Category Archives: romance

A Simple Thought Experiment On Romance Vs. Stalking

At what point does love become obsession?

At what point does infatuation become unhealthy?

At what point does a romantic gesture become creepy?

These are all relevant questions that don’t have clear answers. Those who unlucky enough to have dealt with a stalker probably have different answers compared to those who’ve never had that experience. I haven’t, so I won’t try to speak for those who have.

Even without that experience, I think those questions are still worth contemplating. They help put our understanding of love, romance, and relationships into perspective. We may think we know what it means to be romantic, in love, and in a relationship, but tend to forget that this entire perspective has been shaped by our circumstances.

What constitutes romance today is not the same as it was 50, 100, or 500 years ago. It’s easy to forget that the concept of marrying for love is relatively new, historically speaking. The idea that you seek a partner, go out on dates with multiple individuals, and eventually settle on the one you fall in love with is downright radical compared to how society went about sanctioning intimate relationships.

It’s something I’ve mentioned before, but now I’d like to take it a step further. Take a moment to think about all the ways you were romantic with a current or previous partner. Then, try to take a step back and ask whether this same gesture could be done by a stalker for the same reason. How does that affect your perception of the gesture? What does it reveal about your concept of romance?

As an example, consider the following romantic gesture, but through the eyes of a stalker.

I love you. I love you so much that I want to spend the rest of my life being with you. My love for you is so intense that I want the law to sanction it in a contract that will legally bind our love. I also want to put this ring with a shiny stone on your finger and have you wear it every day to let the world that you love only me. Nobody else is allowed to love you. Only I can love you.

What I just described is a gross perversion of a marriage proposal. In one context, it’s the ultimate romantic gesture. In another, it’s an incredibly disturbing rambling by a stalker who desperately wants to secure the love of another.

Here’s another example, but from the eyes of a romantic.

I love you. I love you so much that I want to live with you, share my life with you, and bear part of your burdens. I want to be close to you constantly. I want us to be under the same roof and share the same responsibilities. I want our love to be the basis with which to share our lives.

It’s another sweet gesture. It highlights that critical step when a romance goes from just sharing affection and intimacy to sharing lives and building something together. At the same time, it also sounds like something a stalker would suggest.

With those two examples in mind, take a moment to contemplate the implications.

What is it about these actions make them romantic?

Why do we go about romance in this particular manner?

What do these gestures and rituals imply about our perspectives on romance?

I don’t present this experiment as a way to undermine the way we go about romance. I’m a genuine fan of romance, in general. The novels I write and the sexy short stories I tell reflect that. However, I think it’s helpful and somewhat necessary to scrutinize certain concepts, especially if they’re important to you. You may be surprised by what they reveal.

Please try this thought experiment on your own time when you get a chance. If you have any insights you’d like to share, please do so in the comments.

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Developing Quality Romance According To “Chuck”

The Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has required everyone to get creative in alleviating boredom. At some point, there’s only so much binge-watching you can do with new shows. That’s because, along the way, you find out just how many of them turn out to be utter crap. As such, you find yourself returning to older shows that you haven’t forgotten, but haven’t seen in a long time.

I found myself in that exact position recently. Over the weekend, I was in search of a new show and came across one that I once followed closely. That show is “Chuck,” a quirky, yet endearing spy thriller/comedy/drama from the late 2000s. It’s one of those rare shows that sounds good on paper, but is even better in execution.

The premise of the show is simple. A once-promising young man named Chuck Bartowski is stuck in a dead-end job at a Best Buy-like electronics store, his future having been derailed by getting expelled from Stanford after being wrongfully excused of cheating.

Then, one day he gets a mysterious email from his old roommate, Bryce Larkin, who just happens to be the one responsible for him getting expelled. That email turns out to be a top secret program called the Intersect, a compilation of every NSA and CIA secret ever assembled. It gets downloaded into his brain, making him the most valuable intelligence asset in the world.

