As part of my research for the book I'm writing based on this blog, I'm reading Everything I Know About Love I Learned From Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell. It's an interesting book whose thesis, that the romance genre has much to teach us about life, love and relationships, mirrors my own (well, she was first, so I guess mine mirrors hers). I was particularly struck by a passage from romance writer Loretta Chase that listed the differences between reality and romance: "In real life, men compartmentalize; in a romance, most of the compartments are filled with Her. In real life, men are easily distracted by, say, golf or a football game, when their women are trying to tell them something; in a romance, the hero is totally distracted by Her." Interesting perspective, and probably true, but I would like to pull this string a bit and see where it takes us.
Reading about this dichotomy between reality and romance in Wendell's book (by the way, Wendell is the cofounder of a wonderful website, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books), made me think of a related scene in Dragos Goes to Washington (I love Thea Harrison's stories--so much grist for the mill!). In this scene, a sleepy Pia wakes to find that Dragos has packed her things for an upcoming trip. She is amazed and impressed that he got all of it right, and he responds by telling her he watches her get ready every day and knows what she uses and what she wears. Later, when she is sick in bed, he buys her books and magazines that she actually likes and a new iPad, because he noticed the screen on hers was cracked. Ah, romance.
I've been married for more than twenty years. My husband and I share a bathroom and a closet and he does 100% of the laundry in our household. My husband and I both mostly work from home, so we see quite a bit of each other. And yet… there is no freaking way he could pack for me--casual, formal, toiletries, makeup and jewelry. No. Way. In. Hell. But I pack for him all the time. Ah, reality.
This must be a measure of the reality versus romance novels to which Chase referred (I don't put my paranormal and urban fantasies in the same category as general romance, although I know some do--I used to read a ton of romance, and my preferred genre these days has significant departures from its more traditional cousin--but I digress—which I haven’t done for a while.) It could be that whole compartmentalization thing, perhaps, but I prefer to deny that reality and believe that men have not been sufficiently educated.
For example, I think it would come as a shock to my husband that I would consider it a mark of his love that he paid enough attention to be able to pack for me. I believe this is true despite the fact that he clearly sees it as a mark of my love that I know him, his tastes and his belongings well enough to pack for him. Is this a double standard? Maybe. But in his mind, I think, he sees it as a division of labor thing, not a love thing. In our romance, love is expressed by an equitable distribution of responsibilities in which he willingly and graciously assumes his share of the burden for our shared existence. I think this is a fundamentally fair approach, and so I don't complain.
What does upset me, however, is that he doesn't seem able, as Dragos is, to observe me, my habits and my preferences closely enough to demonstrate an intimate knowledge of who I am, at least in those ways. I sometimes think he wouldn't do very well if we participated in that 1970s TV show, “The Newlywed Game.” Sure, he’d likely nail the questions about what is the most exotic place we've ever made "whoopee." But I doubt he could answer questions about my preferred yoga style (Yin), whether I believe it's okay to mix black and brown (I do), and where I keep my extra TBR book pile (in a corner of my office).
I'm not even sure he could answer all of the questions in an immigration interview if one of us were trying to get a Green Card. It's not clear he knows the brand of shampoo I use (Color Proof) or my shoe size (eight). On the other hand, I'm also not sure that any of this is important, except that there is no doubt I would be flattered by the attention. I am a creature of definitive and repetitive tastes: I like diamonds over colored gems; I prefer an ear wire to a post; I love to knit with brightly colored yarn, and to wear beautifully patterned yoga tops, but only with black yoga leggings. I love word art (and he's given me a number of pieces I adore, in fact – so at least he notices what’s on our walls), and I collect Tarot decks and chakra-related candles.
Like romance readers everywhere, I absolutely understand the difference between fantasy and reality. Despite my occasional wistful references to my beloved not being more like Jean Claude or Jerricho Barrons, I don't really mean it. I want my husband to be himself. But I would love it if, at least occasionally, he would prove Loretta Chase and Sarah Wendell wrong and fill more of his compartments with Moi!
With respect to distractions, I don't think paranormal and urban fantasy authors got the memo about romance. In most of my beloved books, the uber alpha males are high-powered leaders of their communities, species and worlds, and thus have a to-do list a mile long. Neither Dragos, nor Jean Claude nor Jerricho Barrons is ignoring his responsibilities and obligations to hunker down and make whoopie with our heroines (not that they don’t do plenty of that, thankfully). And that's okay, because, often (but not always, more's the pity), our heroines are busy being leaders and bad assess in their own right. Which is awesome. So I get that all of us are distracted, whether by ruling and protecting our worlds, or by golf and football.
What might be a smidge different in fantasy over reality is that when the alpha males of my books are with their females, they are with them, body, mind and soul. Sometimes, I get the feeling when I’m talking to my husband that he hears the auditory equivalent of the parental voices in the Peanuts programs. This is not always or even mostly true, of course, as I would never tolerate that (nor should anyone, for that matter), but I will say that having my husband's undivided attention whenever I speak would be nice. And knowing he was listening deeply when I opined, rather than just hearing me would be lovely as well.
Is that too much to ask? Have I crossed the line from reality to fantasy and everyone was too embarrassed to tell me? Maybe, maybe not. This wife will continue to hope that I’m on the right side of the romance line.
Because I do believe that everything I know I learned from reading smut--and that there is more truth in fantasy than not. And I've got almost 100,000 words in this blog to prove it. Hear that, honey?