A Rogue by Any Other Name

There comes a day in every addict's life when she's forced to admit she has a problem. While I was out to dinner with some friends recently, a girl at a nearby table broke a glass on the floor. In order to stop one of her crunk table-mates from rampaging through the shatter-goo, our waiter reached out a sinewy, protective hand and placed it on her hip -- a gesture of instant possession. As the tension dissipated from their instantaneous connection, I leaned towards my friends with an incredulous "did you see that!?" and was met with blank stares. No one had seen anything. Nothing had happened. As my cries of protest died against our neighbors' chants of "drankkk," the truth became evident: I'd been hitting the romance novels way too hard.

I began as a social user. During my downtime at a former job one fateful day, I decided it would be "hilarious" to read one of the contemporary supernatural romance manuscripts saved on our network. I got a kick out of the terrible writing, not to mention the fact that it centered around a werewolf with a sexual disorder. In a crafty attempt to disguise my self-consciousness, I pestered my friends with my quotations as I went. Such childish naiveté! When I finally got to the weresex that had been building up for 126 pages, no one was laughing anymore. It wasn't long before I started hitting the harder stuff -- historicals. Regency romances have less explicit dialogue because the characters have to talk in period speak, and since all the women are virgins, they make for a lighter read than the contemporary protagonists who have to deal with past baggage (if I wanted complex, I'd read real books)... not to mention all of the men are called Rogues. I reasoned that this habit of mine was okay, because I wasn't actually spending any money on it (there are few lifestyle perks to working in publishing... but you do get free books). Oh, the tangled webs we weave!

I've been clean for about a week and a half now, and it's given me some serious time to reflect on my stint spent under the influence. I've come to the conclusion that this could have happened to anyone. While most people relegate romance novels to the same mental shelf as supermarket bookracks and beach house bathroom furnishings, the prevalence of series like 50 Shades and Twilight actually reveal a need for romance so startling it is rivaled only by the vulnerability we feel when confronted by it.

What follows the overwhelmingly widespread, must-have frenzy in cases such as these is an embarrassed backlash: The media does a walk of shame, questioning the perversity of a society that produces women who are obsessed with men who are selfish and creepy. Yes, there are certain elements that are creepy about Twilight and 50 Shades -- but as someone who has fallen time and time again for the rogue lord, I can tell you that it's not the creepiness that women find attractive... rather, they are willing to overlook a certain creep factor in lieu of qualities they deem more important. What could be so good that it outweighs all our better judgment? Let's explore.

To start, there are a host of superficial elements that prime us to be attracted to these anti-heroes in spite of ourselves: They're handsome, rich, brilliant and good at everything. They're sincere and vulnerable while irresistibly strong. They have every aspect of power recognized by our society and yet are unable to resist the charms of a usually awkward, wall-flowerish girl who, though much less experienced, is able to win them with her responsiveness and purity (unlike the other harlots that have calculatingly thrown caution to the wind in tumbles of haystacks past). It doesn't hurt that their insistence on never being able to fall in love can all be explained by the childhood trauma/ anxious-ambivalent mother revealed around page 250... or that we're intermittently getting their perspective on how attracted they are to the heroine's eyes/pert chin/scent.

But the attractiveness of the hero is only ground work; what ultimately wins the heart of the reader is the temporary freedom from the convoluted mores of modern relationships.

For one thing, while romance rogues vocally share the Everyman's fear of commitment, they never treat the heroines like they're mentally infirm. The women are, of course, perpetually afraid that they're going to be dicked over (as well they should be for loving such scoundrels/rogues/rakes), but they're never afraid of appearing "clingy." The amount of energy expended by today's women in an effort to avoid showing too much affection/coming across as "clingy" could power a small nuclear reactor. It's almost endearing that "amiclingy.com" isn't a website, because it shows we're not that far gone... at least, that we're willing to admit. But when it comes down to brass tacks, we've all suffered at unpredictable hand of the "clingy police." In this way, the rogue who finds his lady's enthusiasm "passionate" creates a nice reprieve for the reader.

On a similar note, the rogue also provides a break from the responsibility of having to do relationships "right." There is tremendous pressure on women to "get it right," to find "Mr. right," and, of course, everything must always "feel right." All this talk of "right" exists to justify the belief that if it doesn't work it, it's not because it can never work out, but because it just wasn't "right" this time... we shouldn't lose hope for happiness, we just have to try harder next time to "get it right."

Liking a rogue takes all that pressure to "do it right" and throws it "right" out the window. Why? Because when you like an unpredictable douchebag, you never have to face up to the fact that you're not actually "right" for each other since you're too busy obsessing over whether or not he likes you. We've all watched high-functioning friends agonize over the approval of guys who shouldn't even be allowed to look at them and wondered "what is she thinking?" Let me drop some knowledge on you: She's not thinking -- in fact, she's actually enjoying a vacation from her brain. It's the same for the normally down-to-earth, rational heroines of romance novels... they're not attracted to douchiness, they're merely enjoying an escape from having to call all the shots and being entertained by some harmless anxiety in the process.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that the rogue always winds up falling passionately in love with the heroine because "she's the strongest woman I know." I'm the last person to argue that these books aren't addictive/that reading them will amount to healthy expectations. However, I think occasionally indulging can put you in touch with what you actually want. And as far as addictions go, being unable to wait to get home to read your book isn't really so bad, is it?