Category Archives: Love Or Obsession

Why We Should Embrace Married Superheroes

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What is more emotionally satisfying than seeing someone you care about find happiness? Whether it’s a friend, a sibling, or even a celebrity you admire, don’t you feel a twinge of joy when you see them achieve something special? Unless you’re a cynic or a sociopath, you’ve probably had those feelings at least once in your life.

With those warm and fuzzy feelings inside, why shouldn’t that also extend to the iconic superheroes we know and love? When our favorite heroes finally get around to marrying the love of their life, it’s natural to want to cheer them on the same way we would cheer for our best friend as he and his bride do karaoke at the reception.

However, those tasked with building the canon seem to have an aversion to married superheroes. Just this past summer, that aversion was on full display. Two major superhero weddings were set up, one involving Kitty Pryde and Colossus in X-men Gold #30 and the other involving Batman and Catwoman in Batman #50.

Sadly, both events ended without tearful vows and a drunken toast, although one salvaged a matrimonial quickie at the last second. I’ve already broken down how one wedding just prolonged an already drawn out romance while the other denigrated the entire concept of romance, as a whole. Rather than bemoan those romantic misfirings, I’d like to step back and look at the bigger picture of married superheroes.

This is actually a controversial issue among fans of superhero comics and those who create them. I’ve been browsing comic book message boards for years. I can attest to just how much fans care when their favorite characters get married. They continue caring long after the wedding reception.

On the other side of the controversy, though, there are the creators that work for Marvel, DC, and their corporate overlords. They have a slightly different view of married superheroes and one that’s not nearly as sentimental. To say their views are complex is like saying a plumber has mixed opinions on food poisoning.

While many of those writing, editing, and producing superhero media are fans themselves, they often have to leave their fandom at the door. Companies like Marvel and DC Comics don’t pay them to write fan fiction. They pay them to tell stories that will sell, increase the value of their brand, and improve market share.

A writer or editor’s ability to do this is prone to many challenges. Fans, especially comic book fans, are notoriously fickle with their passions. If they see something they don’t like happening to a character they love, they’re pretty vocal about it. Just ask fans of Captain America, the Fantastic Four, or Cyclops of the X-men.

In that respect, I have some sympathy for the people responsible for handling beloved characters. They’re basically playing with someone else’s toys and getting paid for it. However, if they break those toys or damage them in any way, there can be hell to pay. Just look at the current situation with Star Wars.

That sympathy, though, only goes so far and I can’t extended to how some at Marvel and DC have approached marriage. DC Comics editor, Dan Dido, once went on record as saying that superheroes should not get married. Long-time Marvel editor and COO, Joe Quesda, even had to justify breaking up Spider-Man’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson by claiming that it “stabilized” Spider-Man too much.

Now in general, I try to be understanding and respectful when people hold positions that I disagree with. I’ve even tried to do that with hot-button issues like abortion, feminism, and organized religion. In this case though, I just have to call bullshit.

Claiming marriage does too much to stabilize a superhero is like saying ketchup makes food too red. It gives the impression that stability is somehow a liability with superheroes, as though they can only be interesting when their world is falling apart and they’re one stubbed toe away from a nervous breakdown.

It’s true that we superhero fans love seeing our favorite heroes fight back invading aliens, punch Nazis, and even take on renegade alien gods. However, it’s also true that we don’t expect or want that to be the only story that superheroes tell. We’re also interested in the lives they live outside their flashy costumes. It doesn’t just humanize them. It gives us more reasons to root for them.

Both Mr. Quesada and Mr. Dido try to make the case that part of being a hero involves sacrificing parts of their personal life in order to serve the greater good. There’s little doubt that being a hero comes at a price, as many of Batman’s former lovers can attest, but that doesn’t have to involve outright isolation.

It also doesn’t mean being a superhero makes a functioning marriage impossible, either. Yes, it’s a lot harder to be a loving spouse and a superhero, but I wouldn’t say it’s as daunting as battling planet-eating space gods or surviving a team-up with Deadpool. In fact, it can enhance their heroics in ways that go beyond romance.

I’m not the only one to make that point either. In wake of the recent wedding debacles by Marvel and DC, Comic Books Resources asked why publishers are so afraid of married superheroes. They cited the same excuses I did about heroes needing to sacrifice, but they also pointed out how these kinds of real-life, mundane events help people connect with these characters.

What the article didn’t get into is why this matters. Superman is a hero with god-like power who can move planets and create diamonds with his bare hands. He’s also married to Lois Lane and still has to put in the effort to make that marrage work, even when it becomes prone to complications.

Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four is among the smartest beings in the entire Marvel Universe. He creates thought projectors, flying cars, and personal robots without breaking a sweat. He too has to work hard to keep his marriage and family functioning, especially when a handsome Atlantean king keeps trying to sleep with his wife.

Then, there’s Spider-Man. I know I’ve brought him up a number of times and not always in a positive light, but what happened to him and his marriage is still one of the most controversial things that have ever happened in comics. In many ways, he embodies the ultimate flaw in the excuses to undercut married superheroes.

In the infamous story, One More Day, Spider-Man’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson wasn’t just undone. He actually made a deal with Mephisto, Marvel’s stand-in for the devil, to sacrifice his marriage in exchange for saving his Aunt May’s life. Considering his Aunt had told him just a few issues ago that she didn’t want to be saved, Spider-Man still went through with it.

To say fans were upset by that decision would be like saying the Hulk has a slight anger management problem. This act didn’t just undercut an iconic superhero romance. It essentially reverted Spider-Man back to the state of an immature loser who had barely grown up since high school.

Again, Marvel made plenty of excuses. Long-time Spider-Man writer, Dan Slott, claimed that Spider-Man has to remain within a particular status quo. He has to keep being this lovable loser who is always struggling to hold down a job, keep a girlfriend, and still be a hero. In order to keep that unique appeal he has, and all the merchendising money it makes, he can’t be married.

