Tag Archives: romance

In Defense Of Hook-Up Culture (To A Point)

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There are certain cultural phenomena that are difficult to defend. Things like big businesses, the NFL, or the current president come to mind. However, some of those things are attacked, denigrated, or hated for misguided reasons. It’s not always the case that they should be defended, but there are times when a little balance is needed.

When it comes to a topic that’s easy to criticize, hook-up culture has a bigger target than most and that target has only grown in recent years. It’s one of those issues that has fronts for both the unceasing war on horny women and the escalating war on horny men. To defend it means fighting a two-front war, which has historically been a bad idea.

I’m still going to try, though, and not because I think hook-up culture in its current state deserves to be defended. There are certain aspects about that state that I find flawed, some of which I’ve discussed before. Even so, I do believe some aspects of hook-up culture should be defended. I still intend to pick my battles very carefully, though.

At the moment, hook-up culture has been getting attacked on multiple fronts. It used to be that only cantankerous old people whined about young people having more sex than what priests, mullahs, rabbis, and monks deem appropriate. These people saw hook-up culture as antithetical to the idealized nuclear family model that was glorified in every 50s sitcom.

Most people, these days, don’t take that kind of whining seriously. However, a new attack on hook-up culture is actually coming from other young people and otherwise educated people that are smart enough to recognize why those idealized 50s sitcoms were pure fantasy. Instead, they’re attacking hook-up culture as some inherently toxic manifestation that’s destroying men and women alike.

Make no mistake. This attack isn’t restricted to extreme conservatives who see hook-up culture as an affront to traditional values or liberals who see it as a tool of oppression that’s inherently objectifying. It’s not even restricted to man-hating feminists who think cat-calling constitutes assault or women-hating men who see every woman is a gold-digger who wants to ruin his life.

The attack runs deeper than that. Taken all together, these attacks reflects a sentiment that isn’t always hostile to sex, but treats it the same way most people treat a phobia. Regardless of political or agenda affiliation, sex from the attackers is almost always in a context of anxiety, fear, and hyper-vigilance. That phobia manifests in different ways.

If you’re a conservative traditionalist, hook-up culture evokes a fear that anything other than the nuclear family will destroy society and hurt those who participate.

If you’re a liberal progressive, hook-up culture evokes the fear that men will exploit women, using them for their own selfish reasons and subsequently contributing to their continued oppression.

To some extent, I can understand those fears. However, like most phobias that don’t involve spiders, those fear are not justified. They also reflect some very unhealthy attitudes about sex, intimacy, and romance in general.

Some of those attitudes play out in the sensationalized headlines surrounding hook-up culture. In these stories, it’s often portrayed as callous, bland, and overtly hedonistic. People aren’t getting together to fall in love, get married, and make babies. They’re just having sex the same way they would scratch an itch.

For some people, that’s unnerving, especially if they have children above the age of consent. There may even be a twinge of jealousy in that these young people are enjoying the kind of fun that older people didn’t get to experience when they were that age. While I suspect that’s a factor, I don’t think it’s the root cause.

Beyond the cause, though, the attitudes feed the sex-phobic sentiments whenever there’s news that hook-up culture may be harmful. There has been research on the topic and while the American Psychological Association does not draw any sweeping conclusions, it does take the position that hook-up culture is often prone to complications.

Chief among those complications, which also provokes the sentiments of the liberal progressive crowd, are the instances in which people regret hooking up. This is especially sensitive for women. In one study, over 75 percent of the women who’d hooked up with someone regretted it.

For some, it was just an unsatisfying experience. For others, it was somewhat traumatizing. This has become especially taboo since the recent scandal with Aziz Ansari in which the line between regret and misconduct is difficult to see. If you have an agenda, though, confirmation bias will allow you to see these situations as either misogynistic assault or man-hating extortion.

That’s what I find particularly dangerous/revealing about these attacks on hook-up culture. It’s so easy to find instances where people have a bad experience with it or are negatively affected by it. By singling these instances out, whether it’s mental health issues or part of a major celebrity scandal, every side can point to hook-up culture to justify their various sexual anxieties.

It probably doesn’t help that these anxieties may very well contribute to the ongoing orgasm gap between men and women. It also doesn’t help that trends in social media have made hook-up culture even easier to pursue than ever before. By nearly every measure, hook-up culture has little way of defending itself.

This is where I come in and I’m already bracing myself for the criticism.

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When I take a step back and look at the intent of hook-up culture instead of the anecdotes surrounding it, I do see something that’s worth defending. I’m not going to discount the negative impact it might have on some people, but I think the sentiment behind hook-up culture deserves more merit.

To highlight that merit, I need only ask a few questions. I doubt I’ll get honest answers from everyone, but at least consider them when contemplating hook-up culture.

Is it possible that hook-up culture reflects some of the inherent flaws with our traditional approaches towards seeking love and sex?

Is it possible that those engaged in hook-up culture are actually looking for some casual intimacy and NOT just hedonistic indulgence?

Is it possible that men prefer hook-up culture because they don’t want to jump through all the hoops of a relationship to get the intimacy and sexual release they desire?

Is it possible that women prefer hook-up culture because they just want to enjoy the toe-curling pleasure that comes with basic sexual intimacy?

Is it possible that some people just want to explore their sexuality without committing too much of their time, energy, and life to a relationship?

None of the questions above are rhetorical or factious in any way. They’re serious, honest questions that I think need to be asked when assessing the issues surrounding hook-up culture.

Regardless of whether or not hook-up culture exists, people are going to get horny. People are going to want to express their sexual desires. There’s no way to stop that. Religion, government, and culture has tried desperately over the years, some going to more extremes than others. All have failed.

This is what I think it hook-up culture’s best defense. It reflects and acknowledges the inherent need of people to express and explore their sexual desires without navigating the myriad of legal, social, and cultural rituals associated with it. In some respects, that reveals the inherent shortcomings in those rituals themselves.

I don’t doubt there are risks associated with hook-up culture. Disease and unwanted pregnancy are at the top of that list, along with instances of exploitation and assault. Focusing on those outcomes is like calling Eddie Murphy’s entire career a failure just because he stared in “Pluto Nash.”

There is a larger context to consider. Remember that study about people regretting their hook-ups? Well, science is rarely that definitive when it comes to matters of human psychology and sexuality. Later studies reveal that the extent of that regret isn’t very strong. It turns out that, like paying to see “Pluto Nash,” we tend to get over it. Most functioning human beings do.

