Mr Romance Man, Bring Me A Yaoi Hand: Discussing a Pervasive Romance Trope

Tall, rich, popular, dressed in the fanciest of clothes and drinking the fanciest of beverages. Dark eyes, and a darker soul. A cruel romantic. Brooding, occasionally abrasive, but determined to protect you and your honour. Probably has a huge dick. He popped into your head, didn’t he?

Mr Romance Novel Man Himself.

Jokes aside, I really do want to talk about this trope today. It’s one that I’ve been forced to deal with a lot, since it’s pervasive across multiple genres, including YA, fanfiction, romance novels, and manga, especially yaoi manga. I personally find these characters creepy, since their modus operandi is scuttling into your life and refusing to leave, and I’m a somewhat private guy. It used to be my thing, though, back in my ill-spent teenage years when I read a lot of fanfiction. I’ve recently been going back and rereading my teenaged scribbles for fun, and one thing that really stands out to me is how much Mr Romance Man pops up in them, and how he pops up less and less the older I get and the more aware of relationship dynamics and my own sexuality I become. So, I wanted to go back and try to dissect why Mr Romance Man looms over our society, clad in a three piece suit.

There’s a bunch of angles I could take for this essay, although I think I’ll stick to cases where the trope is aimed at women. Mr Romance Man feels totally different depending on the target audience, since when it’s aimed at straight men it’s more of a power fantasy, and when it’s aimed at gay/bisexual men it’s just outright not equivalent to female-focused examples since we navigate gender and relationships so wildly differently. I’ve got a lot of thoughts on those I could share if there’s interest, but I’ve got to keep wordcount down somehow, so today we’re looking at media aimed at women, featuring F/M and M/M couples. Some people might be surprised by my inclusion of gay fiction in there, but let me assure you that as a man who dates men there is a substantial difference between fiction written for me and fiction written for women.

First, I want to put together a list of traits that Mr Romance Man usually has. He’s usually really masculine, either in the traditional sense with big muscles and lots of testosterone, or in an unconventional sense. This masculinity takes a lot of different forms, but it’s rare for Mr Romance Man to be comfortable with anything less than full masculinity, and he’s usually sexually dominant or aggressive, even if he’s a virgin. This comes out in the worst way in gay male fiction, where Mr Romance Man view bottoming during sex as the most abhorrent act a man like him could possibly commit, to which I say, grow up.

Wiser words were never spoken.

Their appearance is also usually both masculine and attractive. They are frequently handsome and tall, with a rugged face, steely eyes, and chiselled abs, although their appearance can be pretty flexible depending on what is attractive to the target audience. In fanfiction, it’s amusing to me to see these traits being applied to characters who don’t have them in their source canon, in order to make them fit the mould of this trope. In yaoi, it’s fascinating to see how outlandishly large Mr Romance Man’s hands will be in an attempt to visually confirm how masculine he is. It’s common for these characters to be described in a way that invokes mystery or intrigue around their hidden depths, like a crooked or knowing smile, or deep, dark eyes that hide endless secrets, or something of the ilk.

In terms of personality, the kind of character I’m referring to frequently has an inner flame of passion, often obscured by a steely, cool exterior or an outer abrasiveness. Like a lot of romance characters, they have a jealous flair and are fiercely protective of their partner and said partner’s attachments. I feel like I described about a million different characters right now. The romance novella section of Amazon is beckoning me closer, offering fame and riches if I can just keep writing these descriptions.

All of these descriptive words aside, though, I think the most important trait Mr Romance Man has is his proclivity for pushing past the boundaries of the protagonist. Whether they are personal boundaries set by the protagonist on what kind of relationship they want to be in, or financial or social boundaries that exist within the context of this story, Mr Romance Man treats them like a red flag to a bull. People frequently roast romance stories for this, of course. Fifty Shades is the lowest hanging fruit here (and in many other places) because the entire story is characterised by the male lead ruthlessly annihilating almost every boundary the female lead tries to set down, in a way that appears terrifying once the romantic tint is stripped away.

The concept of boundaries and how the reader relates to them feel to me like the core of this trope. The most important boundary of all is the boundary between fiction and reality – Mr Romance Man can’t actually sprout from the page and smother you with his overly large, supremely masculine hands, so it’s safe for the reader to explore riskier topics than they might in real life, since the stakes are that much lower. The next most important boundaries are those the reader has for their own, real-life romantic relationships. I’ll make a bold generalisation here and say that most of the women interested in media containing this trope tend to be people who don’t experience these kinds of relationships in the real world. This audience might be in high school (common with YA and fanfic), or older but in a stage of life that is relatively devoid of strong, dramatic romantic entanglements (romance novels and fanfic), and so these stories aren’t a real-life possibility for them. With this said, many of the boundaries stopping the target audience from getting with Mr Romance Man aren’t boundaries they want to have, like social anxiety, inexperience, or lack of opportunity. So, if the boundaries the reader has aren’t actually ones that they want to have, then the fact that Mr Romance Man wants to push past them becomes a good thing rather than a threat.