I understand that logic, but I still call bullshit. You know what happens to characters who never change, grow up, or evolve over time? It’s the same thing that happens to real people. They become boring and unlikable. In Spider-Man’s case, he becomes something worse. He becomes the guy who sold his marriage to the devil to save someone who didn’t even want to be saved. That’s not heroic. That’s just plain selfish.

That’s the price a superhero pays for remaining in a prepetually regressed state. I contend that price is far higher than any associated with the inherent difficulty of writing married characters. With Spider-Man, One More Day established that no matter what he did in his personal or heroic life, he would never change. He’d always end up sleeping on his Aunt May’s couch.

It doesn’t matter if he pursues a new romance. It doesn’t matter if he becomes a billionaire and runs his own company. A reader can just assume he’ll screw it all up somehow and end up right back where he started. It’s just hard to root for any character that keeps regressing like that.

It’s like rooting for a sports team that never wins. Even terrible teams can turn it around at some point. Yes, that includes the Cleveland Browns. If that team never wins, though, why even root in the first place?

This is why marriage is so vital to the growth and evolution of superheroes. When a hero gets married, it’s not just an excuse to have a big event full of superhero-themed cakes. It’s a culmination of a much larger story about love, growth, and strength. It takes a lot to make a marriage work and not all of it can be done with superpowers.

Therein lies the ultimate appeal, though. When a superhero gets married, they go from simply pursuing a relationship to actually making it work. They have to learn how to build a life with another person and become part of a larger family, something that cannot and should not be exclusive to the Fantastic Four.

It fundementally changes how superheroes approach their lives, in and out of costume. It adds new layers of complexity and intrigue. Yes, it’s considerably harder than telling stories about Superman rescuing Lois Lane from Lex Luthor’s evil clutches. That’s exactly what makes it more compelling.

I don’t doubt that Marvel and DC will continue making excuses about married superheroes. Whether or not their approach to the issue evolves remains to be seen. However, since they’re in the business of keeping their characters relevant, they will have an incentive to adapt these characters for changing times and maturing audiences.

Being the romantic I am, I believe love will eventually win out in the end because love is part of why we root for superheroes in the first place. Love isn’t just about being unselfish. It’s also about achieving something special after so much sacrifice. Fans of superheroes want to see them achieve the things they struggle for. It affirms that all those heroics have meaning and purpose.

Marriage doesn’t have to be the ultimate achievement for a superhero. It can be part of it, though. It doesn’t have to be an end. It can be a beginning, as well. Until Marvel and DC lets its heroes get to that point, though, those stories won’t get told and hearts will keep getting broken for all the wrong reasons.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Love Or Obsession, Marriage and Relationships, romance, superhero movies, X-men

How To Denigrate Multiple Iconic Romances In A Single Comic

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I love romance. I also love comics. I’ve made my fondness clear for both on numerous occasions. When they’re combined, I’m twice as thrilled. It has proven to be a very potent combination before. Like real life, comic book romance isn’t always done right, but when it works, it’s a beautiful thing.

That’s what I had hoped to see with the release of X-men Gold #30, which was billed as the overdue wedding between Kitty Pryde and Colossus. They’re one of the X-men’s most prominent romances, having a history that spans decades and includes death, resurrection, and being trapped in a giant bullet. I swear I’m not making that last part up.

Earlier this year, I detailed why the Kitty/Colossus romance was so special in annuls of X-men lore. It’s one of those romances that isn’t assumed like Superman and Lois Lane. They have to actually work to make their relationship strong, which makes it feel more real than most superhero couples.

It’s why I had such high hopes for X-men Gold #30. It promised to reward these characters for their love and the work they put into it. Being the romance fans I am, I’m a strong believer in having that kind of effort pay off for a couple.

Sadly, and this was spoiled before the comic even came out, that’s not how things played out for Kitty and Colossus. I don’t mind spoiling it, either. Kitty and Colossus don’t get married. Kitty, for reasons that are more asinine than I can put into words, gets cold feet at the last possible second and calls it off.

She doesn’t even wait until she and Colossus are alone so she doesn’t create this mass spectacle that is sure to humiliate and hurt someone she loves in a very public way. She actually gets to the point where Colossus is about to put the ring on her finger and that’s where she stops it. Short of punching his jaw after being told he can kiss the bride, it’s one of the worst things she could’ve done to this man.

On top of that, Kitty was the one who proposed to him. This isn’t a case where a man pressures a woman into marrying someone or a woman feels pressure from her family and peers. The idea, request, and desire to get married came from Kitty and her being the one to call it off like that, after her friends and family did so much to help her, just makes her look more callous than an entire army of Lex Luthors.

I wish I could provide some context to her decision. I really do. I just can’t find a believable way to make her decision anything other than an act of heartlessness, cruelty, and cowardice. There were no hints, whatsoever, in the events that led up to the wedding that would imply Kitty was having second thoughts. In fact, the events of X-men Gold #29 doubled down on her love for this man.

Then, in just one scene that played out early in X-men Gold #30, it all comes apart thanks to a short, unspectacular conversation with Colossus’ sister, Illyana “Magik” Rasputin. It’s not dramatic. It’s not that revealing, either. Again, I don’t mind spoiling it.

Magik just reminds Kitty that she and Colossus had to overcome a lot in order to get to this point. She also throws in that, if they were meant to be, it would’ve happened already. Bear in mind, Magik is considered one of Kitty Pryde’s closest friends on top of being Colossus’ sister. Even if that remark could be attributed to her alcohol intake, it’s still a terrible thing to say to someone who is about to get married.

It’s one of those comments that shouldn’t have derailed a couple that has worked so hard to be together, but it did. Seriously, that’s all it took to convince Kitty that she had to stop the wedding, in the middle of the ceremony, and in front of all her friends and family. Considering she’s supposed to be a leader of the X-men and one of the toughest female X-men of all time, it’s pretty pathetic.

Her decision and terrible timing, alone, could’ve made X-men Gold #30 one of the least romantic stories in the history of the comics. I still wouldn’t have put it on par with some very disturbing romantic sub-plots that played out in some Spider-Man comics. If breaking off a wedding was all this comic did, I would still appreciate it for how it imparted so much heartbreak into a story.

