Men Don’t Like Romance, and Other Platitudes

Tales of Arvia: the mysterious sorceress Oolandra

Today I thought I’d share a lively new online group I’ve gotten involved with over the past half year: Romance for Men. To begin with, about the name—the group welcomes everyone. The issue is that many discussions about romance implicitly assume ‘for women’ as the default.

As a personal example, I recall a twitter post about monster romances—which usually involve a human character being whisked away on an adventure and falling in love with a non-human character. The thing was, every single example in this post was a human woman as the POV character having an erotic adventure with a ‘monster’ male character. Some were handsome fey, some were buffed alien men, but every single one was clearly targeted at a female readership. Which is fine, but it shows that discussions of romance often assume that said stories are written exclusively for women. Final preliminary note—though this post doesn’t include a discussion of gay romances, such discussions are welcome within the group. I’m hoping one or more of the group members will agree to a guest post to continue this discussion, and include this aspect.

So with the preamble ramble out of the way, what’s Romance for Men all about? For starters, it’s been great having people to talk to about books/films/anime with romance in them. Pure romance stories for men are rare, so much of what’s discussed are either romance subplots within other genres, or pure romances with a well-written and appealing male character. We have book club reads, which have been great not only for the discussion, but also for recommendations that I may never have heard about/read were it not for the group. These included ‘Life and Death,’ basically a gender-swapped Twilight, which was a surprisingly fun read.

Which leads to some scientifically unproven generalizations about men and romance arcs in stories. Observation number one: the bad-boy/bad-girl archetype. There’s a perception that many women prefer the male character in a story to be the bad boy archetype. And yes, this is where men in the audience tend to roll their eyes. Yup, it’s another ripped, inked dude with a biker’s jacket and anger issues. But… drumroll please… many members of the group love the bad girl archetype. And after reading Life and Death with no particular desire to read Twilight, I’ll generalize this statement. People seem far more incensed by egregious behavior from their own gender. Take that aforementioned bad-boy biker dude, swap it for a hot biker woman, and many annoying, eye-roll-provoking behaviors suddenly become sexy. Uuugh. I suddenly feel so shallow and predictable.

Scientifically unproven observation number two: it’s a fantasy. People want things in a story that they may be unlikely to get in reality. For example, the trope ‘girl chases guy’ is a popular one in our group. And while this may happen in reality, the way it happens in reality versus fantasy often looks quite different. A woman pursuing a man in reality might involve her dropping various signals that she’s both available and interested. The thing is, such signals are obvious to other women, and to some more experienced men, yet many men simply miss them. The fantasy ‘girl chases guy’ scenario is far more direct—said girl flat out asks said man for a date, initiates physical contact, etc. The male character in the story doesn’t have the stress of trying to interpret various signals. There is no dreaded ‘I’ve misread the signals, made a romantic overture, and now I’m getting shut down.’

One final observation. Many men hate the third act breakup. A little background: one of the standard plot structures in fiction is the three act structure, where a story is split into three parts (acts in a play). The story leads to a big, dramatic climax in the third act, where the hero finally overcomes their biggest challenge. In romance stories this climax is often a breakup, frequently a misunderstanding which blows up into a major fight, and the couple splits apart. It’s then the role of the male character to make a grand gesture to atone for his behavior, and the couple gets back together at the end.

Further exacerbating things is the fact that many examples feel forced or poorly executed. Example: an overheard conversation is subject to misinterpretation. But rather than trying to work things out, one or both characters make assumptions, and a simple misunderstanding blows up into a breakup. However, many men don’t like this sort of drama to begin with, and a huge drama that could have been avoided if the characters had made reasonable efforts to communicate openly, is a big nope.

So if not a fight followed by a grovel, then what should the story climax be? Simple: external forces break the couple apart. One of the characters could be kidnapped by an antagonist. A natural disaster could physically split them up, etc.

Interested in more great romance discussions? Join us on Reddit, Facebook, or Discord.

5 thoughts on “Men Don’t Like Romance, and Other Platitudes”

  1. Thanks for exploring the topic. As someone aspiring to write believable romance (and salable romance!) these are important points.

    I would question whether an external force is a good third act breakup. To me, it sounds more like the inciting incident of the story itself. If the story is about the relationship, is, in fact, a romance, then the relationship has to be the thing at issue. By the third act the couple know they love each other. If one of them is kidnapped, ok, go and rescue them. That doesn’t make the other person doubt the relationship, doubt the correctness of opening their heart. Creating that doubt is what the third act breakup is all about, IMHO.

    • Thanks for commenting. I think the idea is that it in general should represent a final hurdle to if the couple are going to be together. One option is for one of the couple to do something with sabotages the relationship, the other is if an external force shoves them apart. But it’s still the decision if they make that final effort to be together. In the case of an abduction, of course a rescue sounds reasonable, but it’s up to the creativity of the storyteller to make it come to life. Maybe there’s a huge risk to the rescuer’s life. Maybe the police say they’ll handle it, but the rescuer has doubts.

  2. Great blog post. I am a guy, and a long time romance reader (on and off). I agree wholeheartedly with your third point about many men hating the third act break up. When I read traditional romance, I really don’t like this abrupt break up. I can’t talk for other guys, but for me it is a huge turn off. I like the relationship to develop. Challenges are fine; disagreements are fine. But, I really don’t enjoy the break up and the ‘show’ that follows it. When I write (aimed at a female dominated market) I also really don’t like writing that either. Give me, smooth, slightly bumpy relationship development and overcoming challenge together any day of the week!

    • I know! Sometimes I don’t think writers even universally love it, but that they add it in because they are expected to.


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