Monday, March 4, 2013


My wife has gone on a binge. For many husbands it could be the most dangerous binge there is. She’s gone mad for romance novels.

I can only think that after 10 or 12 or eight years with me, she loves the romance she gets in our marriage so much that she wants even more of it in book form.

Still, not for the first time in our relationship, I don’t know what to think. On one hand it takes some of the pressure off me to sweep my darling Stef off her feet with some sort of action plan setting out a series of romantic strategies and initiatives.

At the same time it puts pressure on – for me to behave like the owners of these waxed, chiseled torsos on the front of her books (they don’t even show their faces. What sexist, objectionable objectivism is that?)

My dearly beloved, who does read a lot of other books, hadn’t dabbled in the dark arts of romance lit for about 20 years. And it seems the game has changed, thanks to the internet. Just as web-based porn has boomed since men don’t have to slide a smutty magazine in amongst the Homes and Gardens and Popular Mechanics any more, so too millions of women can indulge their guilty pleasures online. The romance novel market is booming.

Traditionally, it used to be Harlequin or Mills and Boon novels in a contemporary setting, or period pieces with farm girls and men on horses - a genre known as “the bodice-ripper”. Now there are many genres.

A few basics have remained the same. The guy is 6’2”. Always. You don’t want any Danny DeVito types looking up the lady’s nostrils, nor some lanky lummox spoiling a moment by cracking his head on a door frame.

The man is generally not all that fat, shows no evidence of male-pattern baldness, and is not very hard on the eye. He and the heroine meet, fall for each other, something goes wrong but then it all ends happily ever blah blah.

But a lot else has modernised. In the past, the female leads either reported no sexual history or they didn’t even know what one was. And then, when this great bloke relieved them of their virginity, the reader was left in the dark as to exactly how. Their lips met, desire overtook them, and then … the bedroom door closed with the same finality as my mum turning off the TV just when things got spicy in the 1970s.

Now, you’d best hold onto your hats. Usually the men are previously untameable players or, in certain US states, dawgs. This shows they’re desirable. The women have done it in the past, although there’s usually some reason for them to regret it, such as pressure or Bacardi Breezers.

My better half says that back in the day, the sauciest things got was when the chaste young lady felt “evidence of his desire on her leg” (and no, not that sort of evidence). Now when desire takes over, it’s transacted with tenderness and explicit detail.

The boom has also given rise to all sorts of sub-specialities. It’s pressure enough on we non-fiction characters that these novel heroes are all world leaders at having sex, but talk about your accomplished people!

Sometimes the guys are self-made millionaires, ex-commandos, former pro footballers, or all three. Often they’re in the process of some other hobby, like eradicating cancer or poverty.

There’s now paranormal romance – vampires, werewolves and the like. There’s the Black Dagger Brotherhood, who are bikers/commandos/vampires who are into a little BDSM. And there are former pro basketballers with telepathic powers, which could explain why Michael Jordan always knew what his team-mates were about to do.

All of them have loads of money and are great in the sack. Some are immortals at it.

And even the basketballers are 6’2”.

Holding hands and walking along the beach is fine. But
when you're married with kids romance comes in other,
more meaningful forms - such as when the two of you
come together as one to mop up sick off the bathroom
floor when your child is ill.

And this is just completely impractical. How's he supposed
to kiss her? Or talk to her without a load of saliva
running out of his mouth? It's just nonsense.

Here they are - what I have to compete with: Phury, Wrath,
Dhestroyer, Tohrment, Rhage Hollywood, Zsadist and
Sneezy. I'd go with Wrath. He's the only one who can
spell his name.

Romance how it was done when I was a lad.
Actually I think this album cover might
have killed it off.

There’s also a touch of the Neanderthal about these book heroes. They’re taciturn in a way that drives my wife crazy when I do it. And they don’t laugh much. If the woman gets the man to smile, turn up the corner of his mouth, or more commonly “press his lips together” in amusement, it’s a major plot point of the book.

So while most tastes are covered, you might still be out of luck – perhaps if you’ve got a thing for wiry pharmacists, newsagents or jockeys who stutter, are in debt, walk with a limp and get the giggles. Or are called Tim, Quentin or I’m afraid even Trev. The heroes are named things like Rock, Crack or Kade – names that sound like a brick hitting the ground. In fact sometimes Brick is their name.

It’s hard to keep up but there are things I can attempt.

These guys never seem to buy into an argument with much verbosity. Most of the heroine’s points are answered with a simple and firm “Babe.” However, this seems to pacify them in a way my wife doesn’t experience. I know because I’ve tried it.

Then there’s “the punishment kiss”. The couple are in some screaming row and – BOOM! He’s grabbed her arms and is kissing her hard on the mouth, and all that silly old anger melts away.

Next time my wife and I argue I’m going to give her a punishment kiss. I’m fairly certain any angst about housework/mortgage repayments/my bad holiday planning will be cured at a stroke if I just grab her arms and force our lips together.

And I can definitely do these guys’ noises. At the height of passion, love and tenderness they all reportedly give it this one – “the involuntary groan”. The authors have to put “involuntary” there. Otherwise the Lothario figure might seem like just another man getting about the house groaning, heightening the romance with “This bloody window won’t shut”, or “Who didn't put this lid on properly?!”

In my late-40s, I can involuntarily groan with the best of them. I usually nail it every time I get up off the couch, or out of bed. Which reminds me, these ultra-fit heroes never just get out of bed. They "jack-knife" out of bed. Imagine a stiff and hard male body kind of unfolding upwards out of the sack. I myself imagine a semi-trailer "jack-knifing" off the road in a media report about some grotesque traffic accident, which is the only other place I've heard the term. Actually, it's not a bad term to use to describe me getting out of bed, but only when my bad leg is playing up.

These Alpha males even growl, and sometimes they’ll be in bed and grunt into a woman’s neck. This is something I also instantly recognise. It's heartburn. He should have a glass of milk before bedding the lady.

It perhaps doesn't help in our marriage that while my wife is reading her favourite genre, I'm usually lying beside her reading mine. This involves books about the age of fighting sailing ships. So while Stef is delighting in passages about someone's lips meeting or a pair of eyes looking into another, I'm often reading about someone's head being blown completely off.

At least, nomatter how distressed she might become over a wrong turn in a relationship saga, I can always console her by saying worse things happen at sea.

As much as any marriage between 40-something parents of two is wall-to-wall romance, I can say I’m not bad with the sweet nothings. Stef still talks about the other week when she was dressing for dinner and asked me if she looked nice. I was fairly sure I’d answered this question before, so I may have merely groaned, growled or grunted. I might have done all three, even involuntarily, but she still wasn’t happy.

“Babe,” I said firmly, “I did marry you a few years back, so clearly I think you look alright. Can we just assume that’s the case until further notice?”

I was pretty sure this did the trick, for she didn’t say much more on the subject. Or, come to think of it, any subject, for the rest of the night.

My wife is always asking how her outfit looks, which I usually answer with a heartfelt “Fine let’s go”. It always strikes me as strange, since I learned how to dress myself years ago.

On this score we husbands are hammered for inattentiveness. My friend Sonia once put on two different shoes and asked husband Tony’s opinion. “Yup, they look fine,” he said, adding: “Let’s go.”

Another wife, Kate, changed her hair colour from very blonde to brown. Husband Brad duly complimented her upon noticing the change. She still wasn’t happy. To be fair, it was a couple of days later.

But another friend James is just a crazy fool when it comes to romance … of a practical nature. On her first birthday celebrated together, he took his sweetheart, Gina into his favourite shop and said: “Happy birthday honey! Take your pick!”

She smiled. Because she thought he was joking. It was a camping store. Her mood didn’t lighten any when he sang the praises of the binocular section. In his defence, James points to a friend who bought his sweetheart a steering-wheel lock and a vacuum cleaner for her birthday.

The same James is still living down 9/11. He was working in lower Manhattan, Gina in Washington DC. Understandably upset, she finally made contact with him after a few hours of trying, expecting he’d be leaving town to go comfort her. She got the first part right, but he was in fact leaving town to fulfil a plan of going camping with his buddies. Well? You know what they say about letting terrorists upset your lifestyle.

The same couple still got married and now laugh at that moment, kind of, when they look back through the years. One such look back provided another high point of my relationship.

Stef and I were dining together on New Year’s Eve, 2002, when she started a review of the previous 12 months.

“I’d have to say,” I said, “when you consider I broke my leg and am still on crutches, this would have to be the worst year of my life.”

With Stef’s urgent help, I soon realised I had overlooked a couple of things: 1. It was our first New Year’s Eve. 2. Ergo, I had just called the year we got together “the worst of my life”.

The great thing is you know if you can recover from moments like that, you should be able to look forward to many more romance-filled years to come.


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