However, it gets even worse than that. It wasn’t enough for X-men Gold #30 to undermine one of the X-men’s most likable romances. It actually succeeded in denigrating the entire concept of romance in superhero comics. I know that sounds like an exaggeration on my part, but I’m dead serious.

Yes, Kitty and Colossus don’t get married in this issue. However, a marriage does occur and it is between another iconic X-men couple that I’m actually really fond of. The lucky couple here is Rogue and Gambit. If you watched the old X-men 90s animated series, you understand why that’s a big deal.

Now, I could write several articles on the quirks of the Rogue/Gambit relationship. It’s another one of those romances that has become iconic in its own right. I would even go so far as to put it slightly above the Kitty/Colossus relationship, if only because both characters have had to deal with some pretty unique obstacles, the least of which involves Mystique being Rogue’s adopted mother.

In the context of X-men Gold #30, though, those various quirks don’t really play into the moment. They haven’t even played into any of the events throughout X-men Gold that led up to this wedding. In fact, they only recently rekindled their relationship in a mini-series called “Rogue and Gambit” by Kelly Thompson, which I highly recommend.

Even with that development, though, them getting married at this point would’ve been rushed, forced, and downright inappropriate, given what just happened to Kitty and Colossus. It would’ve given the impression that someone had to get married in this comic. It didn’t matter who, why, or for what reason. It just had to happen to salvage the issue.

To hell with crafting a story that documents the emotional journey two characters make to get to that point. Never mind the fact that other iconic couples have gone on that journey and made for some of the most memorable moments in the history of comics. Just having Rogue and Gambit randomly decide, on the spot, to get married should carry the same weight. If I could write that with more sarcasm, I could.

Again, I want to make clear that I like the Rogue/Gambit relationship. I’m glad their romance is evolving, once more, especially after some of the other characters they’ve been stuck with. The way it was handled, though, and at Kitty and Colossus’ expense, no less, was just downright demeaning to the very concept of meaningful romance.

It sends the message that romance is as interchangeable as a box of frozen burritos. If one doesn’t heat up right, then another one works just as well. It’s not like they’re unique, having unique emotional dynamics and personal journeys specific to multiple characters. One is no more special or meaningful than the other. Again, if I could write that with more sarcasm, I would.

What happened to Kitty and Colossus in X-men Gold #30 was tragic, but it didn’t undercut romance in superhero comics, as a whole. As soon as Rogue and Gambit were randomly thrust into the moment, doing on a whim what took other couples so much time and effort, the whole issue undercut any deeper meaning that both romances had going for them.

Great romance, especially those that go onto become iconic, can’t be the kind of exchangeable gimmicks that can be sold as easily as plastic cups at Costco. Great romance is like the cookies you bake with your grandmother from scratch. There’s work, patience, and a deeper personal touch to the effort.

I get the appeal of throwing in a major twist. Comics, movies, and everything associated with M. Knight Shyamalan have been doing that for years. That appeal isn’t there in X-men Gold #30 because it comes at the cost of treating romance with the same recklessness as super-villains treat their henchmen.

On it’s own, I thought X-men Gold #30 was just really disappointing for how it handled Kitty and Colossus. However, it’s the precedent and the implications that leave me concerned for the future of romance in comics, particularly Marvel. If this is how love is treated, as something easily cut and pasted into a plot, then I worry for other comic book couples that may face similar denigration.

Here’s to hoping that the upcoming wedding between Batman and Catwoman sets a better precedent.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Love Or Obsession, Marriage and Relationships, romance, X-men

How To Do Romantic Sub-Plots Right (And Why Some Fail)

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This will probably surprise no one who regularly visits this site, but I love romantic sub-plots. In many cases, they’re my favorite part of a movie, TV show, or comic book. I’ve made my love for romance in general fairly well-known, but romantic sub-plots offer a special kind of appeal.

Now, when I say romantic sub-plots, I’m not referring to the stories built solely around romance, like many of my novels. I’m referring to stories that are primarily presented as another genre, be it sci-fi, fantasy, or a blatant “Die Hard” rip-off, but include a secondary romantic story that runs parallel to the main story.

Sometimes, that story is subtle. Sometimes, it becomes a major catalyst for other parts of the main story. Sometimes, it just adds a little melodrama in between all the bigger, flashier conflicts. Watch pretty much any prime time show on the CW these days and you’ll see examples of every kind to some extent.

As much as I love these sub-plots, though, they can also be frustrating. For every romantic sub-plot I felt was handled well, I can think of five others that were horribly botched. On one end, you have the rich, balanced love story of Han Solo and Princess Leia in the original “Star Wars” trilogy. On the other, you’ve got the inherently toxic love story between Penny and Leonard in “The Big Bang Theory.”

There’s so much variety and diversity to romantic sub-plots that I could spend an entire weekend going through all of them. However, for the sake of making a more concise point, I want to focus on what makes a romantic sub-plot truly compelling. Regardless of genre, medium, or scope, a good romantic sub-plot can really enhance the overall plot.

Like every other sub-plot or storytelling tactic, though, romantic sub-plots are prone to all sorts of tropes, cliches, and traditions. Some are more useful than others. However, some can create obstacles and pitfalls that derail an otherwise promising romantic sub-plot.

While I don’t consider myself an expert on all the mechanisms that go into a good romantic sub-plot, I do know plenty of others out there who are far smarter than me and far more capable of explaining the subject in a more comprehensive way. They may not be experts either, but they know how to get the point across.

That’s where wonderful YouTube channels like Overly Sarcastic Productions come in. I’ve referenced it before in previous discussions about strong female characters, but it also provides other extensive breakdowns of various tropes and does it in a colorful, entertaining way, sometimes literally.

One such video in their Trope Talk series covers romantic sub-plots and the breakdown here is the best I’ve seen to date on what makes a good and not-so-good sub-plot. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend you watch it. If nothing else, it should put some of your favorite and least favorite romantic sub-plots into a larger context.

There’s a lot of fast-talking, broad-based breakdowns of this trope, which the narrator freely admits she doesn’t fully understand. However, she demonstrates that she understands enough to point out what not to do when pursuing a romantic sub-plot on a fairly basic level. I want to go beyond basics.

The video singles out a few TV shows and cartoons where the romantic sub-plot falls flat, such as “The Legend of Korra” and “Castle.” In both cases, the sub-plot is very shallow in that it’s built entirely on the fact that a straight male and a straight female character work closely together. As such, they become romantically entangled.

Therein likes the most glaring problem, though. Just being two characters who work together is seen as sufficient to justify the sub-plot. As a result, there’s no effort to build meaningful chemistry between the characters. In some cases, there isn’t even an effort to establish whether they’re romantically compatible with one another.

This is probably the most common, not to mention the most annoying, problem that arises when romantic sub-plots enter a story. The sub-plot is given the bare minimum in terms of depth, relying on the audience to fill in the blanks as to why these two should be together.

This happens a lot in the superhero genre. Romantic sub-plots and soap operas are the cornerstone of some of the most iconic superhero comics, TV shows, and movies. One of the most epic examples, the Dark Phoenix Saga, is set to become a movie next year. However, I would argue that the superhero genre is most guilty of this common shortcoming.

Take, for instance, the first “Iron Man” movie and the romantic sub-plot between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts. Never mind the fact that these two characters don’t have much of a romance in the comics. The first movie and the two successful sequels that follow do plenty to establish Tony and Pepper as the primary romance of the story. However, it does little to show why these two belong together.

The same thing happens with Thor and Jane Foster in the first two “Thor” movies. Unlike Iron Man, the comics establish a more robust romantic history between these two. The movies, however, do little to drawn from this history. They rely solely on the fact that Thor spends a little time around Jane, she’s attracted to him, and that’s all that’s necessary for the romance to unfold.

Again, it’s shallow in that it relies too heavily on the audience to fill in the gaps of chemistry and compatibility. For any functional romance, those gaps are pretty big. Just getting together is only a small part of that process and the story around it. Movies like “Thor” and “Iron Man” give the impression that just being around each other long enough is sufficient. These characters don’t have to actually work on their romance.

Compare that to the much more developed romances in the superhero genre, such as Barry and Iris in “The Flash” TV show. In that romance, just getting together isn’t the end of the story. It’s just part of it. Barry and Iris actually work, struggle, sacrifice, and even argue at times, but that’s exactly what makes their relationship so meaningful.

Outside the superhero genre, there are other ways the romantic sub-plot gets derailed in a way that’s more annoying than entertaining. I think “Friends” was one of the worst offenders with Ross and Rachel because almost the entirety of the sub-plot was built around them struggling to get together. Sure, the process of two people coming together can be compelling, but that can’t be the whole story.

Movies tend to struggle with it even more, but mostly due to logistical reasons. There’s only so much romantic development you can squeeze into a two or three hour movie. However, it can be done. Despite being brief and tragic, the sub-plot of Sarah Conners and Kyle Reese in the original “Terminator” movie showed that it is possible for a romantic sub-plot to be meaningful within those limitations.

Far more often, though, movies try to rush a sub-plot or outright force it. That’s part of what makes any romance hard to take seriously. In a movie like “Jurassic World,” where you have two very different characters in Claire and Owen, it really has to be forced because outside the plot of the movie, it’s hard to imagine these two having a meaningful relationship.

In some respects, that’s a good litmus test for any romantic sub-plot. If you can’t see the characters involved functioning outside the plot of the movie, then chances are the romantic sub-plot is fundamentally flawed. It’s easy to imagine iconic couples like Superman and Lois Lane, Cyclops and Jean Grey, or even Allie and Noah in “The Notebook” enjoying a functional relationship past the final credits.

Even for couples where it’s harder to picture them outside a conflict, it helps when a romantic sub-plot still puts in extra effort to make the romance believable. While this is a challenge in movies, TV, and comics, I’ve actually seen this handled a lot better in modern video games.

Romantic sub-plots are important elements of popular games like the “Uncharted” series. What makes that sub-plot effective, though, is how much time and energy is put into establishing why a man like Nathan Drake would be with a woman like Elena Fisher. It even goes out of its way to show how these two characters create a genuinely functional relationship towards the end.

While it might be a bit of a stretch, I would also cite the “Mass Effect” series that I’ve praised before in how well it handles romantic sub-plots. Now, it’s a stretch because the game is structured in a way where the player can choose a particular romantic sub-plot or choose to not have one at all. That makes the story a lot more fluid than a movie or TV show, but it still manages to create depth for a sub-plot.

That depth shows, regardless of which romantic sub-plot the player chooses. Whether it’s Shepard and Liara, Shepard and Ashley, or Shepard and Garrus, the game provides opportunities for depth and development. If you follow the sub-plot through to the end, the romance has genuine dramatic weight.

In the end, that’s the most important impact of any romantic sub-plot. When done right, it adds greater weight to the overall narrative. It creates an emotional dimension that goes beyond just achieving a goal or surviving a conflict. It fleshes out the emotions, passions, and desires of the characters involved.

Conversely, it can really disrupt the plot when done wrong. I’ve already covered how the worst love triangle in history derailed the X-men movies. Talk to any “Star Wars” fan and they’ll probably say the poor romance between Anakin Skywalker and Padme was the most disappointing part of the prequels not named Jar Jar Binks.

To some extent, a romantic sub-plot is a gamble. It stretches the odds, but it also increases the payout. When it fails, it can fail pretty spectacularly. When it works, though, it can make for some of the most dramatic, passionate moments in a story. As an unapologetic romance lover, I say it’s a gamble worth taking.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, gender issues, human nature, Love Or Obsession, Marriage and Relationships, movies, romance, sex in media

Do Soul Mates Actually Mates Exist?

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When it comes to love, romance, and whatever else manifests in every song a boy band ever sang, the ultimate manifestation of this beautifully sentimental phenomenon is the soul mate. We’ve probably all heard about it in some form. Some are even lucky enough to be with someone that they consider to be their soul mate. Regardless of whether or not you care for the concept, we envy those people.

As a long-time romance fan and an aspiring erotica/romance writer, the ideal of the soul mate is the alpha and omega of the concept. It is to romance what Superman is to modern superheroes. It is the ideal to which we aspire. It embodies the ultimate example of what true love is and what we want it to be.

I’m not going to lie. That sort of thing makes parts of me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, among other things. Most people who enjoy romance to some degree probably feel the same way. The idea that two people have a love so strong that it’s practically interwoven into the fabric of time, space, and the basic laws of reality just feels so special.

It makes for both a great fantasy, full of more romance and passion than most can ever manage without seeing “Titanic” fifteen times in a row. It’s the kind of love that makes romances like Jack and Rose, Romeo and Juliet, and even Superman and Lois Lane seem ordained by destiny.

Now, here’s where I kind of have to put a dent in the time-honored fantasy. I know that’s kind of dangerous for a self-proclaimed romance fan, but I’m going to do it anyway because I think it’s a discussion worth having. It’s a discussion based on a simple question.

Do soul mates actually exist?

I know that me asking that after I just said it makes parts of me gush sounds like an about-face. I promise there’s a context to it and one that ties directly into how we go about answering this question. Whether or not you’re a romance fan, the ideal of the soul mate and our inherent drive to seek love makes it an important question to ask.

Before I give my answer, I need to add a few caveats to my fondness for the concept. Yes, it does resonate with me, somewhat, as an overall romance fan. However, as a fan of compelling stories and an aspiring writer, I actually don’t really care for stories built around the idea of soul mates.

Don’t get me wrong. I still think it’s a sweet concept. When I was younger and just starting to explore romance, I really liked those stories. As I got older, though, and my tastes in stories evolved, that appeal quickly waned. Whenever I read a book or saw a movie that ran with the concept of soul mates, it became somewhat of a turn-off.

That’s because from a narrative perspective, soul mates make for bland and shallow stories. If a couple are established as soul mates, then that basically renders any need to work or nurture their love moot. They don’t have to put in the time, work, or effort to become a great couple. Destiny and whatever supernatural forces behind their bond do that for them.

This is why I don’t care much for “Romeo and Juliet.” It’s established from the beginning that they’re “star-crossed lovers,” which is basically a more Shakespearean way of fate had ordained for these two to fall in love and there’s nothing anyone or anything can do to prevent it. Sure, it’s sweet and dramatic, but it’s a very limited story.

Those same limits that undermine a story are a major factor in answering the question. For someone like me, who follows romantic plots and sub-plots way closer than most straight men will ever admit, it shapes my perspective on what makes a great love story and what makes a real or fictional relationship strong.

Within that context, I’ll give my answer to the question. I don’t claim that this answer is definitive. This is just my opinion, having formed it from years and years of both consuming and crafting all things romance.

No. I don’t believe that soul mates are real.

I’m sure that’s tantamount to blasphemy for other romance fans out there. I understand that sentiment and I gladly accept the scorn that comes with that answer. However, I am willing to justify my answer.

It’s not just because I regularly write about the inherent flaws in the human brain, which make the prospect of achieving any ideal, be it perfect love or perfect justice, impossible by default. I think the concept, as a whole, does not fit with the whole process of love, at least as I see it.

Whether it’s love in the real world or love in sexy novels, falling in love and being in love is an ongoing phenomenon. It takes many forms and plays out in many ways, sometimes chaotically and sometimes dramatically. That’s part of what makes it such an appealing narrative.

Some of the best manifestations of that process, which I’ve gone out of my way to highlight, occur when two people work together to build and strengthen their love. They work together. They fight together. Sometimes they even clash, along the way. There’s never an endgame in mind. Their love is something that builds and evolves day-by-day.

In the real world, we see that play out in the work people put into their relationships. Whether it’s scheduling a sex night or going on some romantic getaway to Fiji, people in love put work into that love. It’s not something that just happens. For that feeling to remain strong, it takes time, effort, and understanding.

With soul mates, there’s no process to love. It just happens. The universe basically commands it. There’s no reason to put any work into it because those involved are so made for each other that they couldn’t drive each other apart if they tried. That kind of love doesn’t just rely on supernatural forces. It relies on two people’s thoughts, feelings, and desires being perfectly compatible every second of every day until the end of time.

Given the chaotic nature of the human mind, that’s just not realistic. It’s not even that romantic, when you think about it. I don’t deny that there are particular moments, such as a wedding day or the first time a couple makes love, where they’ll feel in that moment that they are soul mates. I don’t deny that feeling exists. As for the larger concept, as a whole, I think that’s about as real as Superman holding a black hole in his hand.

So I guess my answer does have a bit of a caveat. I do believe there are moments when two people are so in sync, emotionally and romantically, that they fit the mold of soul mates. Those same people can go onto break up, get divorced, or cheat on each other. That’s just the chaotic, unceasing nature of human passions.

Again, my answer to this question is anything but definitive. Perhaps there are other romance fans out there who believe I’m dead wrong and that soul mates do exist. If you feel that way, I’d be happy to discuss that issue in greater detail. For now, I simply ask that all those reading this contemplate that question and answer it for themselves.

Even if you’re not big on romance, it’s a question worth answering. It reflects both our sentiments and our aspirations when it comes to seeking love. As someone who is currently single, writes sexy stories, hopes to fall in love one day, I imagine I’ll continue contemplating this question for years to come.

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Sex Education Vs. Love Education: Why We Need More Of The Latter

Talk to most teenagers about the awkward moments of their lives and they’ll usually agree on a couple themes. Puberty did all sorts of weird things to their bodies, talking about sex with parents is very uncomfortable, and there’s no easy way to explain certain stains in your underwear.

Even adults who survived their teenage years would agree. That jarring transition from kid to adult is fraught with all sorts of challenges, obstacles, and exceedingly embarrassing moments. I’m not just talking about awkward boners either. It’s overwhelming, so much so that we often need guidance, even though most never admit to seeking it.

