WHAT M/M ROMANCE NOVELS HAVE TAUGHT ME
"When are we ever going to use this in life?"
There are not many questions students ask me that can fill me with such a feeling of despair, but this one used to leave me quite disheartened. Not because the question was annoying or even unwelcome, but because I was never happy with my answer, which usually underlined the idea of the course content being secondary to the lessons of perseverance and reasoning. But having grown older, I've come to recognize that some students will take much longer to learn the lessons they need to live a happy and productive life; they will each have many more opportunities to learn when they are ready to absorb it. Much the same way that lessons about life will eventually be absorbed by all of us. I am forty-six years old – soon to be forty-seven – and I have only just now realized I am ready to absorb the lessons about love and romance that eluded me twenty years ago.
Romance novels have always been a diversion for me. From my early years of sneaking away to read one of my older sister's Harlequin novels to just last year when I would download – and devour – dozens of m/m romance novels each week, I always looked on them as an escape from real life, something to take me away from the ordinariness of my everyday existence. Today, however, I find myself looking at romance novels in a completely different way. Is this because I'm now one of the authors of this genre? Perhaps, but after much thought on this topic, I have come to a few indisputable truths about romance novels and the role they play in my life.
I turned eighteen in 1981, a time when gay characters – good or bad – were few and far between. They were so rare, in fact, that when one did come along in a movie or a novel, I felt myself reacting as if I were a three-time loser facing a judge; my pulse would quicken, my mouth would go dry and my life would flash before my eyes. It didn't matter that the gay character was a vampire or that he was a cross-dressing serial killer; each character was another chance for a quick glimpse into a world other than my own.
Reading – and writing – m/m romance novels has given me hope that the next generation of gay men will find their voices much more quickly than the gay men of my generation... Gay men who are approaching middle age did not have the easy access to (nor abundance of) today's m/m romance novels and their flawed – but beautiful – characters. I was still in my twenties and I believed gay men to be either make-up wearing, nelly, prancing disco queens or tough, leather-clad bikers who liked everything rough. Men who were warm and tender and generous and loved a cuddle-nap with that special someone – after a quick impromptu touch football game with their friends who didn't refer to each other as she – were completely unknown to me. Today's leading men in m/m romances can be soft, yet firm, rugged, yet yielding, flirty, yet committed.
These stories have taught me that it's not about that one magical, physically perfect man who sets off a series of chemical reactions in my body that tells me, He's the one! Romance novels have shown me that the perfect man is possible, but not probable – and that's okay. They have shown me that it’s about the fight, the struggle and taking a chance on the man who is flawed. I can now see that it's not about getting what you want, but rather what you need. It's the challenges that define a successful relationship, not the incredibly erotic love scenes – although I'll be the first to admit I'd miss them if they weren't there. Brandon and Jake in Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux's Caught Running showed me that rubbing linament into the aching muscles of the man you respect and admire can be every bit as powerfully erotic as any sexual act.
Reading – and writing – about love scenes has shown me that asking for what you want is not pushy, or bossy or even rude; asking for what I want says to my partner that I want him to be everything to me, that I trust him enough to know my deepest and most secret desires. I've always thought I was fairly open-minded about sex and the "art of love-making", but now I realize there is still so much to learn. And while I find that thought exciting and frightening at the same time, I have come to appreciate men who ask for what they want. Gerald and Brett in Madeline Urban and Ariel Tachna's Sutcliffe Cover and Jake and Tor of Chris Owen's Bareback and Natural Disaster, showed me that it's not always easy, but that the payoff is so worth it.
And the love scenes themselves have served to underline the idea that lust – while a welcome visitor – rarely stays for long. Lust, like physical perfection, has an expiration date. You can spend a lot of time and energy holding out for that specimen of physical perfection; the gorgeous, tall, handsome, perfectly chiseled man is a nice idea, but if you hold out for him, you may find yourself alone and always waiting on the next one. I'm looking for the man who isn't perfect, who will cry in front of me, who will laugh with me when I realize what an idiot I've been. I have learned that it is love that will make him perfect in my eyes. He may gain weight, he may lose his hair, he may snore, he may even lose his teeth, but he'll never lose me. A.K.M. Miles' Dillon and Soldier are not physically perfect, but they love each other anyway – and so do "their boys."
I have never had any problems attracting men, but they were of the sort that earned me the unfortunate reputation – among my friends – of a "loser magnet". And while some of these men made me laugh and some of them made me think and still some others made me feel like the sexiest man on the planet, I dismissed them all because my friends did not approve. Like so many men in the gay community, I was looking for the one who would please my friends. No longer. The next time a prince comes my way – even if he looks like a pauper – my friends won't meet him until I know whether he's the one or not. Which requires the final lesson m/m romance novels have taught me: Patience. I will never forget Con, in J.B. McDonald's By Degrees and how patient he was with Tim.While some of you may find it sad, or pathetic, that a man of my age has finally realized these lessons about love and romance, I have found these lessons to be quite liberating. I find myself looking at the short, bald men a little differently now. I find myself wondering why I never noticed their beautiful smile, or their willingness to help that stranger, or even how they hold themselves with dignity and grace. The writer in me sees a story, but the rest of me sees what I'm now ready to absorb: Finding him was never as difficult as I'd always thought.
When are we ever going to use this in life? My answer from now on? When you're ready to see what your life can be.
D.W. Marchwell is the author of several excellent m/m romance novels and short stories which are available from Dreamspinner Press as well as other online retailers. For more information on David and his work, please visit his website at http://www.marchwellbooks.ca/.