Those same studies also make clear that the quality of the hook-up matters. If someone hooks up with someone for sex, but the sex isn’t satisfying, then of course there’s going to be some regret and anxiety later on. That’s what happens whenever our expectations aren’t met. Just ask anyone who got excited about the Jacksonville Jaguars’ failed Super Bowl guarantee.

This is where the extent of my defense of hook-up culture ends. While I think the various criticisms and anxieties about it are unwarranted, it does carry some baggage that makes all those unpleasant anecdotes so common.

Hook-up culture, in its current form, has all sorts of heavy expectations surrounding it. Whether it’s people actively engaged in it or those observing it from the outside, there’s this sense that hook-up culture is this non-stop party where everyone is enjoying the Caligula-style orgy and nobody leaves unsatisfied. That’s just not how human sexuality works.

Human beings are a passionate, social species. When hook-up culture becomes too dispassionate, which can happen, then it ceases to be a healthy expression of human sexuality. In that context, it’s basically glorified masturbation. As a romance fan and an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I can’t get behind that sort of callousness.

However, I think the attacks on hook-up culture are more misguided than hook-up culture itself. Men are seeing it as an agenda that beautiful women are exploiting. Women are seeing it as an agenda that misogynistic men are exploiting. Liberals and conservatives are seeing it as an affront to everything they deem good and moral. In attacking it, though, they all reveal their own sexual anxieties.

If our collective sexual attitudes are to improve, along with our overall satisfaction, we need to confront these anxieties. Hook-up culture isn’t going away because people wanting to enjoy sex with fewer strings is not going away. We can either learn from it or fight it, with the understanding that fighting it rarely ends well for either side.

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Five Reasons Why I WOULD Date A Transgender Woman

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The older I get, the more I realize just how much work, energy, and even flat out luck goes into finding a romantic partner. It’s not just from my own personal experience, either. I see it play out in my friends and family as they find lovers, some of which work out and some of which don’t.

At the moment, I am single and my efforts to find love have been difficult, to say the least. I’ve tried online dating. I’ve tried putting myself out there. I’ve even tried flirting a bit. It hasn’t really amounted to much, thus far, but I remain hopeful that I’ll find that special someone one day.

Recently, though, someone asked me an interesting question. Over the course of a conversation about our respective struggles in finding love, he asked if I would ever consider dating a transgender woman. That’s the first time someone asked me that question seriously and I needed a moment to think about it.

As I’ve said before, my knowledge of transgenderism is fairly limited. However, writing about the issue has given me opportunities to interact with a few transgender individuals. I can say without hesitation that much of my interactions with transgender people have been positive. Nearly everyone I’ve met, thus far, has been decent and sincere.

With those experiences in mind, I thought long and hard about this issue. I’m not the first one, either. According to a poll done by adamandeve.com, which isn’t exactly scientific, about 65 percent of adults say they would not date a transgender individual. There are any number of reasons why that might be, but I don’t want to speculate so I’ll just give my answer.

Yes, I WOULD date a transgender woman.

Now, I’m not saying that to virtue signal. I’ve already made my feelings on that fairly clear. I came to this conclusion after thinking about what I want in a lover, what kind of person I would want to be for them, and how I would go about pursuing a relationship. After considering all that, the answer became fairly clear.

I would, indeed, be open to dating a transgender woman. I don’t deny that it would be somewhat different than dating a cis-gendered woman, but every individual has their quirks. I don’t see why being transgender should be a deal-breaker in a relationship, at least for me.

I even came up with a few reasons as to why I would be open to such a relationship. Please note that these reasons are coming from someone whose experience with transgender people is limited. I have had issues in the past where my discussions on the issue have inadvertently offended certain people. I will make an effort to avoid that here, but please bear with me if I slip up.


Reason #1: A Transgender Woman Has A More Balanced Understanding Of Gender

This is probably my top reason and the first that came to mind when I contemplated this issue. A transgender person who often has to approach gender in a radically different way from what the social and cultural norms dictate. Their world is one where it just doesn’t work to put clear, defined lines between men and women.

This is kind of a big deal for me because there have been times in my life where I’ve been insecure about what’s expected of me as a man. I love romance. I love passion. I like to explore emotions and walk the fine lines of certain cultural expectations. Some of these things will earn awkward looks from other men and even other women. That was why I often hid my love of romance as a teenager and even a young adult.

I think a transgender woman would understand that feeling better than most, not conforming to certain expectations of their gender and trying to navigate those issues that the Ben Shapiros of the world say don’t exist. I think I would find a lot of common sentiments with a transgender woman, more so than a cis-woman in some cases.


Reason #2: A Transgender Woman Has Greater Insight Into Male AND Female Anatomy 

This was probably the second thing that popped into my mind. I admit, it’s fairly crude. It’s probably the same idea an immature teenage boy might give if asked about the benefits of dating a transgender woman. I have a feeling a number of transgender individuals would roll their eye at that, but I also think there’s something to be said about someone’s experience with the diversity of human anatomy.

In my conversations with transgender women in the past, that experience often involves a disconnect between the mind and the body. The mind says they’re a woman. The body says they’re a man. The struggle is trying to get the body and mind on the same page.

Gender reassignment surgery is just part of that experience and one that’s too big to cover in one post. As it stands, the process has advanced to a point where a transgender woman can have a fairly comprehensive understanding of what it’s like to have both a penis and a vagina.

I think that understanding would help with the intimacy of a relationship. I’ve been with girls who think a penis is basically a faulty light switch, which has made for some awkward moments. Regardless of your gender, it helps to have a better understanding of how genitals actually work.


Reason #3: A Transgender Woman Has A Firmer Grasp On Her Identity

This is a more introspective reason. It’s a reason that also reflects on issues of identity, as a whole. I’ve met men and women throughout my life present themselves in one way, but it’s obvious they’re forcing it. They don’t always know who they are, but try desperately to be what everyone around them expects.

Transgender individuals probably have greater self-awareness than any cis-gendered person ever will. It takes a lot of personal insight to understand that your mind says you’re one thing, but your body says another. It’s difficult for most cis-gendered people, like myself, to comprehend. That’s why it’s so easy to take self-awareness for granted.