This is a big reason why sex education is so difficult, which I’ve discussed before. At least parents, teachers, priests, and poorly-produced after school specials tried to teach kids about these topics. Sure, some of it was misguided and misleading, but at least it wasn’t ignored.

There was one particular topic, which happened to be closely related to sex, that rarely got mentioned. In fact, it was only ever hinted at indirectly, if not overlooked purposefully. It might very well be the greatest oversight that school, parents, and society have committed, short of informing teenagers that pictures of their genitals are never secure.

It has to do with love. No, I’m not talking about the kind we make in a bedroom or within my sexy novels. I’m talking about the real, sincere love that most of us only know from old Beatles songs. Yes, I realize that sounds cheesy as hell, but that’s exactly my point.

Growing up, talking about sex was awkward and uncomfortable. It evoked all sorts of giggles, jokes, and crude remarks, often with respect to certain aspects of human anatomy. At least we talked about it. At least we acknowledged that it’s there and it’s something adults at least try, albeit haphazardly, to teach us about.

The same can’t be said for love. In some respects, talking about love is even more taboo than talking about sex. There was never a class about love. There was never an open discussion about what it meant, how it felt, and how to approach it. We, as hormonal teenagers, were left to figure it out on our own. That already leads to all sorts of problems with sex. Why wouldn’t the same apply to love?

Unlike sex, though, the silence on love has nothing to do with the agenda of religious zealots, government bureaucrats, or parents too horrified to think about their children getting naked. It had more to do with our attitudes, as teenagers.

I don’t know how it is now, but when I was a teenager, I hid the fact that I enjoyed romance. In many ways, my love of comics provided a shield since comics have all sorts of great romance stories. If someone found out I read comics, that wasn’t too big a deal. Liking comics wasn’t too taboo, but liking romance was different.

To enjoy romance, especially for a man, was to be a sissy. It was like there was something wrong with you to actually be into that sort of thing. Just talking about love made you less manly. Never mind the fact that men have done some insanely manly things in the name of love. Just being a fan of love and wanting to explore it was akin to dressing up in bunny pajamas and going to a Metallica concert.

For women, it was somewhat easier, but not by much. Girls were more expected to be into love and melodrama, but that came at a cost too. I knew girls in high school and college who got a lot of crap for being too sentimental, so to speak. Whenever they would talk about love, I could actually see others rolling their eyes and secretly wishing they could mute their friend.

In any case, talking about love was just something that seemed uncool, lame, or insipid. Never mind the fact that everyone seeks love, on some level, and that it goes onto become a major driving force in our lives, just like sex. We just didn’t talk about it and were expected to know it when we felt it.

That, unfortunately, was the most anyone ever dared teach me about love. It was the advice I got from parents and relatives. It was the advice I got from teachers. They would tell me the same things.

“Love is just one of those things you’ll know when you feel. Trust me!”

Now, I trust my parents and teachers with a lot of things. For the most part, the advice my parents give me is pretty damn good. When it comes to love, though, their advice felt empty and unsatisfying.

To some extent, I suspect they said that because even they didn’t know. I doubt they got an education on love, even if they got an education on sex. It’s also worth remembering that our concept of love and actually marrying for it is fairly recent. However, that doesn’t make the lack of insight any less jarring.

Even as a kid, I wanted to learn more about love, but had no idea how to go about it or who to talk to. I suspect others felt the same, but didn’t want to bring it up because it was just too uncool. I ended up learning most from comic books, TV shows, and movies like “Crazy/Beautiful.”

While those offered some insights, you generally don’t want to learn too much from mass media. That’s why we have an ongoing issue about kids learning about sex through porn. It’s also why we, as a society, don’t trust movies to teach teenagers how to drive. We understand mass media is going to horribly skew reality. However, we seem okay with letting it teach us about love.

Naturally, that’s going to cause problems. There are any number of doomed or toxic romances that the media loves to convey as romantic ideals. At least with sex, given the physical elements involved, it’s a bit easier to figure out you’re doing something wrong. Usually, your partner will tell you. With love, though, its a bit harder.

How do you know your understanding of love is healthy or even feasible? How do you know that your concept of love isn’t misguided or flawed? How do you even go about pursuing love, forging intimate bonds, and working with someone to strengthen that bond?

Those are not rhetorical questions. Those are actual questions that never get asked, let alone answered. Humans are a very emotional species. Love is among the most powerful emotions any human can feel. To not talk about it is akin to ignoring that at least half your body is on fire. At some point, the burning becomes too intense.

I don’t deny that our current standards for sex education have room for improvement. However, we haven’t even contemplated standards for education about love. Like our desire for sex, love is one of those innate human feelings that we cannot and should not turn off. It shouldn’t be one of those issues that’s uncool to talk about. It sure as hell shouldn’t be one of those issues that we ignore, especially for young people.

In a sense, though, maybe this is one of those rare issue where adults and teenagers are on the same page. Neither can claim to have a firm understanding of love. That may mean we have to learn and teach it together, but as an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I can think of few things more worthy of learning.

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How Some People Get Bored With Sex (But Not In The Way You Think)

I’ve talked a lot about the crippling effects of boredom, as well as its potential to become a plague in a future. Make no mistake. It is a powerful force, one that has led to at least one ghastly murder in the modern era. That means it’s more than powerful enough to effect our sex life.

It’s something I’ve been meaning to explore for a while, but I haven’t found the right context yet. I don’t want to just talk about how boredom may one day render sex as dull an affair as getting your tires rotated. Considering few, outside of those with a serious car fetish, ever achieved orgasm through general automotive care, extracting the impact of boredom on sex requires a special approach.

Unlike that toy you got sick of as a kid or that brand of cereal that just doesn’t do it for you, sex is a major biological imperative. In the same way you can’t get bored with surviving a bear attack, you can’t necessarily get bored with sex in the same way. That’s not to say boredom doesn’t find a way. It just has to be sneaky about it.

That brings me to an article out of Germany from Deutsche Welle, which explored the reason why men lose their sex drive as they age. It may seem like one of those obvious issues that doesn’t need much thought. It makes sense that men will lose their sex drive as they age. Pretty much every other bodily function declines as we age so why not our sex drive?

