Observing US:
A column about America,
by Marylaine Block
originally published by
Fox News Online, 1998-2000

#73, February 8, 2000


by Marylaine Block

February 14 is approaching, and many men are puzzling over what women consider to be "romantic." All they know for sure is that A) it isn't them, and B) giving her a vacuum cleaner isn't it, either. Like Freud, they end up scratching their heads and saying aggrievedly, "What does a woman want, for God's sake?"

The solution is so simple, guys. We tell the world exactly what we think is romantic - we all but provide manuals for how to do it! It's all laid out for you in romance novels.

OK, I realize you would no more read a romance novel in public than order a pink lady when you're drinking with your buddies. But if you read a few in private, in the dead of night, starting with the best-selling authors we really love (Nora Roberts, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Catherine Coulter, Jennifer Cruisie, etc.), this is what you'd find out about the romantic heroes we fantasize about.

For starters, they listen to their heroines. The hero thinks about what she says, remembers it, and acts on it. What he does not do is say "um hmmm" while continuing to stare with glazed eyes at the football game.

This is no small thing. Think about how many times the woman in your life has said, with deep frustration,"But I told you!"

Our romance novel heroes are manly in the best possible way. They know who they are and where they're going. They're forthright, honorable, a-deal-is-a-deal sort of men. We like those qualities, even when they're combined with complete cluelessness about women.

Romance novels often begin with two equally strong, assertive people coming into conflict - maybe he wants to buy and develop her land while she wants to keep it in the family, or he thinks she's shielding a killer, and she's certain he's pursuing an innocent person. But after the situation is resolved, both hero and heroine are strong enough to apologize for their stubbornness and the insults they mistakenly slung at each other.

When the heroines are widowed or divorced mothers (as they're increasingly likely to be in real life), the kids and animals are crazy about the hero, who cheerfully accepts fatherhood and cat hair on his best suit as part of the deal.

The heroes don't just love their women, they admire them, whether for their sassy spunk, or kindness, or ability to turn any place into a home. Despite their instinct to protect, the heroes respect their women as equals. In the more overtly sexy romance novels, the heroes also make sure their women have as much fun in bed as they do.

And when the hero reluctantly concludes that the heroine is not just a charming edjunct to his life but essential to it, he tells her that.

This is important.

He doesn't just expect her to know it because, well, sheese, I married you, didn't I? He doesn't expect her to deduce it from the fact that he went out and bought her feminine hygiene products when she was caught short (though this clearly is an act of heroism). He tells her.

The words matter to women. We'll cherish them and remember them, and they'll get us through the rockiest times in our relationships.

Once you've read a few romances, it may seem that you don't even belong to the same species as these improbably gorgeous, fictional heroes, but that's OK; after all, the heroines are just as unrealistically full of je-sais-exactly-quoi, in all the right places. These are fairy tales for grownups, after all, and if a writer is going to fantasize Prince Charming, she might as well envision him as a young Sean Connery.

But though we may like to imagine ourselves as Cinderella, we're more likely to live as Beauty and the Beast (or, as my son reminds me, Beast and the Beast), falling in love not with our man's ordinary exterior but with the warmth and strength beneath it. And if our heroes will just keep listening to us and occasionally saying "I love you," we'll keep on finding them romantic, with or without benefit of flowers and candy.

Though red roses and fine chocolates are always welcome, too, you understand.

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