There is another take on the boundary-crossing angle that I feel helps explain it in more depth. As I mentioned, I’m somewhat of the fag inclination myself, and it’s not uncommon to hear stories of gay or bisexual transgender men first experiencing attraction or revelations about their gender identity through gay fiction that features Mr Romance Man. The reader’s boundary here is incredibly obvious: the issues with seeking out relationships with men that come with being a trans man in the early stages of self-realisation. These gay romance stories are therefore effective because, rather than dancing around the topic, they simply express that you are a man and I will fuck you. The real-life boundaries that face the reader get blasted out of the way by Mr Romance Man, because that’s what he does best, and in your current situation that’s actually a good thing. Your mileage may vary.

In my experience, gay relationships are always exactly like this.

The other trait of Mr Romance Man that I feel needs some examination is that of power imbalance. It’s very common for the protagonist of these stories to be dependent on Mr Romance Man in one way or another. The protagonist can’t live without Mr Romance Man, since their love is so unique and his dick is so great. He has the ability to save the protagonist or people they care about using his money, influence, or stellar personality. Using his paranormal or unusual abilities, he can give the protagonist eternal life or superpowers or something other boon. Something like this.

This part of the trope is my least favourite, since the protagonist’s ability to consent to stuff under this power imbalance is dubious. The classic fanfiction-related example I would mention here is prevalence of the ‘omegaverse’ genre of fanfiction. If you don’t know what it is, don’t Google it, you will sleep better at night not knowing. In this genre, the biological need for the protagonist to have sex with a domineering man or suffer horribly is written into the fabric of the universe, which is the ultimate power imbalance and something that makes me very uncomfortable, but which is also part of the appeal for the readers of this genre.

Behold, the God and King of this trope, served Mormon-style.

I suspect the appeal of the dependency aspect of this trope is that it removes the element of chosen attraction on the part of the protagonist, not unlike with the boundary-crossing aspect. Where a more passive or complex Romance Man might need time and energy to win someone over through traditional wooing, our Mr Romance Man doesn’t need you to be attracted to him. He’s attracted to you, and he has something you want, and the rest of the gaps will get filled in somehow. I feel this is very important in allowing the reader to experience a response to this kind of fiction; this is a man who, if he existed, would get you in a relationship with him no matter what, and since he’s fictional, you don’t have to deal with the terrifying consequences of being in that relationship. It’s a very convenient way to write romantic and sexual stories that immerse the reader quickly, and if I was feeling more dramatic, I might say that it’s almost the natural conclusion of late-stage heterosexuality in our society.

So between those two points, I think I’ve covered why Mr Romance Man has such a leaning towards masculinity and aggression (tied in with the crossing of boundaries) and why he usually has money and/or societal influence (the establishment of a power imbalance or dependency). I think a lot of his other traits are efforts to establish him as being actually attractive, which is why he’s tall, dark, and handsome, and why people spend so much time describing Mr Romance Man’s dick and how he’s so amazing at fucking. His possessiveness and determination to protect the main character also seem like boundary crossing mixed with standard romance novel tropes. In short, he’s sexy, he wants you, and he’s willing to do anything to keep you, and none of these factors are dependent on the reader’s own real-life wants. It sounds so simple when I put it like this.

If Cassandra Clare can make a career from Harry Potter incest romance fiction, then you can too.

Just to check my heuristic is working, let’s grab Christian Grey, our easy target mentioned earlier. He’s described as the sexiest guy ever, and he has lots of money to throw around, and a shitload of societal influence. He constantly pushes past the protagonist’s boundaries because he claims he knows what she needs, and unfortunately, he is rewarded in the narrative for doing so. The two key parts of his relationship with her are the boundaries he crosses and the influence he exerts. He perfectly exemplifies what I was talking about. Find an example for yourself, and see if you can break it down to exertion of influence and crossing of boundaries. I’d love to hear about how my attempt at analysis applies to tricky cases, or to people’s own personal experiences.

So, I suppose the last question to answer is: is this trope bad? In some ways, yes, because reading a whole lot of stories about how it’s great and fun and sexy for men to push past your boundaries all the time normalises this kind of behaviour, and it does no favours to the many people out there fighting against the idea that men are just like this. I also feel it’s downright homophobic to portray all these gay stories about gay men being overly forceful in relationships with men, and many other people have spoken on this point more eloquently than I can. On the other hand, when used lightly, it’s an important and enduring trope that seems to make people happy and isn’t going away anytime soon. Everything in moderation.

So, here’s my hot take: this trope is pervasive because the man it portrays doesn’t need you to be attracted for him in order for him to be attracted to you, and that clears up a whole lot of questions that the reader might have about their sexuality, gender, maturity, self-consciousness, or anything, really, even if this kind of character would probably be terrifying if encountered in real life.

-Aмртоп

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started
%d bloggers like this: