by Madeline Iva
Hey y’all! I’m back from being —as Sue London puts it— The Goddess of Love Fest. That was fun!
Last week I wrote a post about a panel we were having at #VALoveFest called They Lived Happily Enough for Now — The Challenges of Writing Modern Love. The panel and the blog post both were about the challenge of writing a romance that has obstacles–because what obstacles are left in modern times?
Nevertheless you can’t write something that’s too gritty, too heartbreakingly, unendingly sad and miserable, because even though we love to cry, cry, cry, romances are all about uplift, doncha know.
Sad is one thing. Messy is another. Messy is yummy goodness in romance.
So, once upon a time I had a friend who was a guy. Only, I always thought it was sad we weren’t somehow better friends who saw each other more often. Looking back on it now, I should have realized something funky was going on. The big clue was when I ran into him after it had been awhile and told him the big news: I’d just gotten engaged.
His response was telling. He said: “Well, but if you’re engaged, I mean, isn’t it important that you’ve gone through some relationship trials, some hard times, you know? I mean, if you want to make sure the relationship’s going to last. You haven’t done that–have you? Gone through some hard times?”
I instantly reassured him, Oh yes we had! and he just kind of deflated. Call me clueless, I didn’t think anything of it. Later on we ran into him in the grocery store and he hugged DH to congratulate him saying “You’re a lucky guy, a lucky guy.” But then he wouldn’t let go, and DH was swearing at him and my friend just kept repeating, “You’re so lucky.”
An ugly moment people. It was the last time we ever saw of him.
Needless to say, I not only went back in my mind and reviewed our whole ‘friendship’ in a new light, but I felt bad, really bad for him. Yet I think he was right — we’d been through some hard times, and we knew we were rock solid.
(If you read the afterward in Carey Heywood’s book BETTER she had a smitten friend too–but it went in a completely different direction. He got cancer. You’ll need kleenex. Just sayin’.)
I noticed early on while watching Sex and The City that the show was built around nothing BUT an almost religious belief in the insurmountable obstacles to love. They relished serving up a meal of NYC glam sexy with a side of ugly deal breaker (UDB). And SATC women shy away from ugly like it’s plutonium.
Of course, some stuff really should be deal breakers – any man, woman, or Dr. Frankenfurter that leaves you feeling an eroded sense of self, a decline in overall happiness, etc. should be ditched pronto.
But have a sense of perspective – please. Avoiding Big Relationship Ugly served SJP and her crew well, because it allowed our four heroines to skip away in order to stay Happily Single season after season. Yet eventually even Sex & The City broke down and had to face that fact that every strong and abiding relationship comes with wee bit o ugly that must be tolerated and dealt with. Or swept under the rug, ignored, and forgotten–whichever you prefer!
Because in the real world, in real relationships that go on and on and on, we keep marching, eyes upward, stepping neatly over the UDB poo on the sidewalk, thank you very much.
Ultimately, what we gotta do is face the guy and ask ourselves: IS HE A GOOD GUY AT HEART? Not a perfect guy, not an always polished/powerful man–but a GOOD GUY. Because that’s what really counts.
And that is why I will always despise Sex And The City forever and ever more. Because in that show Carey finds a really good guy – and she stomps on his heart. It’s unforgivable. Yes, for the record, I’m still deeply unhappy about this.
So when it comes to talking true love, when it comes to forever and ever romance, I think it’s important that a guy not only pass the messy test–but that he pass the UDB test as well.
What’s a messy test? Oh, I’m a big fan of messy in romance–whether in real life or in books. They make for the best stories, I think.
Let me point to one of my friends in real life. She hadn’t finished her degree, had a relationship with her dog that some people would say was a little too codependent, a mother that was like Blanche DuBois, drooled a little, and was on top of all that, literally messy. How messy? We’re talking black mold growing in dishes on the table. One time there was a mouse living in a bag of potato chips on her living room floor. Sounds like a perfect romance heroine, yes?
So what happened? Well, this guy came along. He was a wealthy business man who was looking to get married. Handsome? Yes, I’d say. Like a GQ model. And he had a great sense of humor. He leapt over the problem of her messy side. He leapt over the fact that she had a birthday party for her dog each year with a homemade dog-cake. He tried charming the future mother-in-law and it didn’t work, but he kept trying anyway. I don’t think he even noticed the drool. He took us out to dinner without our friend and his big question was: Is she going to finish her degree?
We said she was and reader, she did and they got married in a wild blueberry field and now have two disgustingly gorgeous well-behaved children and a home that would make a life style editor’s eyes bleed. The blood test for the wedding revealed she had a vitamin deficiency and so now she doesn’t drool anymore either.
Now THAT’S a messy test — and my friend’s husband passed with flying colors.
Well, if that’s messy, then what’s ugly?
I think ugly in romance is when the heroine is sick and the hero sees she looks like a hag, but realizes that he just doesn’t care because he feels so strongly about her. He can’t help being concerned about her welfare to the point where he’s there for her and she’s snoring on his chest while zonked on Nyquil.
A scene like that makes my heart go pitter-pat. The true hero in Carey Heywood’s book BETTER is her real life husband in the afterward where she tells us the story how she came to write this story in the first place. Heywood’s husband passes the test with flying colors and you’ll need a lot more kleenex.
In my own ancient relationship we survived heapings of ugly right off the bat. I’m talking severe stomach flu—for both of us. Ask me to tell you the story of DH clasping a hand over his mouth and then vomiting through his nose, go on, ask me.
Then came mono. I would schlep gallons of DH’s obscure drink of choice, (Hawaiian Punch) a mile and a half from the grocery store. On foot. Seriously. At night DH would lie next to me, with his glands swollen up like a little hamster with full cheeks, watching me swallow in my sleep and just hate me for it.
Then I had a minor hospital procedure to remove a cyst on my back. Utterly gross, and not only that, it required some bandaging where I couldn’t reach–and so guess who had to do it? That was all in the first six months we were together.
Wow. Pretty ugly stuff for people not old enough to drink yet.
Yet we passed these tests to our relationship with flying colors–we didn’t even think of them as testing our commitment to be together. I don’t know if we’re still going strong because we handled the initial ugly so well — I mean, if you still love a guy after you’ve seen him vomit through his nose, you’re set for life, IMHO. Or maybe we had some kind of fated relationship DNA to be together and it was so robust that it helped us overcome right from the start. What do you think? Hope you sound off in the comments section below.
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