Why do we love alpha heroes in books but most women say they don’t like it in real life?
I’ve read a myriad of posts on the subject over the last several months. The latest is over on RtB. It seems to be a fairly common sort of opinion. And really, how many of us drew some of our expectations about relationships from what we read in romance novels? Yeah I know, you all secretly want to raise your hands.
There are some aspects of the classic romance novel hero that few women would argue with: gorgeous, often rich, and able to go on for hours pleasing their woman–ahem….
But there are other aspects that are not so attractive in real life. Massively arrogant. Often domineering. As a woman who is frequently independent to a fault who likes making her own decisions, that simply would NOT work for me. Sometimes romance novel heroes are almost abusive in rough, not taking no for an answer kind of ways. That’s actually a major turnoff for me in a romance novel as well as real life. No means no. Period. A lot of romance novel heroes are promiscuous. They’ve had oodles of women (which is how they got to that able to go on for hours pleasing their woman point), and frankly, that’s not appealing in real life. I’ve done too much research on sexually transmitted diseases and had that old adage “you’re sleeping with everybody your partner has ever slept with” burned into my brain. And that’s just…ew. As a woman who believes in strict monogamy and the very old-fashioned tradition of waiting until marriage for both parties, that’s just not gonna work for me either. I find the notion of learning everything together very romantic as well. Not that I’m turning DOWN all the zillions of romance novels with pre-marital love scenes… My requirement is monogamy and most romance novels adhere to that.
But still, I’m thankful that these days there are a whole lot more kinds of heroes than the classic alpha male of more traditional romance. RtB had a hilarious post courtesy of Diana Peterfreund back in June. I have reproduced it below (it’s all hers, not mine).
Setting: Community Center Rec Room. Institutional cream walls, blackboards, public safety posters advocating seatbelt wearing and VD testing. There’s a circle of folding chairs front and center.
Eight men enter, take their seats. The CHIEF takes the position in the center, while the BAD BOY splays nearby, his legs spread, his feet up on another chair. The PROFESSOR arrives without anyone noticing, and carefully observes the others. The SWASHBUCKLER strides in and drops a rucksack near his chair but does not sit. It makes a mysterious clinking sound on the ground, one that does not go unnoticed by the PROFESSOR. The CHARMER arrives, hair mussed and satisfied smile on his face, and proceeds to lounge in his chair as if it’s a suede recliner. The WARRIOR enters at his heels, his steps careful and purposeful. He takes the seat facing the door and turns his chair around, sitting astride it, his eyes scanning the room for any danger. The LOST SOUL leans against the blackboard, arms folded across his chest, either too cool for school or unwilling to admit that the BAD BOY is using his seat for a footrest. Concerned, the BEST FRIEND offers to unfold another chair.
CHIEF: Okay, men, we know why we’re here tonight.
BAD BOY: Yeah, because you dragged us in.
While the BAD BOY’s attention is diverted, the LOST SOUL swipes his seat back. The BAD BOY loses his balance and falls on the floor. The SWASHBUCKLER nods in appreciation of the move, and the CHARMER laughs. The BAD BOY leaps to his feet.
BAD BOY: You’re in trouble now, dude… (He pushes his overlong hair out of his face.)
LOST SOUL: Stop honing in on my territory, man. I got tortured covered.
The BEST FRIEND looks at the WARRIOR, who takes the hint and stands. He places his hand heavily on the BAD BOY’s shoulder.
WARRIOR: We promised, not tonight. (He looks at the CHIEF and nods for him to continue.)
The BAD BOY, still hot under the collar, glares at the LOST SOUL, who coldly returns the look. There will clearly be a fight later.
CHIEF: (almost holding back a sigh) As I said, there has been some concern raised recently that some of us—I won’t name names—haven’t been getting their fair share of work. Have, perhaps, been a little less popular with the audience.
BAD BOY: (rolling his eyes) So it’s my fault some of you are losers?
CHARMER: We don’t all get series named after us, okay? (adding under his breath) Even if we deserve it.
PROFESSOR: (speaking for the first time) “Loser” is not the appropriate term. Our popularity has always been cyclical, and it’s my belief that— (he pauses, noticing that the WARRIOR, LOST SOUL, and BAD BOY are huddled together, heads bent) Excuse me? What are you doing?
The WARRIOR covers his mouth with his hand, and tucks his lips over his teeth.
WARRIOR: Nothing. Sorry. Continue.
SWASHBUCKLER: (peering into the group) Were those fangs? Are you guys passing around fangs? Right in front of us?
CHIEF: Oh, you didn’t get your set of fangs? That’s curious. I can’t imagine what might have happened to them. (He shuffles a set of papers and looks away.)
BEST FRIEND: See? This is exactly what I’m talking about. If there were just a little more communication going on around here, we could avoid these awkward moments. Perhaps a discussion about why only some of us get fangs…
WARRIOR: (smirking and showing a flash of sharp canines) Maybe it’s because only some of us have bite.