For me, dating a transgender woman who is secure in her identity means dating someone who understands who she is and what she wants to be. That’s a rare and under-valued quality in a partner. If one or both people in a relationship lack that, then there will be problems. I imagine a transgender woman would teach me a thing or two about my own identity that I might not have realized.


Reason #4: A Transgender Woman Better Understands The Importance Of Personal Growth

There are a lot of things that go into a successful relationship. One trait my parents often emphasized is to love more than just who a person is when you meet them. It’s often more critical to love who they’re trying to be. People are not static. They grow and develop over time. That’s just part of the human experience.

A transgender person faces more growing pains than most. They have to live their lives with a body and mind that are at odds. Just dealing with that is something that most non-transgender people struggle to grasp, but that means their growth process as individuals takes more turns than most.

For someone seeking to truly align the identity of their mind and body, it takes more than just growth or surgery. It also involves growing up in a world that is not very friendly to transgender individuals. That kind of growth involves a lot of hazards and their ability to navigate them reveals the kind of person they are.

For someone like me, who sometimes has difficulty surmising who someone is trying to be, a transgender woman provides a unique personal story. As someone with a strong appreciation for such stories, I can see an intimate appeal to that sort of connection.


Reason #5: A Transgender Woman Faces A Unique Set Of Life Experiences That Reflect A Unique Kind Of Strength 

This reason ties, somewhat, into the previous reason because it stems from that personal growth that a transgender person undergoes. In aligning their mind and their body into a singular identity, they undergo a difficult growth process. That process requires strength, namely a kind most cis-gendered people take for granted.

I wake up every day, look in a mirror, and don’t even think about my gender identity. I feel like a man. I look like a man. I have manly interests. I don’t have to put an ounce of effort into it. That part of my identity is not in conflict. I imagine if I woke up tomorrow in a woman’s body, I would be very confused and probably very distressed.

Dealing with that sort of disconnect requires strength and not just the kind that involves accepting their identity or undergoing surgery. Like I said before, it takes an uncanny amount of self-awareness to realize one’s identity. A transgender woman who made it to a point where she’s willing to date a guy like me reflects a strength that’s hard to put into words, even for an aspiring erotica/romance writer.

No matter who you are, having a firm grasp of your identity and being willing to share it with someone takes strength. A transgender woman would have more strength than most and for a guy with as many sexy thoughts as me, I think we could make a relationship work. I may never get a chance to try, but I’m comfortable saying I would be open to the experience.

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Filed under gender issues, Jack Fisher's Insights, sex in society, sexuality

How I Had A Good Valentine’s Day Last Year (Thanks To My Mother)

It’s that time of year again. That’s right. It’s Valentine’s Day. To some, it’s a day where you can get away with being a little extra romantic with your lover. To others, it’s a conspiracy by Hallmark to sell more greeting cards. To people like me, namely those who are single and alone, it’s sometimes a harsh reminder that loneliness sucks and we all yearn to be loved.

I’ve talked a bit about my struggles as a single guy whose single status seems to get more taboo with age. I’ve also shared some difficult personal experiences that highlight why Valentine’s Day has been my least favorite holiday over the years. For someone who claims to be such a big fan of romance, I imagine it sends mixed messages.

I still consider myself a fan of love, intimacy, and everything else Valentine’s Day stands for. I gladly cheer those who have someone special to spend this day with. It’s just tough when you’re stuck spending this couples-friendly holiday by yourself. Most people who know me tend to understand I’m a little jaded this time of year.

However, there have been times when I’ve had a genuinely good Valentine’s Day while still being single. One of those times actually happened last year. I didn’t share it because I didn’t know whether it was worth sharing. Now, as I’ve come to appreciate that day more and more, I feel like this is something I should put out there on a day like this.

Around this time last year, I was planning to spend much of my Valentine’s Day alone again, either writing sexy novels, reading comics, or just doing whatever it took to distract myself. I had gotten so used to spending this romantic holiday that I was kind of resigned to my fate.

Then, I went out to get the mail and got a letter. It wasn’t a bill, a coupon, or an ad. It was a letter from my mother. Curious, since she usually texts or emails me when she wants to talk, I opened the letter and found this card inside.

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I’m not going to lie. I had the biggest, goofiest grin I’ve ever had outside of a comic book store or a donut shop when I saw it. My mother had actually gone to the effort of finding me a card, stuffing it in a regular envelope, and sending it to me, postage cost and all. It would’ve been easier to just send a few texts with some funny gifs, but my mother is someone who goes the extra mile.

In addition to the card, there was a note on the back. Since it’s somewhat personal, I won’t recite it word for word. That’s between me and my mother. What she wrote, though, really made my day and warmed my heart. She reminded me that, even when you’re alone on Valentine’s Day, you can still feel loved.

I needed that reminder. I needed it more than I cared to admit. Once again, though, my mother proved that she knows me better than I know myself sometimes. She understands why I’ve struggled to find love and how hard I’ve worked to overcome those struggles. She and the rest of my family have helped me every step of the way. Most importantly, though, she always made sure I felt loved.

I still have this card. It’s one of those special little mementos that I can turn to whenever I’m feeling miserable, restless, or unloved. On a day like this, though, it carries an even greater meaning. It’s a meaning that helps make Valentine’s Day feel special, even when you’re single like me.

Now, I know I’m exceedingly bias in this sentiment, but I don’t care. I’ll say it anyways.

MY MOM IS THE ABSOLUTE BEST!

Yes, I used all caps. Yes, I’m shouting that as loud as my computer will allow me. No, I don’t care if you disagree or think that’s childish. It’s a sentiment worth sharing on Valentine’s Day and I gladly share it with everyone, single or otherwise.

Also, I know my mother is a regular reader of this blog. Even though it sometimes discusses sexy and exceedingly unsexy issues, she supports me in everything I do and encourages me every step of the way.

With that in mind, I’d like to thank my wonderful mom for making Valentine’s Day great for me again. Mom, I know you’ll probably read this at some point, but I mean it. You’re the best! Thank you for being the best Valentine that a single guy like me can hope for.

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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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Why Men And Women Cheat (And Lessons To Learn From It)

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As an unapologetic romance fan, I concede that I often talk about love the same way dog lovers talk about puppies. I go on and on about how wonderful it is, but often gloss over the nasty parts. In the same way those dog lovers don’t dwell on all the times their beloved companion shits on the rug, I don’t dwell on the more painful aspect of romance.

