Tag Archives: romance

Young Adults Are Making Better Decisions About Their Sex Lives While Older Adults Still Complain About Them

It’s a tale as old as time and no, I’m not referring to “Beauty and the Beast.”

Younger generations clash with older generations. The older people are appalled at how the youth are conducting themselves. They see them doing things and behaving in ways that they never would’ve imagined in their youth. It’s not new. In fact, it’s been happening since ancient times in some form or another.

It’s especially pronounced when sex enters the equation. Older people don’t like thinking about their kids having sex and young people don’t like thinking about their grandparents having sex. We know it happens. There are over 7 billion humans on this planet. It happens a lot. It just makes us both very uncomfortable.

From discomfort comes assumptions and from assumptions come irrational fears. It’s not always overt, but it’s present in popular perceptions. Personally, I’ve never heard someone over the age of 60 claim that young people today are far more responsible in managing their sexual behavior. I doubt anyone in that age group could say that with a straight face.

However, that’s not what actual, verifiable data says. According to recent research in Psychological Science, young people today are more responsible than ever when it comes to making decisions about their sex lives.

Psychological Science: Young Adults Make Rational Sexual Decisions

We examined risky sexual choice under the lens of rational decision-making. Participants (N = 257) completed a novel sexual-choice task in which they selected from among hypothetical sexual partners varying in physical attractiveness and in the probability that one would contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI) from a one-time sexual encounter with them. We found that nearly all participants evaluated the sexual-choice alternatives in a coherent fashion consistent with utility-based theories of rational choice. In subsequent analyses, we classified participants’ responses according to whether their sexual preferences were based on maximizing attractiveness or minimizing the risk of STIs. Finally, we established an association between sexual choice in our task and reported real-world sexual risk-taking.

It doesn’t just stop with responsible choices, either. There has been a relatively consistent trend over the past 40 years. Sexual activity, as a whole, has been going down, so much so that it’s a demographic concern. That has corresponded with a decline in teen pregnancy, abortion, and unwanted pregnancy.

These are all good things for society for the most part. There are some legitimate concerns that a lack of physical and emotional intimacy could be detrimental on these young people, but with respect to the rampant promiscuity that older generations often complain about, the reality just isn’t as titillating.

That’s not to say there aren’t irresponsible young people in this world. There certainly are. I’ve known quite a few. Most people have. It’s just not this big, decadent trend. Cable news and popular media love to paint young people as these strange, tradition-hating deviants who seek to destroy our most precious institutions. They are simply wrong.

They’re also trying to sell you a bullshit narrative to get ratings, but that’s another story.

Even in matters not exclusive to sex, older generations still try to find ways to criticize these crazy young people. It’s become more popular in recent years to call anyone under 30 a cohort of over-confident narcissists. Some go so far as to say there’s a narcissism epidemic.

Research says young people today are more narcissistic than ever

‘Somebody high in self-esteem values individual achievement, but they also value their relationships and caring for others,’ she says. ‘Narcissists are missing that piece about valuing, caring and their relationships, so they tend to lack empathy, they have poor relationship skills. That’s one of the biggest differences, those communal and caring traits tend to be high in most people with self-esteem but not among those who are high in narcissism.’

Again, this is a flawed and incomplete narrative. It’s also incompatible with with the notion that young people are somehow more decadent sexually. Among the key traits of narcissism is promiscuity and it’s not just related to the sexual kind.

It’s hard to be narcissistic and responsible for the same reason it’s hard to be relaxed and enraged. The human psyche just doesn’t work like that. Society, as a whole, doesn’t work like that either. It can’t. If young people really were as decadent and narcissistic as old people thought, then our civilization never would’ve made it this far.

I know I’ve brought up flawed assumptions about young people and their sex lives before. I doubt old people will stop complaining about the deviant, decadent behaviors of young people anytime soon, even if a mountain of data says they’re better-behaved than their predecessors.