It puts Chuck in a strange position that requires him to become a spy under the protection of Major John Casey and Agent Sarah Walker. Action, drama, romance, and various hijinks ensue. The show often has a comedic undertone, but it gets serious in just the right amount to still be entertaining.

I started by just watching the first episode.

Then, I watched the second.

Then, I watched five more.

The next thing I know, I’m already in season two and the show is every bit as fun as I remember. It’s even aged remarkably well. I believe that if this show came out today and was completely unaltered, except for some of the technology, then it would still be a hit. It might even do better than it did when it came out because of just how well every character is handled.

This brings me to the part about Chuck” that stood out most for me while re-watching it. Once again, it has to do with romance. There’s a lot I could say about how this show handles its romantic sub-plots, but I’ll sum it up in a simple statement.

This develops TV romance in a believable, balanced, and endearing way that everyone can appreciate.

A lot of shows have major romantic sub-plots that play out over the entire run of the show. Shows like “Castle” and “X-Files” are famous for drawing those plots out over years. The problem that often plagues these plots is that, by drawing them out, they often become stale. Some even become downright toxic. A show that successfully develops a balanced, sincere, believable romance is exceedingly rare.

I would gladly cite “Chuck” as one of those rare success stories. From the first episode to the emotional series finale, the primary romance that drives the plot of this show is between Chuck and Sarah. It’s set up in the first episode as a ploy for Sarah to get close to the man who possess the intersect, but it evolves into so much more over the course of five seasons.

There are many things that make this romance great, but a big part of what makes it work is how it gets the basics right. It’s a romance that never feels lopsided, forced, or insincere. It’s also not a romance that robs either character of their agency or their personality. It doesn’t move too fast or too slow, either. It evolves in a way that feels real and heartfelt.

Chuck and Sarah isn’t a run-of-the-mill, love-at-first-sight type romance. It’s also not one of those pretty-girl-falls-for-dorky-guy romance either, although that is how it seems initially. It starts off basic. One day, Sarah walks into the store. Chuck sees her and is attracted to her beauty. Call it shallow, but that’s how many romances start in the real world and this one certainly doesn’t remain shallow.

As their relationship and their partnership evolve, each character develops in their own way. Through their romance, we learn where they came from and who they are. Chuck was once a promising student at Stanford who had big dreams that got crushed by forces beyond his control. Sarah is the daughter of a con-man who was recruited to put those skills to use for the CIA.

Both characters have traits and histories that function outside the romance. They each develop along their own path. Chuck goes from being a bumbling, anxious, often-unwilling spy to a determined, capable, and dedicated agent. A big part of that evolution is due to the influence and support of Sarah.

Sarah goes from a simple role-player into someone with her own hopes, dreams, and ambitions. She has plenty of changes to become cold and callous like her partner, John Casey. She chooses to avoid that path and Chuck is a big inspiration for that choice. He makes her better, just as she makes him better. That’s exactly what a healthy romance should do.

As for the evolution of their romance, it’s hardly worthy of a fairy tale. Throughout the course of the show, Sarah and Chuck find themselves caught up in other romantic entanglements. Sarah has a romantic history with Chucks rival, Bryce. Chuck has more than a couple flings that range from a girl working at a sandwich shop to his lying ex-girlfriend, Jill.

Remarkably, none of these side-romances come off as basic obstacles. There are reasons and motivations behind these romantic pursuits. Even if Chuck and Sarah have feelings for one another, circumstances and uncertainties keep them from developing a functioning relationship, at least at first. Eventually, they are allowed to get together, be together, and even get married.

In many shows, that level of maturity is an endpoint. For “Chuck,” it’s another key component of their romantic evolution. That’s a big part of what makes both the series and the romance work. It doesn’t just end when the guy gets the girl. Being in a relationship and consummating that relationship is just part of what makes it function. The show finds a way to work that into the plot and it works beautifully.

There’s so much more I could say about the relationship between Chuck and Sarah, but there’s no way I could capture the full scope of their love story without recounting nearly every episode. That’s why I highly recommend bingeing the show on whatever platform it’s on. Last I checked, the show is on Amazon Prime.