Well, in the same way ignoring the pile of dog poop doesn’t make the stench go away, ignoring those painful elements of romance doesn’t make them any less relevant. Even those who aren’t romance fans understand that romance often involves tragedy. It’s no coincidence that some of the most famous love stories, from “Romeo and Juliet” to “Titanic,” involve a hefty bit of heartache.

I would argue that’s exactly what makes love and stories about romance so powerful. There’s a significant risk of heartache, rejection, and loss. There’s real pain that comes with pursuing romance, but the we gladly risk that pain because the rewards can be as fulfilling as they are sexy. I’ve done more to highlight the breadth of those rewards in my novels, especially with stories like “Passion Relapse.”

However, the pain that comes from the other side of that coin can be just as dramatic, if not more so. Anyone who has ever seen old episodes of “Jerry Springer” understands this to some extent. It’s not usually the kind of drama that ends with two lovers dying in each other’s arms or Rose not making room for Jack on that floating plank. More often than not, it’s a more frustrating kind of drama.

In many respects, the unsexiest version of this drama has to do with cheating. To some, that’s the much more dreaded C-word. Cheating is to romance what food poisoning is to Thanksgiving dinner. It is the worst-case scenario for those seeking the joys and appeals associated with romance. It is also one of those unfortunate elements that plays out in real life more often than it does in sexy romance novels.

It’s unromantic, but inescapable. Cheating happens and it happens a lot. While it doesn’t happen as often as “Jerry Springer” might have us believe, it happens often enough that it’s a legitimate concern among lovers. That’s why modern marriage laws, however skewed they might be, often account for infidelity.

In the same way there has never been a drug-free society, there has never been a society where cheating and infidelity has not occurred to some extent. From our caveman ancestors to the increasingly-uptight Millennials, the risk of cheating is there and the rise of social media and online dating sites like Ashley Madison are only making it easier.

I’ve talked a bit about cheating when I’ve discussed jealousy and our approach to marriage in modern society. Within the context of those discussions, cheating is a significant portion of those issues, but it’s still only part of a larger whole. It’s still a significant stain on the pursuit of romance, but it doesn’t completely overshadow it.

To make sense of it, as difficult as that may be, it’s necessary to focus on the reasons why people cheat. To anyone who has ever been the victim of a cheating lover, that may mean poking at old wounds and for that, I apologize. I admit it’s somewhat underhanded to suggest there are reasons why people cheat instead of just excuses, but to make sense of cheating overall, we need to accept that there are reasons behind it.

Listen to any story about cheating, be it a magazine article or a poorly-directed reality show, and you’ll notice a few themes about cheating. For one, there is a gender disparity in the numbers. Statistically speaking, men do cheat more often than women. However, the difference in those numbers isn’t quite as vast as the “Mad Men” stereotypes would have us believe.

As to why the gender disparity exists, there are just as many theories about that as well. I’ve talked somewhat about those disparities in discussions about sexual promiscuity and gender double standards. However, those theories don’t always explain the reasons behind cheating. In fact, the process for gathering data on cheating is exceedingly tricky.

Absent an underlying theory, we’re left with a diverse list of reasons that men and women give for their infidelity. According to WebMD, men and women cheat in different ways. For men, it’s often physical, a method of meeting unmet needs. For whatever reason, they’re no longer satisfied with their spouse and cheating is either a way to meet those needs or escape from that spouse.

For women, the act of cheating often has more emotional connotations. While meeting a physical need is part of it, women are more inclined to seek an emotional connection when they cheat. That’s not to say that some women just want some sexual variety or some men don’t fall in love with those they’re cheating with, but these are the popular narratives and some of it does bear out in the data.

Like I said earlier, though, the disparity in that data is not exceedingly vast and there are a lot of issues associated with gathering that data in the first place. If you accept the rule of the great Dr. House, “The most successful marriages are based on lies,” then it’s almost impossible to ascertain just how much cheating is going on and why it’s happening.

Even if it’s impossible to know, there are lessons we can learn from the reasons and excuses that people give. Chief among the reasons men give for cheating involve seeking new intimate experiences, either out of dissatisfaction or boredom. Given how I’ve explored the impact of boredom before, I think that is likely a bigger factor than most care to admit.

With women, the reasons often involve a lack of satisfaction that goes beyond physical. It’s not just that they feel unsatisfied. The underlying theme often involves their sentiment that their partner is no longer putting in the kind of effort they did when they fell in love. That lack of effort gives the impression that they don’t care anymore, leading women to seek out someone who does care.

In scrutinizing these reasons that vary widely between gender, cultures, and personality types, there does appear to be one common theme that binds both genders when it comes to cheating. Whether it’s physical or emotional, it often comes down to the perception that someone in the relationship isn’t putting in the effort anymore. Either they don’t have the energy or just don’t care enough.

In either case, the context of the cheating seems less about meeting a need and more about finding someone who will match your passionate efforts. Regardless of whatever gender disparity may or may not be at work with cheating, there’s no denying that men and women are passionate creatures. We each seek outlets for our passion and if we’re not getting it from that outlet, we’re going to seek another.

That’s not to say that some who cheat are just looking for an exciting and novel experience. That’s another inclination that is hard-wired into both genders in ways that go beyond sex, romance, or fidelity. When it comes specifically to cheating, though, the primary catalyst often comes back to passion and how it’s being channeled.

Cheating and being cheated on often comes with many hard lessons, some of which leave deeper scars than others. Whether you’re a romantic like me, a jaded heart with cynical views on love, or believe that human beings aren’t meant to just love one person for the rest of their lives, the betrayal and dishonesty associated with cheating still hurts us. If nothing else, it’s a harsh reminder of how deep our passions run.

If there’s a lesson that both genders can and should learn from the pain of cheating, it’s the importance of understanding and channeling those passions. When two people share the kind of passion that keeps their love, sex, and relationship strong, then there’s no reason for either of them to cheat. It’s not easy sharing that kind of passion, but the fact we risk the pain of being cheated on shows it’s a risk worth taking.

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Filed under gender issues, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

“Love Like Champions” A Sexy Short Story (About Super Bowl LII)

The following is a short, sexy story that was directly inspired by the outcome of Super Bowl LII and some of the passionate Eagles fans that I know personally. Enjoy!