The reason I bring it up now is because this is one of those years when we should all re-assess our perspectives. The grim events of this past year have affected everybody, young and old. It’s affected our society, our emotions, and our sex lives. A lot will change as a result of this year. Generations afterwards will feel it.

As someone who will one day become old and cranky, I hope to maintain a healthy perspective regardless of what happens. I don’t doubt that when I get to a certain age, I’ll see young people behaving in ways that I find shocking. Some of those shocking ways might involve their sex lives. If I ever have kids, that’s going to concern me.

At the same time, I imagine that part of me will envy those young people for having the time, energy, and passions to behave in such ways. On some levels, I think many older people share those feelings. Their youth is a memory. The days of breaking traditions and upsetting their elders is long gone because they’re not elder. It’s just part of life.

We can’t avoid it, at least not yet. I don’t know what kind of state the world will be in by the time I turn 60. I just know I’ll have plenty to complain about. The fact that young people are bucking those complaints gives me hope that it’ll be better than any false perception.

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Filed under gender issues, health, human nature, Marriage and Relationships, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

The Perfect Love Story For 2020 (Courtesy Of Ryan Reynolds)

I’m a big fan of romance, love stories, and the sexy stuff that comes with it. I hope the novels and sexy short stories that I’ve written have made that abundantly clear. I’m an unapologetic sucker for a good romance, be it cute, cheesy, raunchy, or some combination of the three.

I also don’t deny that 2020 has been a goddamn nightmare. As bad as previous years have been, 2020 has risen the bar for all things awful. This year has caused many people objective pain, loss, and heartbreak. I’m just one of many.

This year has taken such a heavy toll on me personally. It’s taken a far worse toll on many others, especially health care workers and doctors. However, as bad as it has been, there’s still room for a good love story.

Granted, that love story would have to be weird on a whole new level to function in a year like 2020.

Thankfully, that’s why we have people like Ryan Reynolds.

He doesn’t just play a fast-talking anti-hero in skin-tight outfits. He’s done some objectively heroic things in real life. Sometimes, he even supplements that effort with something that just makes us laugh, cry, and cringe all at once.

This latest project is one of them. It’s built around a love story. However, it’s a very twisted love story and one that can only occur in a year like 2020. I wish I could put it into words and do it justice. I am just not a good enough writer.

Just see for yourself. You’ll understand. I promise.

Yes, that was real.

Yes, that was a love story about Satan and the year 2020, in the form of a woman.

Yes, that was every bit as fucked up as you thought it was. It’s also every bit as glorious.

As a fan of romance, as well as someone who appreciates the all-around awfulness of this year, this was just perfect. It’s poetic in its approach, doubling down on the notion that this year has been Hell and taking it to a literal extreme.

At the same time, it shows how love can blossom. Even if you’re the ruler of Hell and the worst year in human history in female form, you can make it work. It’s just a matter of finding that perfect person to connect with. When it happens, it’s a beautiful thing, even when it involves disturbing figures.

The addition of Taylor Swift music just makes it even more effective. As a love story, you can’t get much more genuine and/or disturbing. While a part of me still wants to throw up at the thought of enduring another year like 2020, my romantic side can’t help but take joy in this video.

To Ryan Reynolds, Taylor Swift, and the fine people behind this video, I sincerely thank you. On behalf of romance fans and people who are so sick of 2020, we applaud you. We needed something like this. It’s the only way we’ll continue to live, love, and endure to the next year.

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Filed under Current Events, funny, romance, YouTube

Swing Volume 3 Review: How An Open Marriage Matures

For some couples, monogamy is great.

It works for them. They meet, they fall in love, they get married, they have sex, and they have children. They go onto live predictable, but satisfying and respectable lives. There’s nothing wrong with that.

That sort of thing just doesn’t work for Dan and Cathy in the world of “Swing,” Top Cow Comic’s ambitiously sexy slice-of-life saga. Their story, and the many sexy details it entails, has offered many colorful insights into a world that actually exists outside the book. It also explores the life, love, and growth of two endearing characters as they navigate that world.