In just watching the first two seasons, it’s easy to see how much time, effort, and thought was put into the Chuck/Sarah romance. It also helps that the acting skills of Zach Levi as chuck and Yvonne Strahovski as Sarah are maximized through plenty of dramatic moments.

It’s a romance that helps develop and benefit both characters over the course of the show. It’s easy to root for them and you really feel it when they’re hit with some devastating moments, especially in the penultimate episode of Season 5. It also shows that balanced romance can be told over the course of a show without it getting stale, hallow, or toxic.

In real life, quality romance occurs when two people bring out the best in one another. Chuck and Sarah prove that over five memorable seasons of “Chuck.” Their love may get messy, complicated, and convoluted at times, but it still feels real and genuine. If you’re a romance fan in any capacity, I encourage you to revisit this gem of a show.

Even if the romance doesn’t do it for you, the show is worth watching for Jeffster alone.

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Wonder Woman, Relationships, And Misguided Standards For Female Heroes

I love superhero comics. I love romance. Naturally, I love it when they’re combined into a perfect package of super-romantic sentiment. I’ve singled out a few favorites of mine in the past, as well as a few not-so-favorites that act as cautionary tales. Chances are I’ll find plenty more excuses to write about superhero romance in the future.

That said, I’d like to take a step back from the specifics of superhero romance and assess the forest from the trees, so to speak. Instead, I thought I’d highlight something that I’ve been noticing within the pages of some of my favorite comics. It’s not necessarily an egregious flaw, but it is a distressing trend for lovers of romance like myself.

It has to do with how superheroes are portrayed when they’re in romantic relationships. Almost every popular superhero is caught up in a romantic sub-plot. Superman has his ever-iconic love story with Lois Lane. Cyclops and Jean Grey have decades of romance and drama. Spider-Man gets around so much that he has multiple iconic romances.

Not every superhero is defined by their romantic sub-plot, although some are more effected by it than others. It’s hard to tell the story of Sue “Invisible Woman” Richards without involving her husband and children. However, certain characters are held to different standards when it comes to romance.

That’s to be expected, given the diverse circumstances of each hero. Not every hero is going to be affected by their romantic sub-plot in the same way. That effect also changes through different eras. Even the iconic relationship between Superman and Lois Lane has changed a great deal over the years, although not necessarily for the better.

However, this particular era has really twisted the standards for female superheroes in romantic relationships and not in a good way. I won’t go so far as to call it a double standard like the others I’ve cited, but the differences are stark. It goes like this.

A male superhero gets caught up in a romantic sub-plot. The plot progresses, he enters a relationship with his romantic interest, and continues being the same hero he’s always been. The relationship supplements his story.

A female superhero gets caught up in a romantic sub-plot. The plot progresses and she enters a relationship with her romantic interest, but the relationship conflicts with her ability to be a superhero. It gets to a point where the act of her being a hero is detrimental to the relationship. She can have one or the other, but not both.

These scenarios are somewhat generic, but they convey a similar message. Male superheroes can be in romantic relationships without it undermining their heroic persona, but female superheroes can’t have those relationships without it becoming an obstacle.

This strange, unbalanced dynamic played out recently in the pages of “Wonder Woman #754.” I’d even go so far as to argue that Wonder Woman suffers the most from this dynamic, despite being one of the most iconic female superheroes of all time. Given that she’s the ideal that other female superheroes are compared to, I think that’s telling.

The main plot of the issue isn’t important. The side-plot is where this dynamic showed up. There were frequent flashbacks that highlighted Diana’s recent “drama” with her long-time romantic interest, Steve Trevor. I put drama in quotes because it feels less like drama and more like forced excuses.

It’s been an issue for Wonder Woman for decades. Despite being her most iconic love interest, going back to the 1940s, Steve Trevor has never been that official with Diana. Even though they’ve professed their love for one another in many forms and in many timelines, they’re rarely ever shown as being in a functional, mature relationship.