“This game, Darla…this fucking game,” said Adam Mayfield, sounding more stressed than any man in his mid-30s should.

“That’s the fifth time you’ve said that, Adam,” Darla groaned, who’d stopped trying to calm him down.

“You’ve been keeping track?”

“What else is there to do when we’re out of buffalo wings and cheese dip?”

“I’m sorry, damn it!” he said. “It’s just…I had this same feeling 13 years ago the last time the Eagles played the Pats in the Super Bowl. That did not turn out well.”

“No need to remind me,” said Darla. “I remember…more than you know.”

He probably didn’t hear that last part. He was too caught up in the spectacle that was Super Bowl LII. Darla had anticipated a stressful night since the Eagles topped the Vikings two weeks ago. She and her long-time boyfriend, Adam, were as big an Eagles fan as they came. Them being in the Super Bowl was a test of heart, in more ways than one.

Unlike Adam, Darla hadn’t been born in Philadelphia. She’d moved there from Scranton about 15 years ago, following her father and uncle, who helped her get a job at a mortgage company. Being from a family with three brothers, each being big football fans themselves, she thought she knew what it meant to be a fan when she embraced the Eagles as her home team. Adam proved her wrong.

“How can I love a team so much, but be so frustrated by them?” Darla groaned.

She made it a point to say that out loud, hoping her lover would get the message. Either he was ignoring her or he’d tuned everything out. She was inclined to believe the latter, but Darla could never be sure. Adam was such a passionate man. That was a big reason why she fell in love with him. The frustrating part was how he channeled it during football season.

Adam came from a long line of Eagles fans. He’d been born in Philadelphia. His parents, grandparents, and siblings were all passionate about their team. During every game in every season, they wore their heart on their sleeve, cheering and lamenting their team through every win and every loss.

Darla thought she could handle cheering with them. She learned early on that Adam and his family were on a whole other level. It showed in how elated they were when the Eagles won and how miserable they were when the Eagles lost. However, even though she’d been with Adam for over a decade, she’d never seen him react to a Super Bowl loss. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

“I may have to take a trip to Baltimore tomorrow,” she muttered.

As much as Darla wanted to convey her sentiment to Adam, she too had an investment in the game. She didn’t want to see her team lose either. She was sick of getting crap from the Cowboys, Steelers, and 49er fans in her family, whose teams had multiple rings while hers had none. That had to change at some point, but she preferred it changed tonight.

“It’s not enough of a lead,” Adam said, his hands clasped together as though he were praying to the football gods. “38 to 33 with more than two minutes left and Tom fucking Brady at quarterback? If the Falcons couldn’t hold on with a 25-point lead last year, for crying out loud!”

“These aren’t the Falcons, babe. These are the Eagles,” Darla reminded him. “This is our team.”

“I know. That’s what scares me even more.”

His pessimism was annoying, but usually right. There was a reason why the Eagles had never won a Super Bowl. They had a tendency to choke in these exact situations whereas the Patriots seemed to thrive.

Darla stayed on her side of the couch, almost not wanting to watch Brady pull off another late-game miracle at the expense of her favorite team. She couldn’t turn away, though. She kept watching.

It felt like her stomach was up in her throat. She noticed Adam anxiously tapping his feet, something he only did when he was extremely nervous. The last time she saw that kind of nervousness, he asked her to move in with him. She could only imagine the kind of tension he felt now.

It was second and two from the 33. The Patriots offense had over two minutes left, a timeout, and the greatest quarterback of all time being coached by one of the greatest coaches of all time. It seemed like the story had already been written. Brady would drive the Patriots down the field, score the game-winning touchdown, and go home as a six-time Super Bowl champion while the Eagles remained winless in the big game.

“Please, just get it over with,” Adam groaned. “My heart can only take so much of this shit.”

“They’ll find a way,” said Darla, trying to will the fates in her team’s favor. “They have to!”

They watched on. The ball was snapped. Then, it happened.

“FUMBLE!” Adam shouted, shooting up from the couch as though he’d been struck by lightning.

“THEY GOT IT! EAGLES BALL!” Darla said, shouting as well.

In an instant, the mood shifted from dread to elation. She shot up and embraced her boyfriend and cheered at the sudden turn of events. She could even hear the cheers outside. All of downtown Philadelphia must have seen what they just saw. The Eagles had just forced a fumble and recovered the ball. The sight of Tom Brady, the so-called greatest of all time, sitting there on the turf in defeat was just too satisfying.

“It’s really happening. They might really do it!” Darla cheered, still clinging to her boyfriend.

“I know! It’s not over yet, but they’re close!” Adam exclaimed. “They’re so goddamn close this time!”

“Then, you better hold onto me, babe. I’m still not sure this is real.”

“Are you kidding? I’m not letting go until the last tic on the clock!”

It might have been superstition. It might have been the sheer weight of the moment. Whatever the reason, she and Adam clung to one another, still trembling with excitement at the prospect of their team finally winning the Super Bowl. If that moment finally came, it had to happen when they were in each other’s arms. It just had to be that way.

Her heart still racing and her passions still in overdrive, she and Adam sat back down on the couch. He grasped her hand firmly while she clung to his favorite Eagles jersey, which he wore for every game. They watched as the Eagles did the most they could with the ball.

They ran it three times, taking as much time off the clock as possible. They couldn’t get a first down, but they still managed a field goal, putting them up 41 to 33. There was still a minute left. Even with no timeouts, it was still the New England Patriots. It was still Tom Brady at quarterback.

“41 to 33,” Darla said, holding her lover a bit closer. “That’s going to be the final score.”

“I hope you’re right, Darla. I really do,” Adam said, still affected by the Eagles’ history of disappointment.

“It’ll happen. I know it will. You’ll see!”

She made it sound as though she’d already seen the final score. Darla learned early on in her time as an Eagles fan that victory was never secure. However, she refused to give into the dread this time. She was certain her team would win.

The next minute might have been the longest in the history of sports. The Patriots got the kickoff. They messed up on a few plays, but managed to move the ball to midfield. With each yard they gained, she felt Adam tremble a bit more, doubt and dread creeping into him with every play. She held him a little closer, as if to protect him from it. She wanted him to believe as strongly as she did.