There are no superheroes in this story. There are no James Bonds or Pussy Galores, either. The world of “Swing” is a world that never attempts to break the laws of physics, psychology, or believability. Compared to the fanciful spectacles offered by other comics, it’s a breath of fresh air. It also helps that it’s sexy as hell.

The first two volumes of “Swing,” which I’ve reviewed and praised, set Cathy and Dan on this path to a sexy, swinging world. I’ve been following their story closely, watching these characters grow together through and not just in terms of romance and intimacy.

“Swing Volume 1” showed how they met, fell in love, had a family, and became interested in swinging.

“Swing Volume 2” showed how they entered this world, began exploring, struggled at first, and learned to embrace it. Now, “Swing Volume 3” provides us the next step in Dan and Cathy’s story as a couple involved in this lifestyle. It explores how they grow and mature. It’s not an entirely smooth process, but that’s part of what makes this entry of the story the best of the saga thus far.

Like its predecessors, “Swing Volume 3” picks up at a pivotal time in Dan and Cathy’s life. They’ve settled into the lifestyle. They’ve become a lot more comfortable with the unique dynamics of an open marriage. Writer, Matt Hawkins, makes every one of those dynamics both believable and rooted in real life examples.

Yes, there are real couples who engage in this lifestyle and it does work for them. I’ll give the puritanical crowd a moment to stop gasping. At the same time, that’s an important context to consider in appreciating the type of narrative that “Swing” has to offer.

It’s not entirely built entirely around sex scenes, innuendo, or the kind of shallow characters you often find in cheap softcore porn. A big part of the story is where this lifestyle takes Dan and Cathy, as a couple. It’s not all fun and sexy games. They have jobs, children, and career ambitions outside their sex life.

Dan is still trying to become a published author. Cathy is still building her career in the entertainment marketing industry. They also love their kids deeply and want to give them the best life two loving parents can give them. That element of the story is not glossed over, more so in “Swing Volume 3” than the previous two entries.

How does any couple balance that sort of thing? How does a story like that work without becoming too pornographic or too bland? Well, “Swing Volume 3” finds a way and the artwork of Yishan Li and Linda Sejic makes it a sight to behold every step of the way.

Both characters take major steps forward in their professional lives, as well as their sex lives. However, those steps don’t happen without some conflict along the way. In fact, much of Dan and Cathy’s growth in “Swing Volume 3” stem largely from those conflicts.

Some are small, as is often the case in any functional relationship. There are misunderstandings and miscommunications. There are also instances in which Dan or Cathy makes a choice that doesn’t sit well with the other. On the surface, it just seems melodramatic. However, the way it plays out feels real and genuine.

At every turn, Dan and Cathy make clear how much they love each other. They want nothing more than to make one another happy, both in and out of the bedroom. It’s a simple desire, but one prone to many complicated efforts.

Even though they’ve been involved in the world of swinging for a while now, there are still missteps and mishaps. The couple takes quite a few baby steps in the first few volumes, but “Swing Volume 3” is much more ambitious, both in terms of the sexy details and the emotional ramifications.

Whereas Cathy led the charge through much of the last volume, Dan is a lot more involved this time. I would argue he undergoes more maturation in “Swing Volume 3” than the previous two volumes combined. The details involve some spoilers, including some of the NSFW kind. Make no mistake, though. Both Dan and Cathy mature a great deal in this story and it’s a satisfying process, if that’s not too loaded a term.

For a story like “Swing,” which doesn’t rely on superpowers, superheroes, or supernatural forces, it’s important to come off as genuine. The story can’t work if the characters don’t feel real and believable. Otherwise, it has little depth beyond the sexy stuff.

The events of “Swing Volume 3” further affirms that genuine spirit for Dan and Cathy. The more they go through, the more real they seem. Nothing about the challenges and struggles they face feel like something that has no real-world parallels. It’s easy to relate to them. It’s even easier to root for them.