It’s not just with Steve Trevor, either. Even in the classic “Justice League” cartoon in which she was romantically linked to Batman, nothing ever became official. There’s was never a point where Wonder Woman went from being single to being in a real, functioning relationship.

In fact, the only time Wonder Woman was ever in a functional romantic relationship was when she dated Superman during DC’s short-lived New 52 era in the comics. During that time, Wonder Woman and Superman had their own comics and their own stories. Sometimes, those stories became entwined. Sometimes, they didn’t. It never undermined their relationship or vice versa.

I know comic fans have strong opinions about the New 52 as a whole, but I find it telling that this was really the only time Wonder Woman was allowed to be in a relationship while still being Wonder Woman. For her to be someone’s girlfriend and still be the hero she’s always been, her significant other had to be Superman.

Take a moment to think about the scope of that standard. Wonder Woman, the standard-bearer for female superheroes for decades, can be in a functional relationship, but only with someone as capable as Superman. She and Steve Trevor can be in love, but they can’t have a relationship. He’s just an ordinary man. He’d just undermine Wonder Woman’s ability to be the ideal female hero we know and love.

Meanwhile, male heroes like Batman and Spider-Man can become romantically involved with far less capable individuals, many of which don’t have superpowers and can’t fly across the planet to be on time for date night. They’re still allowed to be in those relationships, but Wonder Woman can’t even make the effort with one of her most iconic romances with Steve Trevor.

As a fan of superhero comic, romance, and Wonder Woman, I find this both flawed and frustrating. While the “Wonder Woman” movie did an solid job establishing genuine romance between her and Steve Trevor, they still never got a chance to actually be in a relationship. It’s as though a female hero can’t be in a relationship without losing something. At the same time, a male hero can’t have a complete story without one.

It’s a strange disconnect and I think it’s getting worse. In recent years, superhero comics have made a concerted effort to develop female characters and I applaud that effort. It has led to some major successes. The problem is that, like Wonder Woman, these female characters aren’t really allowed to become anyone’s girlfriend. Being in a relationship is seen as an obstacle to being strong, independent, compelling characters.

Respectfully, I call bullshit.

Being in a relationship isn’t detrimental to any character, male or female, if the relationship is well-written. In addition, female characters don’t have to be completely, 100-percent independent to be great. In fact, making them that emotional single-minded is a good way to make them unlikable and unrelatable because, in the real world, people have relationships. They form bonds, rely on others, and are effected by those close ties.

Now, I don’t deny that writing great female characters is challenging, especially in recent years. It feels like you can’t write female characters without having an agenda anymore, even when it’s not printed on a shirt. Again, I call bullshit. Female characters, like all characters, are deeply affected by the loving bonds they form. They deserve the same development and exploration as their male counterparts.

Why can’t Wonder Woman be in an official relationship with Steve Trevor?

Does being Steve Trevor’s girlfriend make Wonder Woman any less a superhero?

Does any female superhero lose something when they become someone’s girlfriend?

These are relevant questions that are worth asking. If someone as iconic as Wonder Woman can’t be in a relationship with someone without undermining what makes her Wonder Woman, then that’s not a problem with her as a character. That’s a problem with the standards and assumptions we have about superhero romance.

I’m sorry if this rant feels dragged out, but this has been bothering me for a while. I’d be happy to discuss it more. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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Happy Valentine’s Day 2020!

To everyone out there, whether you’ve found the love of your life, are looking for them, or just want another reason to share affection with the world, Happy Valentine’s Day!

As a romance fan, I have a special affinity for a day that celebrates romance.

As a single man who has nobody to spend the day with, I’m also somewhat conflicted.

I don’t deny that it’s disheartening on some levels, seeing couples going the extra mile to celebrate their love today. At the same time, I’m encouraged. It reminds me that love is worth pursuing. Finding that special someone is worth the effort, no matter how daunting it may seem.