Finally, it all came down to one play. With 9 seconds left and no timeouts, it was down to a final Hail Mary to the end zone.

“This is it,” Darla told him. “This is the last play of the game.”

“Please, be right,” Adam said. “I want you to be right…so much.”

“I know.”

“No…I don’t think you do.”

Darla cast her lover a strange glance, but didn’t have time to scrutinize it. The play was about to go off. As soon as the Patriots snapped the ball, time seemed to move in slow-motion.

For a moment, it looked like Brady would get sacked. She sensed Adam wanting to shoot up and cheer. That didn’t happen, though. He managed to escape, as he always did, and got the throw off. At that moment, Darla almost felt her heart crack again.

“Not this time,” she said in defiance.

She and Adam watched, like a couple of deer looking at an oncoming train. The ball hung up in the air for an eternity. The game clock now read zero. It all came down to this.

Finally, in an instant, it actually happened. The ball hit the ground. The pass was incomplete. The game was over and the Philadelphia Eagles were Super Bowl champions.

“YES! THEY DID IT! THEY REALLY FUCKING DID IT!” Adam exclaimed.

“THEY WON! OH MY GOD! THE EAGLES WON!” Darla exclaimed.

In a moment of pure, unadulterated elation, Darla and Adam cheered with the rest of Philadelphia. They jumped up from the couch and hugged, as though they’d just won the lottery. Earlier that year, winning the lottery seemed more likely than seeing the Eagles win their first ever Super Bowl. After only knowing disappointment for so long, Eagles fans like her and Adam could finally say that they won.

They kept wildly hugging each other and cheering, watching as the confetti fell on their favorite team. They didn’t care that they knocked over some empty beer bottles and crumbled up bags of chips. Their team had won. For once, she and Adam knew what it felt like for their favorite team to be a Super Bowl champion.

At one point after all the cheering, they settled down enough to face each other. Adam hadn’t let go of her since before the fumble. She hadn’t let go of him either, still clinging to his favorite jersey. Now, in this moment of pure elation, they looked at each other with a sense of both shock and triumph.

“You were right, babe. You were right,” Adam said.

“Yeah, I guess I was,” Darla said with a smug grin.

“You really have no idea how much I wanted the Eagles to win this…to finally see them win a championship.”

“You don’t need to tell me. I know you’re a bigger Eagles fan than I’ll ever be, Adam. You deserve to run down Broad Street and cheer with other fans like you.”

“See, that’s just it,” he said in a more serious tone. “I wasn’t planning on doing that. My buddies at the office all had elaborate plans for how they would celebrate if they won, but I wanted no part of it. I knew if this actually happened…if the Eagles actually won…this is where I’d want to be.”

Darla’s heart skipped a beat. Adam had that look in his eye, the kind she saw when he wanted to get extra romantic with her. She hadn’t expected to see that tonight, even if the Eagles won. During football season, she’d always been content to let him cheer victor or mourn defeat in his own way. It was an unspoken rule, of sorts, that they stayed out of each other’s way when that happened.

However, there was something different about this and not just because the Eagles had won the Super Bowl. That same passion that Adam usually channeled into every Eagles game was now solely focused on her.

“Darla, I know I’m not the easiest guy to love. Hell, I’m not even the top 50,” he told her.

“Adam, I know you get worked up after Eagles games,” Darla said. “Are you really sure you want talk to me like this after the biggest game in Eagles history?”

“Yes, I’m sure,” Adam said without hesitation. “We’ve been together for 13 years now. In that time, we’ve built a great life together…one that often revolves around rooting for the Eagles. I know I don’t say it enough and I doubt I’ll ever have the mind to say it again, but I’ve treasured every moment of that life…from the worst loses to this amazing win.”

Now, Darla’s hard raced even more than it had before the fumble. This couldn’t possibly be what it sounded like. She and Adam had already discussed it on more than one occasion. They were boyfriend and girlfriend. They had made that relationship work for over a decade. She thought that was how it had to be. Darla had made peace with that long ago.

However, when she saw Adam get down on one knee, hold her hand in his, and look up at her as though she were the Lombardi Trophy, it began to sank in. A Super Bowl parade wouldn’t be the only celebration tonight.

“Darla Mason,” Adam said, “when we met 13 years ago, I was at the lowest possible point. The Eagles had just lost the Super Bowl. I had no job, too much student debt, and a bad history of dating women who couldn’t put up with me. You changed that. You came along when I was at my lowest, stuck with me when you could’ve walked away, and loved me more than I ever deserved.”

“Adam…you’re making me feel like the Super Bowl MVP, here,” Darla said, her heart ready to burst.

“Now, here we are…13 years later, watching the same Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots. We’ve gone from one devastating lost to the most exhilarating victory possible. I say, let’s make it our own personal dynasty! Merry me, Darla. Merry me and let’s fly together like a couple of Eagles!”

Darla didn’t think it was possible for something to sound so corny, yet so heartfelt. Adam had to have rehearsed it ways for weeks on end, possibly since the Eagles clinched a playoff spot. The Eagles win the Super Bowl. He proposes to her. Given how they came together after they lost 13 years ago, it seemed so fitting. That made her response just as obvious.

“Yes!” Darla said eagerly. “Yes, Adam…I will marry you.”

“God, I love you, Darla.”

“I love you too, my future husband. Now, shut up and kiss me like a champion!”

Adam didn’t need a trophy or a call from the President to heed her desire. He shot up from the floor, threw his arms around her, and embraced her passionately as they came together in a deep kiss.

It still took a moment to sink in, both the Eagles being Super Bowl champions and her being engaged now. It was a hell of a feeling, a bigger rush than anything she’d felt before in her life. The sound of rowdy Eagles fans cheering outside could be heard. She imagined there would be a hell of a party down Broad Street for the rest of the night. They could enjoy that party. She intended to have one of her own with Adam.

As they kissed and hugged, the sound and images of the Eagles’ victory playing out on the TV, Darla felt those same passions that she and Adam channeled so strongly take a new form. They were champions. They were engaged. They were in love. With so much excitement and elation surrounding them, there was only one other way this night could be more perfect.

“Adam,” Darla said breathlessly as their lips briefly parted.

“Yes, my future wife?” he said playfully.

“Do me,” she told him. “Right here…in the living room…with the Eagles accepting the Lombardi trophy!”

