Friday, January 4, 2013

More Romance Tropes We'd Like to See Buried

'Winston Axilas' photo (c) 2007, Ray - license:

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that we have a problem with a lot of traditional romance tropes which appear in Urban Fantasy and, most certainly, in Paranormal Romance.  Indeed, we’ve spoken before on the Paranormal Romance: Engorged, Throbbing and Fainting, Oh My! and the more serious Abuse as True Love in Paranormal Romance.

But there are simply so many that we simply have to have another bite at this; Romance Tropes we can’t stand - it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Love at First Sight/I’ll die for you... uh what’s your name again?

It’s that age-old trope, eyes meet through a crowded room, she suddenly sees this awesome, hot, gorgeous, wonderful etc etc etc (usually the books will have several paragraphs of superlatives at this point) man ever and love is formed. Before they know the slightest thing about each other... before they even know each other’s names, it’s now True Love Forever.

Sometimes there’s a woo-woo reason for it - imprinting, bonding, the
ardeur, fated magical destiny of One True Boning - but these 2 perfect strangers are now totally and utterly in love. We have endearments before they can barely even know each other’s actual names. Literally in Turned, when she’s already sad that her deep, abiding true love isn’t returned within... 2 hours of meeting? Maybe less? Aside from the conflation of lust and love that these stories inevitably bring, they also carry with them that fraught message of “love justifies anything.” And that applies doubly for sacrifice.

Abandoning their homes? Their families? Their principles? Their humanity? All for a guy they just met - that’s ok, it’s True Love! Not some very very silly person (nearly inevitably the heroine) throwing everything aside, giving up everything, even risking their lives for a man they have barely bet. The majority of the women in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series throw their entire lives away for men they’ve just met (of course, they have little in the way of lives before their menfolk arrive), the Psy women in Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series leave their entire society to live as outcasts. Sherrilyn Kenyon has the Dark Hunters’ love interests endure torture to free them from Artemis and has one Dream Hunter’s love interest risk losing her soul in Hades for the sake of a man she hadn’t even known for 2 weeks (if that). And how long did Bella know Edward in Twilight before she was willing to risk her life around him, despite his warnings? But the prize goes to Turned, Caitlin abandons her family and Caleb actually gives up millennia of loyalty and tradition for her. They haven’t even known each other for a day! 

At worst, this sends a truly awful message about recklessness and the value of these people's (usually women's) lives before their love interest arrives. At best it's simply sloppy writing, the author desperately trying to move the story forward and using the hook of "true love", no matter how fresh forged, to drag the plot onwards when any sensible protagonist would slam things into reverse. Love is used as an excuse for common sense to take a holiday; the heart turns on, the brain turns off.

‘Tis a Pity He’s an Arsehole

So, our heroine (and it’s nearly always the heroine putting up with a hero’s arseholery and of course it’s an opposite sex couple - yay heteronormativity) sees the object of her desire, with his sculpted muscles, his piercing eyes, his mouth set into an appropriately brooding pout - until he opens his mouth and speaks! Alas, he’s an arsehole and treats her like dirt. Ah well, hon, plenty of fish in the sea - go find a guy who can keep a civil tongue in his head. Right?

Course not! What she needs to do is stick with him! Endure his scorn and his insults, tolerate his anger and contempt, because eventually, eventually his heart will melt and true love will follow! Maybe he has a tortured past and the painful memories makes him lash out (and, of course, his pain totally justifies him hurting her!), maybe he thinks he needs to drive her away for her own protection (because hurting people for “their own good” and making her decisions for her isn’t problematic at all), maybe he’s just an arsehole - whatever the cause, perseverance, kindness and understanding are called for. 

Now this trope is a twofer for problematic messages (not including the ones above) - firstly the idea that it’s acceptable or romantic to endure arseholery for the sake of true love and even to see that behaviour as proof or indicative of love. This connects with so many of our "abuse as true love" posts and is almost ubiquitous with any character who has a tragic past.

Secondly, it promotes the idea that it’s ok to keep pushing someone who has made it abundantly clear that they’re not interested. Be persistent, be nice enough and you can wear down their resistance

The sad thing is I can barely even begin to list the examples, there are so many - including every Dark/Were/Dream Hunter to ever grace Sherrilyn Kenyon’s pages and the truly dreadful example of Fallen.

Vaginas Soothe the Savage Beast

Related to the above, these heroes/heroines with their terrible, painful past that causes him to lash out (or whatever curse/condition makes them dangerous to be around) can so often only be cured by applying the Magical Healing Vagina/Penis. Yes, there is no PTSD so severe, no trauma so horrendous, no memories so painful that a good shag can't instantly cure them! 

Aside from how grossly disrespectful this is to so many victims of trauma, let alone dismissive of actual treatments, it creates almost an onus on the non-tortured love interest. They now HAVE to stay with them, have to help them, have to be their lover because if they don't they're just another terrible betrayer, beating down the wounded soul. After learning Acheron's terrible backstory, how could Tory turn round and say "actually, I'm not interested? Sorry." Does she realistically have that option? How could Anita Blake ever tell Asher she doesn't love him given his constant meltdowns? Bella becomes a literal zombie when Edward leaves her!

"I will die without you" may sound romantic - but threatening self-harm and suicide is actually used by some domestic abusers to control their victims - because it works, because feeling responsible for another's life and well being is a burden. If someone's life and well being is literally dependent on your love and relationship then that's not romantic - that's an onus that amounts to coercion.

Zombies! Aaarghh... ohhh, pectorals!

Inevitably, once lust has been established there will be a moment or several moments in which the protagonist see her love interest topless (or, in some cases, not even topless - Anita Blake can be reduced to dribbling incoherence by embroidery). It is totally acceptable for any straight woman to appreciate the view but what I don’t understand is why they lose all train of thought the moment they see a little bit of manflesh. They become mute, incoherent, sometimes unable to even remain standing as they are hypnotised by the dazzling pectorals. In extreme cases the woman may even forget to breathe.

At times this can go beyond the ridiculous and have heroines who take time out to avoid the hot manflesh even when in mortal danger. They can be kidnapped and chained to a complete stranger, or even having an axe swung at their heads. If The Walking Dead were a paranormal romance, all the women would have been eaten by walkers if Shane ever took his shirt off.

I can and do enjoy some Paranormal Romances. No, honestly, it’s possible. But these tropes set my teeth on edge, bring down the story and inevitably leave me hating one of the parties - or, more often, both of them. And this is one I have to throw open to the audience - which tropes do you hate to see but is paraded out far too often?