One day, I’ll find that someone. When that day comes, Valentine’s Day will become even more special. Until then, please use this day to enjoy and cherish the love you’ve found. If you need to get into the spirit, check out some of my sexy novels and my sexy short stories.

Love is a beautiful thing. Whether you celebrate it with chocolates or extended periods of lovemaking, do what you can to make Valentine’s Day special.

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The Simple “Don’ts” of Valentine’s Day

There’s just one week left until Valentine’s Day. For me and others who are single at the moment, it’s often a depressing time of year. It’s a harsh reminder that we’re still alone and haven’t found that special someone. I don’t deny that I tend to get depressed on Valentine’s Day. I’ve shared some personal experiences to that effect. Being a lover of romance, but being alone on a day that celebrates romance just doesn’t feel right.

That being said, I still appreciate the spirit of Valentine’s day, as a romantic. I freely support any couple using this day to enjoy one another’s love, whether it be sappy or sexy. It’s a beautiful thing. It should be celebrated. Whether you’re married, dating, or in some elaborate polyamorous arrangement, this day is yours to cherish. Embrace it! Don’t let the cynical, jaded segment of the population dissuade you.

Since every relationship is different, there’s no one right way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. If yours is the kind of relationship that benefits by a day of ravenous lovemaking, then that’s great. Do that to your heart’s content. If yours is the kind of relationship that’s best celebrated by a good meal, a movie, and back massage, then that’s great too. Do whatever stimulates your romantic spirit.

Love isn’t just beautiful. It’s flexible. There are so many ways to go about celebrating it. However, there are also many ways to screw it up and Valentine’s Day is often an opportunity to show the state of a particular romance. If it’s failing, toxic, or just losing its passion, this is the time of year when it tends to show.

The way it shows varies, but there tend to be patterns. Being a fan of romance who tends to scrutinize romantic dynamics more than most, I’ve seen them play out in plenty of couples, going back to high school. Sometimes, it’s subtle and a couple can work through it. Most of the time, though, it’s a clear sign that it’s just not meant to be.

With that in mind, I’ve compiled a brief list of those patterns that both couples and single folk alike can appreciate. It gives those planning to Valentine’s Day something to keep in mind and those who hate Valentine’s Day some added perspective. Think of them as the primary “don’ts” of this Hallmark Holiday.

Keep in mind, these are just the ones I came up with as a romance lover. If you have others you’d like to share, please do so in the comments. There’s still a week left. For those lucky enough to be in relationships, it helps to know what to avoid.

Don’t use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to treat your lover as a maid.

Don’t treat every Valentine’s Day as a formality or obligation. It’s an opportunity.

Don’t be vague or ambiguous about what you want your lover to do for Valentine’s Day.

Don’t assume your lover knows what you want for Valentine’s Day and then get mad when they do something different.

Don’t judge the success of Valentine’s Day by how other couples do it. Focus on your relationship alone.

Don’t act like Valentine’s Day is no big deal if your lover takes it seriously.

Don’t devalue your lover’s efforts when they go above and beyond for Valentine’s Day.

Don’t make your lover randomly guess what you want to do for Valentine’s Day. Tell them if you know.

Don’t be afraid to explore new ways of exploring your relationship on Valentine’s Day. You may surprise yourself and your lover.

Don’t set unreasonable expectations on Valentine’s Day that produce more stress than romance. It should not feel like a chore.

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Lesson About Love I’ve Learned From Writing Romance

When writing, talking, or criticizing a certain topic, we often do so thinking we know enough about it to make it matter. It’s not until we actually make the effort that we realize just how inadequate our knowledge is. It can be distressing and disheartening on some levels, but it can also be revealing.

I’ve been writing romance stories since I was a teenager. I don’t deny that those first stories I wrote were awful. I’ve even gone back and deleted some of them, both from my memory and my computer. They were that bad. I made the effort because I believed I could tell a good, meaningful love story. It wasn’t until I started writing that I realized how much I had to learn.