BEST FRIEND: Whatever. I just know that all I’ve been hearing recently from heroines is, “Can’t we just be friends?” And she’s not talking about taking my last name in marriage, folks. Times are tough. For Pete’s sake, in chick lit, I’m almost always gay!
SWASHBUCKLER: (filing his nails with a spare spear point) But when you’re not, you do get the girl. I never get a chick lit heroine.
CHARMER: Neither do I. It’s such a crock. I do everything for those girls, and in the end, they always up and leave me for… well, him, usually. (He gestures to the CHIEF.)
EVERYONE ELSE: Get in line.
CHIEF: (clearing his throat) Getting back to the subject at hand. I’d like to see some ideas about what we can do to correct this imbalance. Just throw them out, and I’ll listen.
LOST SOUL: (under his breath) How magnanimous of you.
BEST FRIEND: (raises hand) I’d like to strike the term “Beta” from the lexicon.
BAD BOY: (snickering) That’s because it sounds like “bottom.”
BEST FRIEND: (clenches his hand into a fist) Don’t make me act out of character, man.
CHARMER: I agree. Just because some of us choose to use our brains rather than our fists… (He casts a sideways glance at the WARRIOR, who is absorbed in testing out the strength of his new fangs.)
PROFESSOR: Make that three of us. But what I really want to talk about is working together. I really feel like there is space for us all if we just think outside the one dimension. (He turns to the SWASHBUCKLER.) We’ve worked wonderfully in the past.
SWASHBUCKLER: (looking nostalgic) Right. Indiana. I’d almost forgotten. Hardly ever get to use whips anymore. That snake thing was all you, though.
CHIEF: Can’t be done. Not entirely. Someone’s always got to be in charge.
LOST SOUL: I agree. It’s a fantasy that there are group projects. It just seems that way if you pay attention to job titles rather than personality. (He gestures to the SWASHBUCKLER.) Even in Indiana, everyone knew it was all about Mr. Thrill-seeker over here.
PROFESSOR: (somewhat ruffled) That’s not true.
The SWASHBUCKLER becomes fascinated with his scabbard, then realizes that this may mean he has to take responsibility for the “snake thing.” But before he can speak…
(offstage) The HEROINE screams.
HEROINE: (offstage) Help me!
Everyone leaps to his feet, except for the LOST SOUL, who seems to have no desire to save the HEROINE. However, appearances can be deceiving. The SWASHBUCKLER is the first to the window.
SWASHBUCKLER: Finally, a little action! I’ll show you people how it’s done. (He fires a grappling hook out the window, attaches a line to his belt, and repels off.)
The WARRIOR tests the strength of the line, then begins to slowly hand-over-hand it away.
CHARMER: (to the CHIEF) Can you give me a lift? Your car’s so much faster.
CHIEF: You’ll only slow me down.
LOST SOUL: (aside) I bet I can sneak into his trunk without him noticing.
The CHIEF relents, and he and the CHARMER leave with the LOST SOUL hot on their tail.
During the conversation, the PROFESSOR has accessed the situation, and built himself a flying jet pack out of two folding chairs, a felt tip pen, three chalkboard erasers and a flyer advertising Tai Chi lessons for seniors. He waves at the remaining men and takes off.
BEST FRIEND: Aren’t you going?
BAD BOY: (chuckling) I’ll wait ‘til those bozos screw up, then make a go of it.
BEST FRIEND: I walked here, so I’ll never make it to her before they do. (He looks despondent for a moment, then shrugs it off.) Still there’s room enough for all of us. We can always take turns, right?
BAD BOY: Only if her name is Anita.
God, that always makes me laugh so hard! The Warrior, the Lost Soul, and the Bad Boy are my personal favorites. I’ll admit to untold numbes of fantasies about Highland Warriors clad in full regalia. Cough…Jamie Fraser. Tell me I’m not the only woman out there who find kilts incredibly sexy? I keep trying to talk my hubby into getting one. I haven’t sold him on it yet. And the bad boy. I’ll skip the attitude and take the wardrobe. My hubby has this great leather motorcycle jacket I bought him when we first were dating. Drool. So sexy. And the Lost Soul…well that’s just appealing, don’t know why.
How about the rest of you ladies? What’s your take on the hero debate?
*gasps for breath* Oh, man, this slays me. “Only if she’s Anita.” Dies.
I read that when it was first posted, and it still cracks me up.
As a reader, I like the shaded characters (just did a post on this last week, actually) so I guess Bad Boys/Lost Souls.
As a writer? All of them!? I tend to write Chiefs, actually. Yah, I’m vanilla. I need to branch out. I would *love* to try a Charmer, but I’m afraid I don’t have the wit to pull it off. 😀