This is where I give credit to the Germans for something other than beer and bratwurst. They try to break down the components of this seemingly-obvious idea that our interest in sex declines as our bodies decline and we get more prone to boredom, among many other things. What they describe is somewhat revealing.

But what if you are bored of sex, bored of all the humping, grinding and groaning, the bad breath and false teeth, and the pretending you’d rather do this in that way than watch the footie, or, I don’t know, clip your toe nails?

Don’t laugh: it can happen.

A study published in 2017 by BMJ Open reported that 15 percent of men and 34 percent of women among the participants had experienced “a lacking interest in sex.” This was based on a survey of 4839 men and 6669 women, aged between 16 and 74, in opposite-sex and same-sex relationships.

Now, the numbers are not all as straight forward as that. There are various reasons why people lose or lack interest in sex, and not all of them are about age, but they are similar for men and women.

For instance, if you’ve experienced what the researchers call “non-volitional sex” or if you’ve had a sexually transmitted infection, you may lose interest. Being unemployed is downer too. Interestingly, though, retired women were “less likely to lack desire.” Also, and this is odd, having sex will actually lower your interest in it. Who said sex gets better with practice, hey? Instead it sounds like laying off and getting some kip will do you wonders.

The bold parts are my doing. I wanted to single those out because they highlight some variation among certain individuals and not just in terms of how much blood they can direct into their genitals. Life experiences, for better and for worse, can very much affect how we view the world, which includes sex, romance, and boredom. Certain experiences are more influential than others, to say the least.

This is where the article gets a little coy, mentioning both the late Hugh Hefner and societies with more uptight attitudes towards sex. On one end, you have Hugh Hefner, who lived well into his golden years having sex with beautiful women a third his age. On the other, you have people who have been taught about sex through scare tactics and conditioned to see it as some crippling addiction to be overcome.

Hugh Hefner Gründer Playboy Magazin Bunnies (picture alliance / Globe-ZUMA)

Needless to say, those wildly varied experiences are going to produce equally varied results, if not more so. Hefner, whether by natural endowment or just being surrounded by so many beautiful women, didn’t get bored with sex. Age didn’t slow him down as much as it required him to get creative. Given how great a motivator sex can be, that makes sense.

It makes just as much sense that someone who has had negative experiences with sex will also be likely to avoid it or get bored with it quicker. To them, sex isn’t just this fun activity you can do in a hot dub with a bunch of Playboy Playmates. It’s this big, stressful ordeal that everybody tells them should be stressful. As a result, we tend to get bored more readily, if only to avoid the stress.

This is the key in understanding how certain people get bored with sex and lose their desire. That’s not to say that if we all lived Hugh Hefner’s life, as though our imaginations aren’t lurid enough, we would never lose our sexual prowess. It’s more a matter of how we condition ourselves.

Some of it is physical. Hefner was in great shape for a man his age. Being surrounded by beautiful women and working so hard to become the epitome of the Playboy lifestyle has a way of keeping a man motivated to be healthy.

Some of it is mental, as well. Attitudes go a long way towards influencing how we see ourselves, how we act, and how others react to us. When our thoughts and attitudes about sex are shaped by the prudish proclivities of the FCC and the Vatican, they’re going to shape how we approach those ideas, even if they are hard-wired into us.

When we see something as stressful and daunting, it’s going to require more of our energy, even if we need it to survive and propagate. Eventually, we’ll get tired of that stress and output, more so than the act itself. In a sense, it’s not so much that people get tired of orgasms. They get tired of what they have to do to get them and how they have push themselves to do it.

There are cases, such as those with serious health problems, that can’t avoid that kind of stress. Those cases are tragic, but it’s the mental cases, which are more directly influenced by boredom, that are their own tragedy. The sheer variation of how people conduct themselves sexually as they age is proof of that. The article even touched on it.

Men don’t experience a menopause, as women do in the 40s or 50s, but the lower testosterone levels are cited as a reason why older men have fewer orgasms – from an average of three per week in a man’s 20s to less than one a week in his 60s.

But this is no “hard and fast” rule. Plenty of men and women continue to enjoy sex well into their 70s and sometimes into their 80s. And we haven’t even touched on masturbation. You may find that comforting.

Again, the bold parts are my doing. I apologize if they evoke mental images that you could’ve done without, but those images of wrinkly bodies and sweaty liver spots should help emphasize the point I’m trying to make here.

It is possible for people to sustain their interest in sex over a long period of time. It’s also possible for people to get bored with it, but that boredom often has a larger context with larger implications.

It’s sure to become more obvious as we live longer lives and are better able to overcome the physical limitations that keep us from having sex in our 90s, as the pharmaceutical industry has shown. It will likely become a larger issue for couples and individuals alike. Whatever happens in the battle against boredom, I intend to continue fighting it with this website and my sexy novels.

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How To Flirt Better (According To Science)

Whether you’re a man, woman, or something in between, you’ve probably done your share of flirting. Like learning to walk, ride a bike, or get out of jury duty, it’s one of those things you instinctively do once you become an adult. Compared to riding a bike, though, flirting can be much more dangerous/frustrating/hilarious.

As someone who spent most of his life hindered by crippling social awkwardness, I’ve often been frustrated by the act of flirting, mostly because I was so bad at it. Then, as someone who aspired to be an erotica/romance writer and tell sexy stories, I gained a greater understanding of it and why I was so bad at it in the first place.

When you think about it, learning to flirt is part of our evolutionary destiny. Surviving childhood is a hard enough challenge, but those that do now have to deal with their next major biological imperative, which is reproduction. Part of that process involves finding someone who wants to have sex with you. For some, surviving a bear attack is less daunting than that process.

It certainly has been for me, at times. I am by no means an expert on flirting or one of those self-proclaimed pick-up artists. I’m just someone whose social skills are behind the curve, but is working to improve them, often through telling sexy stories. I’m not saying I’m on my way to becoming the next Hugh Hefner, but I’m making an effort to show that I have something to offer to the opposite sex.

