to change for girls in romances. DRIVES. ME. CRAZY. Mostly because I think the change is not permanent in these relationships. I doubt the "forever after" doesn't end up so "happily". I like it more when a man changes BECAUSE of the romance or the plot of the movie, the girl accepts him for who he is (including all of his faults... looks included), and they end up together because they belong together.
So, here are some examples. Since it is Valentine's Day, I thought the women might enjoy this list of romance movies that men might enjoy watching with them.
Dan In Real Life
Steve Carell is the everyman who wins the affections of a girl. Yes, she is hot, but that isn't the only reason he likes her. He enjoys talking to her. They click. They get each other. The thing keeping them apart is family politics. At the heart of this film is the importance of family. The girl doesn't say, "I want you to be better looking and act a certain way" in order for him to be with her. The experience does have Dan examining his own life and become more honest with himself and those around him. The growth that comes from that (and his brother running off with the Pig Face) enables him to win the girl.
Plus, the movie is laugh-out-loud HILARIOUS!
The Wedding Singer
This time, Adam Sandler is the everyman who ends up falling for a girl who is engaged to be married. While watching the movie, we not only love every minute Adam is in front of the camera, but we come to realize that the girl is marrying a jerk. Sandler's character is reluctant to interfere because he thinks it will destroy her happiness. He also thinks that the reason he can't win the girl is because he needs to change from his simple life to be worthy of her. This is what I find interesting, Sandler DOES change to win the girl, or attempts to. The scene of him begging for a business card with his name on it had me roaring in laughter. He ends up turning into somebody that the girl despises. The truth is, she already accepted him for who he is and when he realizes this, he swoops in to save her from marrying a complete butthead. His growth only involved him accepting himself and getting inspired to use his talents on her behalf.
Forrest and Jenny, a match meant for each other since their childhood. She's forced away because of her relationship with her Dad, while he just does his own thing. Forrest is confused as to why Jenny doesn't love him, but he isn't forced to change or become smart or anything in order for Jenny to eventually return his love. If anything, Forrest is enduring because he maintains his childhood innocence and it is Jenny who needs to change, overcome her childhood problems, and grows up. I like that Jenny doesn't change FOR Forrest; she changes for herself and her son before she is ready to spend the rest of her life with him.
Yes, I admit, I liked this movie. Boy meets, likes, and marries girl only to get shot. He wants to still be with her and does everything he can to make it happen and help her move on with her life. He grew. She grew. They cut the bad guy in half with a plate of glass. Other than the awkward pottery scene, I enjoyed this movie very much, especially after Whoopie Goldberg's character hopped in. Granted, I don't look like Patrick Swayze, but this film didn't spend any time dwelling on how handsome he looked.
Ever After: A Cinderella Movie
Not all such stories need to be told from the male point of view. Barrymore is the everyman this time. Ha! Oddly, this breaks both of my rules for guy-friendly romances. The prince is handsome, and he needs to overcome his princely station in order to allow the relationship to succeed. I'll need to think about this one and why it is the exception. I suspect that it was because Barrymore's character didn't like the prince because of his looks, money, and power. She liked him because he wanted to help people and they had the same taste in books. I dunno... something to ponder, I guess.
Bill Murray... not that pretty. And here he has a very, very long day. The interesting thing about this is that the movie starts off with him being a complete jerk. If he had pursued the love interest at the beginning, I think everybody watching would cringe in fear. No, we didn't want that idiot to hook up with that nice girl. Throughout the movie, Murray's character changes a lot. His change even makes us want to change and make each day in our lives count. It isn't until he's changed and sees the goodness in Rita that we cheer for them to get together. He doesn't change for Rita, he changes because being good was the type of person he wanted to be.
The Princess Bride
To call this a romance is quite the stretch, but I just thought I'd put it in there. Cary Elwes is just a poor, loving farm boy who will do anything for the love of his life.
50 First Dates
Sandler again. And Barrymore. Very different formula. It's been a while since I've seen this, but I love how Sandler spends so much energy helping Barrymore have a better life. Her family doesn't want him involved, but I remember Sandler pointing out, "Hey, one day she's going to wake up and see that her face has aged a decade. You can't hide that. What about then?" Sandler helped her prepare for "about then".
Hey, we like romance. We don't mind reading romances in a book. What we don't like is the feeling that we have to change in order to be worthy of a certain girl's attention.