All of the Above: Can Romance Play the Field?
By Alexa Day
I’m reading a book right now in which the heroine enjoys the abundant sexual charms of three partners. My guess is that she’ll eventually choose one of them — the cover for the next book in the series features two guys instead of three. But right now, she’s making no move to settle down.
The book is Taking Turns by J.A. Huss, and the heroine has an agreement with the three men. There are a number of stipulations, but once I heard that their arrangement basically entailed their putting her up in a nice apartment to take turns sleeping with her, I knew this was a story I needed to have.
It is romance’s most binding promise: the heroine will win, every time.
We can be sure that at the end of the story, she will be in a good place in her relationship, whatever that might look like. Maybe she’s getting ready to settle down with one guy. Maybe she’s establishing a relationship with a couple of guys (or more) in a relationship unit. I don’t object to that. Not really.
But this week, a troubling question tugged at my imagination.
Is the heroine winning big enough?
Put another way, why choose? Whatever happened to D: all of the above?
The modern romance heroine is a smart, successful, attractive woman. In the 21st century, a woman like that could — and honestly, ought to — have her choice of men. Indeed, more than one man would certainly be interested in her. But the modern romance heroine has less reason to settle down than ever. She’s at the top of her game, and she probably knows it. Why should she ever limit herself?
Even if she ultimately decides to choose one partner, why shouldn’t she take full advantage of what men have to offer first?
It’s important to note that this is neither menage nor polyamory. Both menage and polyamory involve multiple partners, yes. But in both situations, the men are aware of each other and have consented to share. They’re in a unit. Choosing menage or polyamory is settling down.
I’m talking about playing the field, in all its springtime glory, for as long as men will permit it. I’ve written it before. The heroine of Illicit Impulse has a bestie with benefits and an object of her more chaste desire. And in “Three, After Midnight,” the heroine enjoys a night of bliss with the spirit of her deceased husband, who’s borrowing the body of a hottie she seduced for that purpose.
Where’s the fun in limiting a fabulous heroine to one man, right? Why not let her have as much as she wants for as long as she wants to have it and her partners are willing to supply it?
I think there’s a group of romance readers who want, need and long for a heroine who is desired by many men, and who is determined to enjoy her status for as long as possible. I think romance readers need to know that in our abundant world, their heroine is free to lick as many men as will permit it. Their heroine doesn’t live in a world of masculine scarcity, and neither do they.
Consider Scandal in its golden days. For a long while, Olivia Pope thoroughly enjoyed the attentions of the President of the United States and the enigmatic Jake Ballard. When they had the audacity to suggest she choose one of them, she laughed and said she chose herself instead. She went right on sleeping with the both of them for as long as they permitted it — until Jake decided he wasn’t getting what he needed from the arrangement and bowed out.
And I’m reminded of a formative experience.
I saw Tequila Sunrise in the theater in 1988, when I was quite young and impressionable. In the film, restaurant owner Michelle Pfeiffer must choose between reformed drug dealer Mel Gibson and police lieutenant Kurt Russell. That might not be a tough call today, knowing what we know, but in 1988, that was not an easy decision to make at all. I’m proud to say that Michelle spent the entire movie trying to make up her mind, and when it was all over, I left wondering how I could become a restaurant owner.
If Tequila Sunrise has a moral, it was to tell this child of the 80s that she could, in fact, have it all.
There should probably be limitations. The requirement that each men know about the others is not just about informed consent; I think it actually keeps everyone at their sharpest and most competitive. And of course, everyone would be free to stop playing as soon as things stopped working for them. Even in “Three, After Midnight,” the wrestling coach who found himself possessed by an eager spirit exercised his option to back out.
But with that in mind, why shouldn’t a heroine explore as many men — and as many relationships — as she wants?
Is there room in romance for a heroine to find more than one happily ever after, with more than one man, in more than one relationship?
Is it time for D: all of the above?
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Alexa Day is the USA Today bestselling author of erotica and erotic romance with heroines who are anything but innocent. In her fictional worlds, strong, smart women discover excitement, adventure, and exceptional sex. A former bartender, one-time newspaper reporter, and licensed attorney, she likes her stories with just a touch of the inappropriate, and her literary mission is to stimulate the intellect and libido of her readers.