Adam’s reaction to those intense, seductive words were priceless. Still awash in the thrill of victory, he had the look of a man who could slay a dragon for his woman. It was more than enough to set the tone for how they would celebrate their team’s victory.

“Darla, if you could be any sexier without wearing an Eagles cheerleader costume,” he told her.

“You want me to go find a costume? Or do you want to get naked right now and make love like a champion?”

“Well, I was going to call my folks and share the news first, but…”

His words trailed off as his desires took over. He kissed her again, this time with the passion of a champion. Darla kissed back, eager to match that same championship-caliber energy. For such a powerful moment that had been 13 years in the making, nothing less was acceptable.

Like a couple of pros, they went to work undressing each other. Adam pulled her favorite Eagles sweatshirt up over her head while she undid his jeans. Then, in a show of strength that would’ve impressed any starting offensive lineman, he lifted her up in his arms and laid her down on the couch.

Shortly after she fell atop the soft cushions, he took off his pants and underwear, followed quickly by his shirt. Whether by the thrill of victory or the passion of having proposed to his lover, he already bore a rock-hard erection. He looked so strong and powerful under the glow of an Eagles’ victory. It was enough to make Darla wetter than she’d been since her prom night.

“Off! Get my panties…off,” she urged him.

Her lover gladly obliged her, grabbing them by the side and sliding them off her shapely legs. She even undid her bra in the process, allowing her breasts to pop free. The sight of her naked body with the image of Eagles players kissing the Lombardi Trophy in the background sent Adam into a passionate frenzy that Darla eagerly embraced.

“Darla…my MVP,” Adam said to her.

Joining her on the couch, her new fiancé got on top of her. She eagerly spread her legs, allowing him to position herself over her while still having a nice view of the Eagles celebrating their championship. Holding onto her thighs and focusing that special passion of his solely on her, Adam thrust his hips forward and entered her.

“Ooh Adam!” Darla cried out.

Already, she felt like an MVP. His manly flesh filled her womanly depth, sending a surge of sensation up through her core. Almost immediately, Adam began working his body against hers, making love to her with a fervor unlike anything she’d experience in the 13 years they’d been together.

With each movement, he rocked her world, letting out deep grunts that doubled as sounds of victory. He held onto her thighs, holding them apart, which allowed him to penetrate deep with every thrust. Darla moaned with delight at every sensation, reaching up and caressing her lover’s face. She kept beckoning him with her gaze, urging him to make love to. Like star quarterback in the clutch, he delivered.

“Oh yes! Oohhh yes!” Darla gasped. “Adam…my champion.”

“Darla…my love,” he said.

Her world kept rocking as their naked bodies moved and gyrated together in the ultimate victory dance, evoking a potent combination of pleasure and triumph. At one point, Darla pulled him down closer so they could kiss as they made love. It added extra intimacy along with the euphoria of victory.

It proved to be a perfect combination, victory and love. She and Adam, energized by their team’s first championship, tested the stability of their eight-year-old couch. They made love with the kind of vigor and passion that only champions could muster.

One moment, he had her bent over the edge, thrusting into her from behind so she could see the Commissioner present the Lombardi Trophy to Eagles owner, Jeffrey Lurie. The next, she had him pinned on his back, riding his cock as the players sang the Eagles fight song play while accepting their congratulations. Somewhere along the way, she had an orgasm. In fact, she ended up having several.

That rush of pleasure, alongside the thrill of being engaged and being an Eagles fan on this night, made it extra special. It was a feeling she made sure she shared with her lover, making sure he got more than his share of the pleasure when he achieved his own climax.

“Darla…I’m close,” he told her.

“Then, go on, my love. Fly with me with me…like an Eagle,” Darla said, mirroring his own passionate words.

When it finally happened, she made it a point to embrace him passionately, tying her love with the heat of ecstasy. Those same cheers he let out when the game ended turned to cries of ecstasy. It helped cap off a truly remarkable celebration for a very memorable Super Bowl Sunday, one that Darla wouldn’t soon forget.

Their championship lovemaking complete, Darla settled into her lover’s arms. They remained naked, still indulging in the blissful afterglow of both passion and victory. Other fans might cheer. Others might loudly proclaim that this was the best night in the history of Philadelphia. However, only Darla and her lover could claim to know the true bliss of soaring like eagles.

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Romance And Tragedy Done Right (In An X-men Comic)

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When it comes to two genres that are often associated with one another, romance and tragedy are the literary equivalent of peanut butter and jelly. When you think of one, it’s not long before you associate it with another. Romance without tragedy is like fries without ketchup. Both are still good on their own, but it’s only when they’re together that they maximize their potential.

In that same spirit that the likes of Shakespeare and “Titanic,” superheroes often follow that narrative, but with more spectacle than old playwrights and even James Cameron could ever imagine. Being such a huge fan of superhero movies and comic books, I’m more familiar with their take on romance and tragedy than most aspiring erotica/romance writers.

As such, when an amazing, uncanny, astonishing, or whatever other adjective that a comic book puts before their title tells a story that truly embodies those ideas, I take notice. Seeing as how I’m also an unapologetic romance fan on top of being a comic book fan, those kinds of stories resonate especially well for me. They don’t come around too often, but when they do, they’re worth appreciating.

This particular story involves the X-men, which should surprise nobody who has followed this blog over the past couple years. It also involves the romance/tragedy of Cyclops and Jean Grey, which should also not surprise anyone. I’ve mentioned them before when talking about balanced romances and insufferable love triangles. This might end up being the most heart-wrenching, albeit for all the right reasons.

The name of the story is called Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey by Matthew Rosenberg. Now, if you don’t want to be spoiled, I strongly encourage everyone to read it. Either buy it at a comic shop or buy the digital version. Even if you’re not a comic book fan, it’s a great story that will still evoke all the right emotions.

That’s because this story does something that’s very rare and very difficult to do. It’s something that everyone form Shakespeare to Tolken to Stan “The Man” Lee struggled with at some point in their creative endeavors. It gets the balance between romance and tragedy right. It gets it so right, in fact, that I intend to judge all future romance/tragedies by this comic. That includes any I write.

To understand how I came to this conclusion, it’s important to understand the context of the story and why it had such a powerful impact. To do that, it’s necessary to point out the circumstances of this story. When it was announced last year, it’s stated goal was to bring Jean Grey back from the dead. Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with comics knows that’s not all that groundbreaking.

