Rob's last male POV blog was so popular we
nagged invited him to return to WITS. We asked for it, ladies - we got it!
Finding the right relationship is the most important decision two people ever make. What percentage of murders result from failed relationships? Fifty? More?
The popularity of the romance genre is based largely, on our fascination with relationships, and our continual search for ways of improving our existing or prospective relationships. That the romance readership is over ninety percent female should provide a clue that this fascination isn’t exactly symmetrical.
Although relationships are central to human existence, we go about finding them in ridiculously unscientific ways. I used to hang out in bars and wondered why so many of the women I met had drinking problems. Meeting a woman at a health club has at least the advantage that they’re interested in fitness. The strangest thing, though, is that a huge number of men and women are unattached, yet unable to hook up.
Men and women perform a mating dance, circling around one another, sending messages that will, they hope, lead to happiness, yet so often finding the opposite. Part of the problem is that these messages can be misunderstood.
Nobody sits down with teenage guys and tells them that when a woman looks at you for more than a second (especially with that little up-down glance checking out the bod), she’s at least considering your eligibility, that the flick of her hair signals her femininity, that any touch she initiates is full-out flirtation.
Nobody also mentions that, uninvited, the same gestures sent by a male are either weird, offensive, or simply unwelcome. Another problem is that men and women are simply looking for different things -- and often using the same words to describe it.
Frequently, neither side of that equation will actually admit (to others and sometimes to themselves) what they really want. When I was young and single, I spent a lot of time analyzing who gets lucky at the bar (or health club.) It seemed a universal rule that the cutest women ended up with jerks. At the time, I assumed this is what women wanted—being a “nice guy” was a sure-fire route to spending the night alone.
A huge sub-genre of romance (typified by the Harlequin Presents/Desire lines) supports this theory -- rich successful (often older but invariably arrogant, with a rich sense of entitlement and low opinion of women) males get the (younger beautiful but needing support) females.
Certainly, going back to our pre-human primate ancestors, women who attracted the protection of powerful mates had better odds of successfully raising children, even if this protection came at a cost (evolution doesn’t favor the happy, it favors the reproductive.)
Recently, though, I read of a study(http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/homepage/students/easton/PAID_exploit.pdf) that put a wrench in the gears of my simple theory that women are attracted to jerks. Specifically, psychology researchers found that “jerks” (they called this “lower levels of agreeableness”) are better at picking up cues that women are exploitable. Back to our bar scene. Guys, it turns out, find women who are drunk, wear tight clothes, and who look not too bright, but particularly attractive (http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2012/05/dumb_women_do_men_find_them_more_attractive_.html) especially when it comes to one-night-stands. These women are seen as easy to “exploit” (where exploit means sex without long-term commitment.)
Now, on to the basic question every woman seems to ask.
“What does it mean when he says he’ll call you later?”
It doesn’t mean anything, of course. Guys will always say this. After all, who wants to be attacked by some crazy woman? There are plenty of women a man would be happy to sleep with, yet be unwilling to engage in a relationship with. This is true for women as well, of course, but biologically most women are programmed to seek long term commitments while men are programmed to respond to long term commitments but to look for action on the side. This is one difference between producing an egg a month, with a nine month gestation period and a decade or so of child-rearing vs. producing 160 million sperm a day with a five minute impregnation period.
If he doesn’t call you, it means one of several things:
(1) he’s actually in a relationship with someone else and you were a fling;
(2) he’s a jerk who found you at an exploitable moment;
(3) he didn’t have that great a time; or
(4) he had a great time but can’t remember your name and is embarrassed to call and ask considering all that happened (this was frequently my problem as I’m notorious for being bad with names.)
Okay, so, let’s recap:
- Guys find exploitable women attractive. Exploitable, to a guy means he can get you into bed without having to commit to a relationship. If you want to be exploitable, wear tight clothes, drink, party, and hide your intelligence (i.e., be sexy.)
- Guys don’t look to exploitable women for long-term relationships (biologically possibly because they’re afraid they’ll be raising some other exploiter’s children.)
- But guys won’t notice women if they’re not at least somewhat sexy.
- Some guys specifically look for and pick up on signs that women are exploitable. These men are called “jerks.”
- Guys who aren’t jerks aren’t as good at picking up the signs.
I think the lesson is, if you want a guy who isn’t a jerk, you should show signs of exploitability but not too many—and you should be aware that the jerks will still be honing in on you. Of course, if what you want is a one-night-stand, slug down the extra martini and look around, meeting men’s eyes. You’ll find one (or several if you’re interested in swinging that way.)
Writers too often ignore signals and biological imperatives—partly because they don’t know better and partly because they’re writing fairy tales for women. Most women want to believe that offering sex creates a bond and a commitment in a male. This isn’t generally true, as most males view sex and commitment as distinct entities (necessary but not sufficient.)
But romance readers don’t want to hear about a male who’ll bed a heroine, shower off and go back to work completely unaffected. Partly, though, they gloss over the most important part of establishing a relationship, those difficult, funny-in-retrospect, moments when two people are signaling desperately—in different languages. The woman tries to sign availability… but not too much availability. The man tries to sign power and affluence, but wants to be loved for himself rather than just for his money (which he may not have… after all, there are more billionaires in category romance than there are in the real world.)
Don’t shortchange the reader—share those signals and confused messages with her.
So what do you think? Have you been writing the male POV realistically? More importantly, do you want to?
Rob Preece is an author and publisher (for micropublisher BooksForABuck.com). His most recent book, NanoCorporate is a near-future SF thriller (available from Amazon in paperback and eBook). He’s also published romances under his own name and as Robyn Anders and mysteries and romantic thrillers as Amy Eastlake. He lives in Long Beach with his author-wife, a desperately needy cat and a cranky bird.