In essence, “Swing” is one of those rare erotica romance stories that strikes a perfect balance between erotica and romance. The sex positive spirit of the story ensures that one complements the other. Sex doesn’t define Dan and Cathy’s love for each other or vice versa. Their desire to explore this world is as sexy as it is romantic.

That dynamic has been a hallmark of the “Swing” series since it began, but “Swing Volume 3” really takes it to another level. Dan and Cathy are done with the baby steps. They’re diving deeper into this sexy world together.

That process will bring drama and a few consequences, as the cliff-hanger ending shows. That just makes these couple all the more likable. For that, I applaud Hawkins, Yi, Sejic, and Top Cow Comics for what they’ve achieved with “Swing Volume 3.” If I had to score it, I’d give it a solid 4.5 out of 5. It’s not perfect. Very few things in this world are. It’s still sweet and sexy to the utmost. In a year like this, we need that.

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Filed under comic book reviews, sex in society, sexuality

On My Way To A Wedding!

Today is a very exciting day. This year may have been awful in so many ways for so many people, but that only makes days like this even more precious.

Today, I’m set to attend a wedding for one of my siblings. Out of respect for their privacy, I won’t offer much in terms of details. I’ll just say that I’m very excited for them. They found a wonderful person to spend the rest of their life with and, being the romance lover I am, I’m going to cheer them on.

While a wedding in 2020 has plenty of complications, we’re still going to make this work. That does mean some attendees will have to observe these precious moments via Zoom or FaceTime. It’s not the same as being there, but they can still be part of this.

We’re keeping this wedding simple and sincere. You don’t need a palace, an oversized cake, or hundreds of people throwing rice. You just need friends, family, and two people who love each other enough to get married.

To all those who have braved the horrors of 2020 to share in this moment, I commend you. Love is a beautiful and powerful force. No pandemic can stop it, even in a year like this.

It’s a beautiful thing. I’m excited to be part of it. As one of the lucky few who will be there in person, I intend to make this day as special and as awesome as I can for my family.

Wish me luck, energy, and awesome as I cherish this day with my family!

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, romance

Romance Is Real: Men Recount Their Lover’s Greatest Romantic Gesture

The world is really messed up right now. I don’t think I need to remind everyone how or why. I’m trying to stay as positive as I can. Lately, though, I’ve been failing. Every day, I wake up and read my news feed, only to lament how fucked this world is right now. I know things have to get better at some point. That point just seems so far off.

I admit, it’s been very depressing. I’ve found myself feeling more depressed than usual and I know I’m not alone. Thankfully, being a big romance fan can have unexpected advantages. As bad as things are, you can’t stop people from loving each other and expressing that love in beautiful ways. You can quarantine populations, but you can’t quarantine passion.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer something uplifting to all my fellow romance fans. Thanks to the fine folks of the Reddit Recap channel, we have a list of real stories from real people about the most romantic gesture their lover ever did for them. Even on my worst days, reading stories like this puts a smile on my face and brings a tear of joy to my eye.

Please take a moment to enjoy this little montage. The last one should really warm your heart.

I hope your day is better because of that. If you have another story like this to share, please do so in the comments. Seriously, the world needs those kinds of stories right now.

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Ode To “Hold My Hand” By Hootie And The Blowfish: My First Favorite Love Song

When we’re kids, we rarely listen closely to the songs we love. It starts almost immediately after we graduate from singing along to nursery rhymes to singing along to whatever song is on the radio. We rarely understand the meaning of the song, the lyrical structure, or any subtext or innuendo. We just like how it sounds.

As a result, some of the songs we love as kids age better than others. Kids who sung the lyrics of Prince probably didn’t pick up on the incredibly sensual undertones to his lyrics. As adults, it can be somewhat jarring to learn just what those lyrics meant.

On the other end of the spectrum are the songs that only seem to get better with age. They’re not nearly as common or appreciated, but they hold a special place in our hearts, none-the-less. For me, one song in particular stands out. It’s a song that I think everyone who was alive and had a radio in 1994 probably heard at least once. It’s “Hold My Hand” by Hootie and the Blowfish.

