Friday, March 25, 2005

The Epiphany or Wow, So That's It!

Last night I had an epiphany. I'm sure once I tell you what it is, you'll probably say "Is that it? Well, heck, I've always known that..." but an epiphany for me it was, all the same. So I'll risk sharing it and looking kinda stupid.

I finished Megan McCafferty's Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings (both excellent reads and worthy of a review blog all their own), and just as Rachel Potter's sister, my reaction at the end was a big "Marcus Flutie - Sa-woon!!" What an amazing guy! Romantic. Sweet. A reformed rake cut from the best mold. A true hero that made my heart go pitter patter.

Except, Marcus Flutie was all of seventeen or eighteen years old.

What in the world would a thirty-something-heading-into-forties woman like me find so amazingly attractive in a smart-alecky, baggy-pants wearing, bad garage-band wannabe kid? I mean it - it wasn't just the inner sixteen-year-old in me that felt weak in the knees reading about this guy. It was the grown-up woman who knows what real teenagers are like and is starting to find men with that sprinkling of silver at their temples kinda cute.

So laying in bed after staying up too late to finish SH, I mulled over what qualities Marcus shared with all my other favorite heroes. And that's when the lightbulb went on. Because despite Marcus's tender years, the kid had to be one of the most self-assured, confident young men I've seen depicted in fiction. A non-conformist who didn't give two bits about what the other kids thought of him, Marcus oozed strength of character and a willingness to buck the system, never batting an eyelash when his actions earned him contempt and dirision from those he certainly deemed less-worthy. Marcus was a "dreg" (a former druggie) who had no designs on improving his high-school social status. The kid accepted himself, liked himself, and didn't much care what anyone else thought. No mean feat, that, at age seventeen.

My epiphany: For me, the sexiest, most attractive thing about any man is self-confidence.

Above good looks or intelligence or sexual prowess, the thing that makes a guy a "keeper" hero for me is a rock-solid sense of self-worth.

Now, this is completely different from arrogance. Arrogance derives from low self-esteem. Somewhere deep inside, the hero senses he is not good enough. And in an attempt to convince not only those around him but his very own self that he is indeed good enough, a false sense of bravado emerges - arrogance.

Arrogance is bullying, dominating, overbearing. Self-confidence is quiet and has no need to advertise itself. Remember when I discussed Vin Diesel's performance in The Pacifier and one aspect I really loved about his character was his lack of a need to prove anything to anybody? He was able to walk away from direct provocation because his complete confidence in himself and in his abilities enabled him to do so. If he would have knocked around all the people who rightly deserved it, he would have looked arrogant.

And self-confidence can go a long way in overcoming what might be perceived as negative features. If Joe Average Looking feels good about himself and offers no apologies for not being a Greek Adonis, instantly he becomes more attractive. Same applies to intelligence. Whether a nuclear physicist or a high-school dropout, if the hero demonstrates confidence in what he does know, he appears wise and worthy of respect regardless of his level of education. A young high school kid who shows self-confidence worthy of a much older, more worldly man has the ability to draw the interest of not only his female classmates but woman of a...ahem...more mature sensibility.

Not to alienate any of you who haven't read my War & Peace-sized recap of the latest episode of Mr. Romance, but the proof of my theory is playing out in living color on that show. Marklander and Tony - two men that would most likely be judged as attractive from a purely empirical point of view - are probably the two most unappealing men on the show. This is because they constantly feel the need to remind everyone of how attractive and desirable they are. They have absolutely no self-confidence, because if they did, they would know they were good looking and would just take for granted that those around them knew it as well. In their case, their lack of self-confidence manifests itself in arrogance and ridiculous braggery which contorts any good looks they actually have.

On the flip side, Adam is not nearly as good looking - again, judging empirically (because I happen to find his face far more handsome than either Tony's or Marklander's) - yet he contains huge amounts of self-confidence. He's able to admit to his faults without apology because he knows that he has other qualities that more than make up for his lack of muscles. Sure enough, this confidence propelled Adam to a win over the other two "better-looking" men, and I can say personally that I wouldn't date Marklander or Tony if the world was flooded in piss and they lived in a treehouse, but Adam...well, he's married.

So, self-confidence is the thing for me. The intangible. The je ne sais quoi that bumps an okay hero up to the level of a knock-my-socks-off keeper.

And this is where you say, "Yeah? So...??"

The reason this was such an epiphany for me is because now I know why watching these confident men fall in love - real love - is so unbelievably fun, especially when we are afforded a good look inside their minds. Because often falling in love is the very first time this confidence is shaken. Whether he likes it or not, in falling in love the hero has allowed the heroine the power to put a ripple in his otherwise smooth sense of self.

The hero is now vulnerable. His own self-confidence isn't enough to get him through because it is no longer his own approval that he seeks. Someone has entered his world whose opinion matters as much or more than his own. Not that the man will fall down in a boneless heap of self-loathing and despair should the heroine reject him or think badly of him, but the chance for real hurt is there.

The simplest way I can think of to explain this is in the scenario (fictional) which has the hero in the position of protecting the heroine. Think Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard for a setup. The hero realizes he loves the heroine and that if something bad were to happen to her, his emotional life would be destroyed. All of the sudden his need to keep her from harm reaches such a critical mass that any former self-confidence is tested to the max. Sure, he's never failed before. But never before has so much been at risk and the cost so extreme should he fail. The confidence waivers. And if we are allowed to see inside his mind, to see this waivering no matter how small it is, the depth of his love is proved to us, the readers.

Perhaps this is why I have such a fondness for alpha-heroes. They usually exude confidence to the nth degree, and when they fall, they fall so unbelievably hard. And certain professions draw men who must contain an above-average level of self-confidence in order to succeed, thus the reason that heroes such as Suzanne Brockmann's Navy SEALs keep me coming back again and again. Even so, a beta hero who is supremely confident would be equally appealing, IMO, just as a big tough cowboy who constantly needed reassurance of his own worth would be annoying as all heck.

I know I haven't revealed anything earth-shattering here. But all the same, I felt like the last piece of a huge puzzle dropped into place making the picture very clear. Now I understand why the Marcus Fluties have the ability to affect me. And hopefully I will take this newfound enlightenment and apply it to create the kinds of heroes that affect other readers.

1 comment:

wendy said...

I love those "and the light goes on moments." In general they're the greatest, but when they relate to one's own writing, when you uncover a kernel of truth and find a way to apply it to your work, that's just sublime.