I’ve learned quite a bit since then, but I don’t doubt for a second that I’ve a lot more to explore. The fact that I’m still single, unmarried, and not dating anyone at the moment is proof enough of that. However, after reading about and writing so many love stories, both as novels and as short stories, I’ve uncovered countless insights into love.

Writing about it, discussing it, and even observing it in people who have found it has taught me a lot. Much of those lessons have found their way into my writing over the years. In the interest of sharing those revelations, I’d like to offer a few of those insights for those still struggling to make sense of this emotion that drives so many people, both in real life and in the world of fiction.

Some may seem obvious. Others may seem corny. That’s to be expected. Love is one of those strange emotions that seems so simple on paper, yet so overwhelming in practice. That’s part of what makes it special. That’s also part of what makes it worth pursuing. Hopefully, these insights help with that.

Lesson #1: Love requires effort, but can become tedious if it turns into work.

Lesson #2: Love is often more opportunity than destiny. Fate may bring people together, but it’s through choice and effort that something comes of it.

Lesson #3: The line between lust and love is often blurred, but becomes more defined when those involved are honest with themselves and each other.

Lesson #4: It’s okay for love to be shallow on some levels, but greater depth is needed in order for it to blossom.

Lesson #5: Being in love means growing and evolving with a person. That means loving someone for who they are and who they’re trying to be.

Lesson #6: Being in love is only part of a functional relationship, but it’s a critical part that can make others work.

Lesson #7: Love isn’t always logical, but genuine love is coherent and consistent.

Lesson #8: You cannot control how, when, and where you fall in love, but you can control the situation around you.

Lesson #9: Being in love, like being in a relationship, is an ongoing feeling. Treating certain parts as endpoints only undermines both.

Lesson #10: In the same way love means different things to many people, the experience of love can be just as different. Even if others don’t understand it, that doesn’t mean the love is less sincere.

Lesson #11: Love is unpredictable, but there are often patterns that become noticeable when you’re honest with yourself and your partner.

Lesson #12: There’s no one right way to love someone, but there will always be many more wrong ways.

Lesson #13: Love build on lies is always unstable in the long run.

There are probably many more I could list or haven’t thought of. If you have some lessons in love that you’d like to share, please do so in the comments.

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A Brief Message To My Future Wife

Every now and then, I find myself wondering what I’ll say to the love of my life when I meet her. I also wonder what I’d say to my future self if I could. I think everyone contemplates what they’d tell themselves at a certain point in their lives, past and future. Most of the time, it’s just a daydream or a thought experiment. As you get older, though, every sentiment feels more urgent.

I still believe the love of my life is out there. I doubt I’ve met her yet. I hope I meet her soon and not just because I’m getting older. There are so many things I want to say to her. Chances are, if you love someone with all your heart, you can never convey the totality of your feelings. Sometimes, you need both foresight and hindsight to keep things in perspective.

With that in mind, I’d like to share this as a simple message to my future wife, whoever and wherever she may be. I may not be able to put this into words at any point in our lives, but as someone who is still searching for that special someone, know that this sentiment is honest and true.

There will be days when I’m a pain to be around.

There will be days when I am distant and cold.

There will be days when I just don’t want to talk to anyone.

There will be days when I’m not in a romantic mood.

There will be days when I’m stressed out, overwhelmed, and in a bad mood.

There will be days when I focus only on where I’ve gone wrong and where I’ve failed.

There will be days when I blame others for things I’m responsible for.

It’s on these days, however, when your love means the most to me. I may not say it at the time, but know that it’s true. Even when I’m at my worst, I still love you. Moreover, I still need your love.

With time, I get through these days. They quickly become distant memories and I make an effort to ensure the good days outnumber the bad. Know that it’s you who helps make those good says worth waking up for, but it’s easy to acknowledge that when all is well. It’s much harder to convey when things are going wrong.

It’s easy to cherish love when all is well, but you can only know the strength of that love when things are at their worst. I believe our love is that strong. Never doubt that for a second, no matter how many bad days we face.

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