I know they’re not the coolest band from that era. In fact, they’re one of those bands who people love to hate for shallow reasons. They’re an easy band to be cynical about. They had one massively successful album, but they never duplicated it. Their songs are cheerful, upbeat, and fun. That kind of thing just doesn’t work in a world steeped in cynicism, pessimism, and internet trolls.

However people might feel about them, they’ll always have a special place in my heart for one simple reason. That song, “Hold My Hand,” was the first love song I ever genuinely liked as a love song.

That matters a lot to me because, at the time, I was still a young kid. I was just starting to develop a taste for romance. I started noticing the romantic subplots of my favorite cartoons. I began appreciating romance in a way that set me apart from others. Then, this song came out.

It was a simple, genuine love song. The lyrics were easy to understand and follow. The tune and rhythm was catchy. Everything about it just clicked with me. While it’s not my favorite love song right now, it’s always been in my top ten. Even if you’re not a fan of the music of that era, I encourage you to appreciate the sentiment of the song.

What makes it stand out even more is just how well this song has aged. Whereas some love songs have gained a more creepy, if not stalker-like subtext, the sentiment in “Hold My Hand” actually works better today than it did in the mid-90s.

The song doesn’t involve someone professing complete and utter captivation.

It doesn’t rely on the kind of fairy tale love that exists only in Disney movies and bad romantic comedies.

It relies on love that feels real. Just read the lyrics.

With a little love and some tenderness
We’ll walk upon the water
We’ll rise above the mess
With a little peace and some harmony
We’ll take the world together
We’ll take them by the hand
‘Cause I’ve got a hand for you, oh
‘Cause I wanna run with you
Yesterday, I saw you standing there
Your head was down, your eyes were red
No comb had touched your hair
I said, get up, and let me see you smile
We’ll take a walk together
Walk the road awhile, ’cause
‘Cause I’ve got a hand for you
I’ve got a hand for you
‘Cause I wanna run with you
Won’t you let me run with you, yeah
Want you to hold my hand
(Hold my hand)
I’ll take you to a place
Where you can be
(Hold my hand)
Anything you wanna be because
I wanna love you the best that
The best that I can
See I was wasted, and I was wasting time
‘Til I thought about your problems
I thought about your crimes
Then I stood up, and then I screamed aloud
I don’t wanna be part of your problems
Don’t wanna be part of your crowd, no
‘Cause I’ve got a hand for you
I’ve got a hand for you
‘Cause I wanna run with you
Won’t you let me run with you
Want you to hold my hand
(Hold my hand)
I’ll take you to the promised land
(Hold my hand)
Maybe we can’t change the world but
I wanna love you the best that
The best that I can, yeah
Let me walk, oh won’t you let me, let me
(Hold my hand)
Want you to hold my hand
(Hold my hand)
I’ll take you to a place where you can be
(Hold my hand)
Anything you wanna be because
I oh no, no, no, no, no
(Hold my hand)
Want you to hold my hand
(Hold my hand)
I’ll take you to the promised land
(Hold my hand)
Maybe we can’t change the world but
I wanna love you the best that
The best that I can
Oh, best that I can

It feels like an honest, sincere love letter. It says I’m not going to try and love you like a queen, goddess, angel, or something other than human. I’m just going to try and love you the best that I can. I don’t want to take you far away and do all these strange, lurid things. I just want to hold your hand.

As a romantic sentiment, it’s hard to have something as simple and sweet.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, romance

How The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” Became Less Romantic Over Time

Some love songs are just assumed to be romantic, regardless of what the lyrics say or how the song was inspired. You hear it on the radio. You see the music video. Like a reflex, you think love. It might be the cheesiest kind of romance there is, but it’s still romance none-the-less.