Being the romantic I am, I believe everybody has something to offer, although not everyone is good at conveying it. That’s why, as a service and an effort to help those avoid my hapless social life, here are some flirting tips that have some science to back them.

Most of these tips were compiled on an article from Bustle. I’m not saying the science is perfect, but it passes the Simpson Filter and the various forms of caveman logic that I’ve discussed. There may be other tricks I don’t know about. There are probably men who are much better at employing these skills than me or most people. At the very least, they can serve as a guide for those seeking love, sex, or both.


Flirting Tip #1: Pay Attention (And Draw Attention)

This one is basic common sense, but there are some caveats to keep in mind. Yes, attention is the first and, arguably, the most critical step of any flirtation. There’s a reason it’s value is growing in the current economy.  However, when it comes to flirting, attention is only one side of the coin.

Beyond just making eye-contact with the person you’re flirting with, you need to keep drawing their attention as well. It can’t just be because you’re the one talking. Drawing attention means giving the other person a reason to pay attention to you. It doesn’t have to be a huge reason. You don’t have to slay a dragon or fight Floyd Mayweather. You just need to prove that you’re interesting.

That might be easier for some more than others. If you’re a boring person, then that’s a challenge. If you’ve got something in your life that is strange, unusual, or intriguing, then you’ve got an advantage and you shouldn’t be afraid to use it.


Flirting Tip #2: Smile, Be Open, And Welcome Someone In

This is also common sense, but it’s also one of those things people of both genders only do halfway. Smiling is regularly cited as one of the best flirting tactics of all time, but it’s only part of a much larger process and too many people don’t bother finishing that process.

You can’t just stop at smiling. You have to be open and willing to let someone into your world. I know that sound dirty, but it’s not limited to a sexual sort of way. If someone is open to being with you, then you need to show that you’re open as well. Smiling is a great way to signal that you’re open for business and not just in your pants, but it shouldn’t be the only way.

Let someone know you want to be loved. Let them know you want to take a chance on them too. If that person is open to being loved, then there’s a good chance they’ll act on it. If they don’t, then don’t waste your smile on them.


Flirting Tip #3: Give Compliments (But Not Just On Beauty)

This is something that a lot of people screw up, myself included. Giving compliments is great, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. I’m sorry to admit that for much of my early life, I did things the wrong way. I gave girls compliments, but they were very shallow. I said they looked nice or sexy. They would often smile back, but not much else and I could hardly blame them.

I learned later in life that if you’re going to compliment a woman, her looks shouldn’t be the first thing you compliment. It doesn’t matter if she has tits like Pamela Anderson or an ass like Jennifer Lopez. It also doesn’t matter if a man has the face of Hugh Jackman and the abs of Channing Tatum. Those people get compliments all the time on their looks. To really stand out, you need to compliment something else.

Sometimes it involves a book they’re reading, a sport they’re playing, or TV show they’re watching. Every person has their quirks. When you compliment those, you compliment someone on a deeper level. That’ll get their attention. From there, you can get to work on heating up their loins.


Flirting Tip #4: Make Someone Laugh And Relax

Laughter isn’t just the best medicine. It’s also a great way to bond once you’ve gotten past the point of getting each other’s attention. In a sense, getting attention is the easy part. Holding it with someone is the real challenge. That’s where jokes come in.

Making someone laugh makes you more likable. Being likable means they want to be around you more. Being around you more will let them know whether you’re worth loving. The more you make them laugh, the more you tip those odds in your favor.

It can’t just be crude dick jokes either. Those only go so far. Even in high school, that stuff isn’t enough to get you a date. Making someone laugh isn’t just about entertaining them. It’s about making them feel relaxed. By being relaxed, they’ll be more comfortable around you. By being comfortable, they’re more willing to take their clothes off. It’s logic at its most simple.


Flirting Tip #5: Be Poised, Be Confident, And Lie To Yourself (But No One Else)

Poise often goes hand-in-hand with confidence, but they don’t always have have to be mutually exclusive. Confidence is critical in any successful flirtation. Contrary to what every teen movie ever said, being pitiful is never attractive. Most people don’t fall in love or have sex out of pity.

That’s why being confident is so important. That’s also why sometimes you have to lie to yourself about your confidence level. It may sound crude, but it is one of those things that you can fake until you make. In fact, you can use caveman logic to your advantage. Your brain doesn’t know the difference between fake confidence and real confidence so take advantage of that bug.

In doing so, however, you have to be careful not to give a false impression to the person your flirting with. If you lie to them about the kind of person you are, then that means either becoming that person or having to keep lying. In the end, that’s more stress than it’s worth. It’s also a dick move and most people don’t appreciate that kind of flirting.


Flirting Tip #6: Invite Soft Touching (To A Point)

Being a natural hugger, I can attest to the power of touch. There is some science behind it as well. Even light touching is enough to send the sexy parts of someone’s brain into overdrive. It’s another instance where you can get caveman logic to work in your favor.

Now, this can be risky because touching someone when they don’t want it can get you into all sorts of trouble, especially these days. It’s more so for men, but it’s also something women struggle with as well. It’s not always easy to discern a loving touch from the kind of touch that Ted Bundy might give. That’s why it’s best to keep things soft and subtle.

If at any point, the touching gets heated, then by all means, go for it. Let that touching take you and your prospective lover across the rainbow bridge into paradise. However, you have to make damn sure you don’t jump the gun. You’ll save yourself and your lover more awkward moments than they care to deal with.


Again, I would like to re-emphasize that I am not a dating expert, nor am I a professional pick-up artist. If I were, I’d be charging a lot more for these tips and be a lot less honest about it. The fact that I’ve inconvenienced myself, a major indicator I’ve noted before, to the point where I would write out these tips and give them for free should be proof enough of my sincerity.

Even if I’m not an expert, I dedicate a lot of time and energy into writing sexy stories and crafting sexy scenarios to entertain and arouse. Issues like flirting are things I have to research, explore, and learn about to make my writing as sexy as possible. If it can help other people in the real world get lucky in love or sex, then that’s just a nice bonus.

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