Romantic hero number one, with stars in his eyes, asks romantic hero number two the age-old question, “Why do you love me?”
And romantic hero number two, who is a wise man indeed, gives a response that at first blush may seem glib, “Why not?”
This morning I am thinking about why we love what or who we love. That question, I would think, would have great resonance among readers of romance, because it’s core to most of our stories—and often a writer feels he or she needs to give credible motivation for a couple falling in love. And in fiction, I kind of agree, but is it true for real life?
At the very first Gay Rom Lit retreat in New Orleans, I had the pleasure of having lunch with reviewer and author Elisa Rolle and my dear departed friend, William Neale. At that lunch, I asked Elisa, with her reading far and wide in the genre of m/m romance, what interested her, a straight woman, about two men falling in love. She had an answer, which was, basically, that she loved romance and she found the power dynamic in hetero romance to be, finally, unsatisfying. Those books often had a lot to do with a woman being somehow rescued by the love of a big strong man. But, she said that in a romance between two men, the power dynamic between the love interests was often more equitable.
I thought that was a brilliant answer and one I have oft-repeated when people ask me why a large part of my own readership is straight women.
But then I began to wonder—why does it matter? Why does it matter why you like gay romance over straight? We like what we like. I have finally come to the conclusion that asking the question of why straight women prefer gay romance over straight is a futile exercise. For one, the answers, if they even exist, could be as varied as the respondents. But number two, and more importantly, is the fact that it doesn’t matter. Questioning why you like something can be an exercise that sets itself up for failure.
Who knows why we like gay romance? We just do. Do we need to understand the motivation to enjoy the end result? I don’t think so.
We don’t need to understand why we love chocolate ice cream over vanilla.
We don’t need to understand why we prefer T-shirts and jeans over more formal dress.
We don’t need to understand what psychological machinations cause us to choose vodka over scotch.
We just like this over that.
We simply know what we like. And I think that holds true with reading. If we think about it, we may say we like romance because we love reading about that moment when two characters find one another and fall in love. But why ‘gay romance’ someone might ask. And I grant you the freedom to say, simply and truthfully, “I just do.”
Which brings me around to the real question on my mind this up-before-it’s light Seattle morning, why do we love who we love? From my own personal experience, I can tell you that, for me, finding the person who might seem like the perfect mate on paper can often be the worst choice. My most disastrous relationship was with a man with whom I had the world in common. If we hadn’t headed down the romance road so quickly, we may have been great lifelong friends. But instead, we chased after a romance we both thought would be right, because we had so, so much in common.
But here’s the thing: we had no spark. There was no magic. And, ultimately, the romance we tried to forge withered on the vine.
Conversely, I have had relationships that have been totally wrong in almost every way for me (and that also ultimately didn’t work out), but some indefinable reason, they were a lot of fun and there was a spark. Who knows why?
Now, I am fortunate enough to have found someone with whom we had a spark and with whom I’ve found harmony and that is one life’s most cherished blessings. But I have also grown old enough and wise enough not to look this gift horse of true love in the mouth and ask, “Why?”
The only answer, really, is “why not?” Because, whether it’s books or life partners, the answer to that question isn’t really what matters. What matters is, “I just do.”
What do you think?