Imagine this scenario. A young woman has been asked out, repeatedly, by the same young man. Whenever she bumps into him in their small town, he asks her out again. She keeps saying no. He’s pressed her for a reason, and she’s told him that she just isn’t interested in dating him. She doesn’t want to hurt his feelings, but she isn’t attracted to him and his continued advances make her uncomfortable. He keeps bothering her, again and again. One night, she is crossing a bridge on her way home and meets the guy again. Is it really a coincidence? Has he been following her? He asks her out again; again she says no. So he climbs over the railing of the bridge and leans over the edge. The water beneath him is shallow and rocky. He tells the girl that if she doesn’t agree to go out with him, he’ll let go. He even releases one hand to show her how serious he is. Scared and with no other choice (other than to let him fall off the edge), she says yes.
Stories like this are becoming disturbingly common, especially among young people. On social media, we see stories of “crazy” guys pressuring girls into agreeing to go out with them, sometimes with wild ultimatums. Say yes, and he’ll stop harassing and threatening you. Say yes, or he’ll bring a gun to school. Say yes, or he’ll kill himself. We all know that there is nothing romantic about forced consent. Consider the story above. It’s not romantic. It’s creepy. This isn’t what love looks like.
Or is it?
The Notebook is arguably one of the most popular romance movies of our time. Reconsider that opening scene, and keep The Notebook in mind. This is oddly similar to the hero of The Notebook, who refused to take no for an answer and even went so far as to hang off a Ferris wheel to convince the heroine to date him. Of course, it was all okay because he was the hero and we knew he had good intentions. He wasn’t a creeper and they were soul mates. We find this story sweet and endearing… or is that what we’ve been taught to think?
We’ve all heard that young boys pick on girls because they like them, teaching us that if a boy is mean to you, it’s because he likes you, not because he’s a jerk. (He’s Just Not That Into You, anyone?) In romance novels, we love a persistent hero who won’t give up. Young girls are taught that guys should chase them and that girls should play hard to get. If he doesn’t give up, he must really love you, and then you fall in love and live happily ever after. But in writing stories like these, are we part of the problem? Are we teaching young ladies that it’s okay for their “hero” to treat them badly because once they fall in love, everything will be okay? Are we teaching young men to do whatever it takes to get a girl to say yes, even if she doesn’t want to? Are we teaching young people that “no” doesn’t really mean no—it means “keep pushing until I give in?”
I don’t have the answers to these questions, but as we sit down to pen our next romance, hopefully these are things we’ll all take into consideration. Are you writing a story where your hero acts like a jerk, but it’s excused because he’s the hero of the story? Are you writing a story where the heroine is helpless and trapped, pressured by the guy who says he loves her? Or are you writing a story that models a good relationship for young people?
Food for thought.
by: Kayla Bain-Vrba
Kayla has been living in daydreams ever since she was a little girl and writing about them for as long as she can remember. It was her discovery of m/m romance that jump-started her adventure as a published author in 2010. When she’s not writing—or is procrastinating writing—Kayla enjoys spending time with her other half, crafting, and planning things to a tee.