Superheroes have been dying and coming back to life for decades. While “The Death of Superman” might have been the most high-profile, the initial death of Jean Grey in the original Phoenix Saga is probably the most iconic. That story established Jean Grey as a character who would be defined by death, rebirth, and everything in between. That’s part of the reason it’s the foundation of the “X-men: Dark Phoenix” movie.

That original story had a lot of romantic elements in it, but it was largely defined by its tragic ending. In that original story, Jean Grey willingly sacrificed herself in front of Cyclops and her friends to stop herself from becoming corrupted by the cosmic power of the Phoenix Force.

It was a truly gut-wrenching moment. It’s because of that moment, though, that it’s often singled out as one of the best X-men stories of all time. It was the culmination of Jean Grey’s struggle to deal with the immense power with which she’d been imbued. Moreover, she reached out to that power in order to do the impossible to protect those she loved, even if it corrupted her.

That’s an important detail to note because that’s a theme that would go onto play out on many occasions for Jean, eventually culminating in her second death in 2004. Her constant struggle to manage the immense power granted by the Phoenix Force and the corruption that often came with it is one of the primary driving forces behind Jean’s character. It’s also a big part of her appeal.

Rosenberg uses those same themes, as well as the immense power afforded by the Phoenix Force, to build the tragedy and romance that plays out in Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey. It’s a story that has more drama going for it than most because, despite the presence of time travelers, Jean Grey has been dead since 2004. Her coming back after such a long absence is a big deal for X-men fans and for her character.

The challenge Rosenberg faced was making that resurrection feel more compelling than overdue in an era where dead characters come back all the time. On top of that, Jean’s association with a cosmic force known for death and resurrection means her character basically has a built-in cheat code for bringing her back. How can that be so compelling, let alone raise the bar for romance and tragedy?

This is where the spoilers come in so again, please take the time to read the comic if you can. That’s because the way Jean comes back in this story has less to do with tragedy and more to do with agency. Way back in the original Phoenix Saga, Jean reached out to Phoenix Force in an act to save her friends. It was a choice of desperation.

Well, since that fateful choice, the Phoenix Force has been like a clingy ex, wanting desperately to stay bonded to her, even thought it often corrupts her. I’ve argued before how the context of that corruption might be more complicated than it seems, but on the basis of history alone, Jean Grey has many reasons to regret that choice.

The Phoenix only gives her another in this series. After having bonded with plenty of other hosts since her death, it goes to great lengths to bond with Jean again. It goes so far as to resurrect both her and everyone she ever cared about, creating this own little world in which Jean never experiences the many tragedies that befell her. It’s like the Matrix, but with a volatile cosmic bird running the show.

 

As part of that fantasy world, Jean Grey’s long-time love, Cyclops, is alive and well. That’s critical because, at least for the time being, he’s also dead. The Phoenix Force basically gives her everything to be happy, content, and loved. Keep in mind, though, it’s not doing this out of pure altruism. It wants to bond with Jean again. That’s the goal and the fantasy world is just a means to an end.

That makes the tragedy inevitable. As is often the case with fantasy worlds, even those created by a cosmic power, they tend to crumble under the harsh weight of reality. The way in which this happens is best revealed through the story. However, the part of the story that really balances out that tragedy occurs in the final issue.

In that issue, the fantasy world crumbles, thanks largely to the efforts of Jean’s fellow X-men. Naturally, the Phoenix Force fights this and tries to tempt Jean into bonding with it again, saying its power can give her everything she desires. It can even bring back those she loves.

As part of a last-ditch effort, it demonstrates this by bringing Cyclops back to life. He’s not a clone. He’s not a time traveler. He’s not some illusion either. He’s the real, flesh-and-blood Cyclops, complete with the thoughts, feelings, and passions of the man she married.

It’s a dick move on the part of the Phoenix Force, to say the least. It’s also the moment where the romance balances the tragedy in an important way. That’s because in that moment, Jean makes another fateful choice, one every bit as dire as the one she made in the original Phoenix Saga. This time, though, she lays her heart on the line, knowing damn well it’ll be broken.

Rather than just reject this tactic as another attempt by the Phoenix to lure her in, she embraces it for a brief moment. In that moment, she gets to say goodbye to her husband. She and Cyclops even go out of their way to make clear how much they love each other, both in life and in death. Even if you’re not a big romance fan, this is a moment of pure, unadulterated heart.

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We still know the tragedy is coming. We know it’s a moment that’s going to end with tears and sorrow. Anyone that ever had to read “Romeo and Juliet” in high school English class knows it’s coming and is might think they’re numb to it, especially if they flunked the test.

That’s why it was so important for the story to reaffirm that sentiment. Rosenberg did something critical when he had Cyclops and Jean Grey remind each other just how deep their love went. He gave even greater weight to the loss.

At least with “Romeo and Juliet,” the characters involved had just met. They barely knew each other. Cyclops and Jean Grey’s love story spans 50 years of X-men comics, complete with weddings, clones,  and raising a child together in the future. To know the extent of their love is to know just how much that tragedy hurts.

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That, more than anything, is what puts Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey in a league of its own in terms of romance and tragedy. Instead of the tragedy defining the romance, it’s the other way around. It’s the romance that gives that tragedy such immense weight.

In too many stories, both in comics and in other mediums, tragedy relies too heavily on its own weight to make an impact. Making a love story dependent on that tragedy gives the impression that the love needed it in order to have depth. That’s why, when the tragedy eventually occurs, it doesn’t always hit all the emotional chords.

Rosenberg left no emotional chords unstruck with this story. It’s because Jean shared that special moment with the man she loved that her decision to reject the Phoenix Force carries so much weight. That decision comes with so much pain, anguish, and sorrow. It’s one thing to just depict it. It’s quite another to truly convey it.

That’s what truly makes Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey so special. It conveys both the breadth of the romance and the extent of the tragedy. Moreover, it does that in a way where one complements the other. For a romance built heavily around two characters operating as equals, I can’t think of anything more fitting.

Again, if you’re fan of romance, tragedy, or both, check out Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey. Even if you hate comics and the X-men, this one will evoke all the right emotions. You’ll shed tears of sorrow and joy at the same time. It’ll feel so weird, but so right.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Marriage and Relationships, X-men