Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Real Prince Charmings

A lot of people—both men and women—turn their noses up at women’s fiction, so often dismissing it as “chick lit.”

But I love this genre. I most ardently love it.

Bring me your flawed, relatable protagonists. Bring me your quick, witty dialogue that literally never happens in real life. Workplace drama? Awesome! A fiercely loyal and clever best friend? I'd expect nothing less. A tumultuous “will they or won’t they” romance?

This is where things get fuzzy.

As my plane landed in Cincinnati this evening, I was flying through the final pages of a recent novel written by a favorite women’s fiction author.

And I was feeling frustrated and disappointed.

Because yet another smart heroine had ended up with yet another eternal-player-turned-monogamist love interest.

Okay, seriously.

Can we *please* stop this already?

It’s not that I’m against a great love story that keeps the reader guessing. I mean, a great love story should have its ups and downs and leave you on the edge of your seat, right?

But there are so many more creative ways to achieve this rather than placing a commitment phobe on a pedestal and having him magically change his ways in the last 5–10 pages.

Why do smart writers continue to allow the clich├ęd “Carrie and Mr. Big” setup dilute their work? Has everyone forgotten what Jane Austen taught us? The Mr. Wickhams of the world are not to be trusted!

And to make matters worst?

There is generally an older, wiser female character who warns the protagonist of the alarmingly handsome, impossibly charming, astonishingly smart, mind-bogglingly wealthy womanizer.

And yet, the lovable heroine just can’t help herself and falls for him anyway. And—surprise!—after all his mixed messages and unreliable behavior, he changes. Because she was special.


As a voracious reader and an aspiring author, I am disappointed when I see this trope appear again and again. It hurts my heart a little bit. I think of all the novels I read at ages 11, 15, 18... And I can’t help but wonder how they affected me and my own romantic expectations.

I spent a whole bunch of years entangling myself in flings that were toast before they even started. Some were fun, some were agonizing, and all of them were doomed. Because they all involved men who were carbon copies of the characters I read about in women's fiction.

So while the smart, funny banter, handsome looks, and eternal, beguiling ambiguousness were all there, that final plot twist never came. These guys? They never changed.

When I met Adam, he asked me out on a second date before our first had ended. Within two weeks, he was proudly calling me his girlfriend. On evenings I had grad school class after work, he'd cook me a late supper to enjoy when I was finally free at 10pm.

Adam let me cry big, ugly sobs into his chest when my family dog had a cancer scare, and then he took me to get margaritas after. He literally ran over a bouquet of flowers to my office the afternoon I received good news from a literary agent.

Adam sends me a text each morning, asking how I slept the night before and wishing me a good day. He doesn't let me grow quiet after an argument; he is a fixer and makes things right. When he arrives home from work, he stops into my writer's nook, kisses the top of my head, and then engulfs the dogs into huge hugs. He loves me when I'm not acting very lovable.

He is my actual, totally real Prince Charming, and he's made me realize that true love doesn't play games.

And yet, it's just as much fun. Usually more so.

It's time we celebrate the good guys and stop telling girls the other ones are worth waiting for, that they're going to suddenly undergo some magical, radical metamorphosis.

Besides, can't we all agree Harry Goldenblatt was a way better catch than Mr. Big?

He let Charlotte keep a litter of King Charles Spaniels in the penthouse, for goodness sake.

There are better love stories to be told.

So let's write them.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Taking the Plunge

In January, Adam and I decided to join a gym.

You know, like millions of other Americans.

We toured the Jewish Community Center in our neighborhood, and it had everything we wanted, including an immaculate workout facility (Every treadmill has a TV complete with Netflix—how about that for fancy?), free exercise classes, and an aquatics center.

A lot of evenings, Adam and I will do cardio workouts before meeting in the pool area to walk against the lazy river or just relax in the whirlpool spa.

I often look over longingly at the laps pool as svelte swimmers breaststroke their way from end to end.
Source (Also: not the actual JCC pool)

"Why don't you go swim some laps?" Adam will ask.

"Oh, I don't have goggles," was my first excuse.

"Then buy some."

So I did.

"Want to swim laps at the gym tonight?" Adam asked a few weeks later.

"I need a swim cap," I explained. "It's so cold outside, and I can't leave the gym with wet hair. I'll get sick."*

So off I went to Amazon once again to purchase more swim accessories.

This morning, I proclaimed that this would be the evening I would finally swim laps in the pool. And by the time I got off work, I was well on my way of talking myself out of it.

"Have you been outside today? It is SO windy and SO cold." I texted Adam at half past five. "I don't think I want to leave the house now that I'm home."

"The pool area is warm," he quickly replied. "It will feel great."

I sighed, turning off the TV (I was watching the season finale of I Am Jazz—so good) and trudged upstairs. Before I could talk myself out of it, I threw my bathing suit, goggles and swim cap into a gym bag, changed into workout clothes, and grabbed my car keys.

I was going to the JCC aquatics center tonight, gosh darn it.

Once I got to the locker room, I changed into my bathing suit with its giant, pink bow across the chest.
I took a photo for reference. Darling, right? But admittedly, not very sporty.

I look ridiculous
, I thought. Why didn't I buy a sleek Speedo one piece during my swimming shopping spree?

I nervously gathered my things and walked out to the pool area.

I fumbled with the swim cap, trying to stuff my hair into it neatly, and then I tugged the goggles around my noggin.

Naturally, Michael Phelps' twin was butterflying in the first lane.

Ugh. Of course he would be.

The middle lane was open so I sat on the edge of the pool, took a deep breath, and scooted in.

I swam the breaststroke from one end to the other. And it felt great.

I did a few more laps before noticing the third swimmer in the pool was a middle-aged man doing a sort of doggy paddle. It instantly made me feel better.

It didn't matter if I wasn't Summer Sanders! No one was watching, no one cared!

So I stopped caring.

I swam my heart out for the next twenty minutes. It was exhausting and wonderful.

As I swam, I thought about all the times in my life I had missed out on its magic.

I thought of myself at age fourteen, with a newly acquired set of wide hips and curves I found mortifying. I don't think I swam at all that summer.

I thought of when I first met Adam, and he invited me to a friend's pool. We were so new. I had sat on a pool chair wearing a cover-up and holding a novel "I just couldn't put down." They were my body guards, my defense against embarrassment.

And then I thought of the summer after that, of the first vacation I went on with Adam's family. We traveled to Northern Michigan, and I had felt so free and deliriously happy diving and swimming through the cold, crashing waves of the lake.

I loved the water.

And I was done letting insecurities keep me away from it.

*Side note: My copy chief at work told me that swim caps don't keep your hair dry. I didn't believe her, but she was right. They don't.

**Second side note: I also made it an entire ten minutes in the steam room after my swim, which is quite an accomplishment considering I usually walk in, sit there for thirty seconds, freak out, and leave.