Love is a Battlefield
According to a popular saying, all is fair in love and war, but when it comes to romantic fiction, it could be said that some love stories are less about the desire to win the object of one’s love than a need to win and establish equity.
Love is one of the most powerful forms of human experience, says Helen E. Fisher, a research anthropologist and author of “Why Him, Why Her” and “Why We Love.” Fisher’s research proves that love sets off a hormonal reaction in the human brain that literally makes you feel as if you are addicted to the other person and can drive you to do crazy things in the name of love.
The addictive quality of love certainly encourages a person to aggressively pursue the object of his or her affections but why pick someone who seems so unobtainable as to narrow the odds of your success? In real life, it’s wise to temper the longing of the heart with some logic. Most people choose a mate, says Fisher, at least partially based on similarities in background and lifestyle.
But romantic fiction is something else entirely. Whether it’s the fairy tale of Cinderella, the ironic, witty classic Pride and Prejudice, paperback romance novels, or even the paranormal romance, Twilight, the heroines in these stories seek to achieve equity, to take the hero, an extraordinary object of attraction and make him more ordinary or equal.
In such romantic fiction scenarios, the desirable hero is aloof, unobtainable for a variety of reasons. He is royal, rich, haughty, bound by a terrible secret or, when it comes to paranormal romances, perhaps not really human. The heroines are, as a rule, virtuous and plucky. They proceed to win the prize by the merit of their actions, rather than their immediate attractions. In earlier non-Disney versions of Cinderella, the heroine more obviously wins the Prince by being good rather than beautiful. In other such fiction, the heroine transforms or tames the accomplished and unobtainable hero by being smart, personable, resourceful, fearless and loyal.
As part of the taming process, the heroine makes the hero more human, shows him how to relate to those less fortunate, enjoy humble experiences, and leave his pedestal or position of power, if only temporarily. While he may raise her station in life by choosing her, she makes him more human and vulnerable.
Why would a woman even want to obtain a man that holds himself so far above her? Maybe there is a biological basis for women’s need to “tame” men. Men are generally, taller and stronger than women. Those who are at a physical disadvantage tend to use other skills to survive and hopefully prosper—negotiation, compromise, charm and perhaps seduction. It was definitely a man’s world when Pride and Prejudice was written and a good marital match was one of the few ways a woman could get ahead but that does not explain the continuing pull of Twilight or romance novels in a world where women compete in the Olympics and a woman’s earning power can easily outstrip a man’s.
I’m not suggesting real love is or should be a battlefield but its interesting that despite the reduced disparity in real life, this classic form of romantic literature continues to provide a vicarious thrill for its readers. Love may conquer all but in romantic literature it is often a form of conquest.
Joan Vos MacDonald is the author of After the Fire, a book about Revolutionary War era New York City. The book is available on Kindle.