Friday, April 21, 2006

Lust, Yes. Love, Not So Much

Okay, deep confession time for someone who tends to - in general - enjoy the romance novel and plans to make writing them her career.

I don't believe in love at first sight.

I do believe in lust at first sight. It's human nature to be physically attracted to those one finds, well, physically attractive. After all, at one point in our evolution it was a biological imperative to choose the mate best qualified to give us strong offspring, and feeling a desire to mate with such a person before even the first grunt was exchanged simply demonstrated natural selection in action.

And I've said it before. We may have overcome them, but you never entirely outgrown your most basic instincts.

So I can appreciate the "from across the crowded room, their eyes met" scenario presented in oh-too-many a romance novel. Naturally when Hero McStudMuffin gets a load of the pretty face and stunning bod of Heroine O'HotPants and vice versa, the two would be thinking of getting naked at the first opportunity. Hearts would pound, palms would grow sweaty, bosoms may begin to heave, and blood might begin to flow away from the brain towards parts southward. Again, good old biology at work. Such physiological reactions are purely sexual, preparing the body to (hopefully) get busy passing on the genes to a worthy recipient.

What I'm having a hard time with is when a writer pushes the scene to the envelope and beyond by having the hero and heroine notice things about each other that simply wouldn't be noticed upon first meeting, and then uses this fact to imply love at first sight.

For example, if McStudMuffin were to ruminate on O'HotPants shapely physique and lustrous flowing flaxen locks, I'd be okay with it (in a neutral, non-victim, non-person who hates the objectification of women sort of way). But when he begins looking deeply into her cerulean eyes flecked with golden, silver, and titanium sparkles and muses how her lush mouth must have been made to be ravaged and how he's never felt anything like this before and yada yada yada, all without having even learned her name, I start feeling the itch to book-hurl.

Because noticing a person's eyes and waxing poetic about lips and feelings indicates something much deeper than mere lust. Unless, of course, said person does, indeed, happen to have eyes that are a supremely unique color. I mean, if I ever did run across a man with golden eyes, I have no doubt I'd notice them immediately, no love necessary.

But most humans are not unusual looking. Even taking into consideration the statistically improbable number of gorgeous people populating Romancelandia, heroes and heroines seem to be noticing minute details about each other long before I would imagine their first feelings of lust morph into deeper feelings of love. I find it perfectly natural that a hero would, perhaps, not notice his future mate's pretty, normal-bluish eyes upon first meeting, as focused as he was on getting her to remove her clothing. But after getting to know her much better, her eyes become prettier and he does begin to see those gold and silver and titanium flecks as he gazes into them.

Maybe it's only since I've begun writing myself that the cliche of having the hero and heroine have a bizarre, intense reaction to each other has worn so annoyingly thin. Again, let me repeat, it's not the physical reaction that I mind. Although, I do fnd it very eye-roll inducing when the hero and heroine first meet only to go on and on and on for paragraph after paragraph about how hawt they find the other person like co-eds at a Ft. Lauderdale Buds and Babes Beach Blowout.

But the second the writer starts to attach Significant Meaning to what amounts to physical attraction is when I get annoyed. At this point in the relationship - not even the beginning but something more akin to the pre-possibility of a maybe potential semi-beginning - the thoughts each character would be having about the other would be purely impersonal.

"He's got a great ass."

"Wow, what a nice set of hooters."

And as far as I've experienced, neither of these sentiments have anything to do with love.

I suppose it could be the case that either hero or heroine or both have found themselves in such a place that they haven't felt any desire for any other human being in, say, forever, and that finally feeling lust for this new arrival signifies something pretty big. But in that case, which already stretches the suspension of disbelief pretty thin because, let's face it, even the most happily of married and sexually-satisfied couples still have the ability to find others attractive and a turn-on, such unexpected lusting doesn't signify love. Maybe it signifies that something has finally been pushed to a breaking point. Maybe it just means that hero or heroine or both need to get some because it's been waaayyy too long.

I suppose this little rant demonstrates my overall problem with the speed that relationships develop within the romance genre. Meet on Tuesday, have sex on Wednesday, propose on Friday, get married on Saturday. Real world just doesn't work in such a warp-speed fashion, unless you're talking about buxom blonde bimboes and 90-year-old-gazillionaires on life support.

And I know fiction isn't reality. I don't expect it to be. But if I'm supposed to buy that the hero and heroine live Happily Ever After and not suspect that the epilogue really should be that how in two years the couple parted bitterly after ten months of negotiations between their divorce attorneys, then I'd better believe that whatever fictional love was found was something deep and true.

I just don't get deep and true love out of "from across the crowded room, their eyes met..." I need a little wining and dining and conversation before I'm ready to walk that couple down the aisle.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Lust overdone can certainly be a bit much. More disbelief than one can comfortably suspend.

But lust and love, though different, are intertwined. Love starts with lust, I think. And lust can change our perceptions. We want to think the best of the most beautiful people. A gorgeous smile can get you far because people want to believe it. They see the pretty face and they want to think of the person behind it as warmer, friendlier, more trustworthy... better.

Even though reality keeps telling us that it isn't always so, on some deep level, we want to believe it.

Under the right circumstances, that belief can grow into love.

So... Studly DoRight sees Angel D'Heavan and he thinks to himself, "Wow, she is hot." And then he looks more closely. Natual mental filters help him pick out her best features while glossing over the faults. "Wow, she's really hot. Heck, she's perfect." This is then followed by "I hope she's as good as she looks. ... You know what? I bet she is!"

The gold flecks aren't there, and almost certainly aren't visible from across the room. But a ray of light shines through a glass of wine and glitters off her eyes and he wants to see those flecks... So he does.

It has more of an effect than most people stop to realize.

From there, if they really are as suited to each other as the hindbrain wants them to think, then it can bloom into love and they'll look back on it and say that it was "at first sight."

If not, they'll shrug and move on and probably forget about the whole thing.

You take the first option, though, and use a few dabs of artistic license to pretty it up, and yeah... it could reasonably come out to look something like what you're describing.

It's just a question of how much...

P.S. I hope it's not frustrating/annoying/whatever for me to be constantly playing Devil's Advocate like this. I'm hoping it's interesting and helpful, providing a different perspective. But if that's not what you're looking for, let me know and I'll try to take a different tack...