It has its place in pop music. I certainly appreciate music like that to some degree, but it only works if you don’t think too hard about it. To really enjoy it, you just have to turn off your brain and let it feel like it’s in a bad romantic comedy. This was, to a large degree, a part of what made boy bands so popular in the late 90s and early 2000s.

I remember that era. I was still young at the time. I heard all those cheesy love songs and the fanatical girls who squealed with incoherent joy whenever they heard them. I wasn’t a big fan, but I didn’t hate boy bands. I see their music like overly processed cheese. It’s good, but you can taste how bland and superficial it is.

To me, the absolute apex of the boy band era came with the Backstreet Boys and their sappy super-hit, “I want it that way.” It’s hard to overstate how big this song was in 1999. You could turn on any radio, find a random station, and hear it at some point. It was played on a loop at proms and middle school dances. I imagine more than one teenager lost their virginity because of this song.

It is, by far, the quintessential boy band song. It’s cute hot guys singing about love. You can’t get much more basic than that. Just listen to the music video that MTV played at least once an hour from that era. Even if you weren’t alive during that era, the romantic undertones are overt.

All that said, I doubt anyone who was alive in the late 90s or ever really scrutinized the lyrics. Even though the pace of the song is slow and every word is understandable, I don’t think anyone takes the time to read them in their entirety. The tune and the backdrop is just so romantic that the ambiance overshadows the actual words, but when taken as a whole, those words undermine that romantic intent.

I started noticing this years after the boy band crazed die down. Being a romance lover, I have a tendency to scrutinize all things romantic more than most. I’ve already shared some of my favorite love songs and at one point, this song was on that list. However, over the years, as I’ve listened closer to the lyrics, the song just got less and less romantic.

For reference, here are the lyrics without the backdrop of an attractive boy band and a soothing overtone. Read it closely. Really think about what they’re saying.

Yeah
You are my fire
The one desire
Believe when I say
I want it that way
But we are two worlds apart
Can’t reach to your heart
When you say
That I want it that way
Tell me why
Ain’t nothin’ but a heartache
Tell me why
Ain’t nothin’ but a mistake
Tell me why
I never want to hear you say
I want it that way
Am I, your fire?
Your one, desire
Yes I know, it’s too late
But I want it that way
Tell me why
Ain’t nothin’ but a heartache
Tell me why
Ain’t nothin’ but a mistake
Tell me why,
I never want to hear you say
I want it that way
Now I can see that we’ve fallen apart
From the way that it used to be, yeah
No matter the distance
I want you to know
That deep down inside of me
You are my fire
The one desire
You are (you are, you are, you are)
Don’t want to hear you say
Ain’t nothin’…

Parts of it are romantic. I don’t doubt that. When taken in their totality, though, it walks a fine line between love and obsession. I won’t say that it echoes with the sentiments of a stalker or someone with a creepy obsession, but it does walk the line. I would argue it’s way too close to the line.

Those first few lines about someone being their one singular desire are sweet, but more than a little obsessive. Making someone your deep, loving desire is one thing. Making them your only desire is a little unhealthy.

Then, there are the parts about heartache, being apart, and drifting away. Those are concepts inherent in many great love songs, but it doesn’t quite work here. Again, look at that first line. It’s telling someone they don’t want to hear them say they want something a certain way. It sends the message that what someone else wants is wrong. That’s not really romantic. That’s an accusation of a thought crime.

Wanting someone to love you is one thing.

Wanting them to not want something is very different. It also has some disturbing implications.

The lyrics alone tell a story of two people drifting apart and separated by distance. One person wants it that way. The other person doesn’t. On top of that, the other person has a singular focus on the other and doesn’t want them to feel that way. Is that sentiment love? Is it even romantic?

You can twist the meaning through music and context. You can make the song about longing for someone over a distance, but it requires a hell of a stretch with the words. Anything that requires that much of a stretch shows just how lacking the romance is.

I’m not saying this song isn’t a great song. I think it is. It’s popularity and staying power is proof of that. As a love song, though, it’s one of those songs that gets less and less romantic the more you scrutinize it. For any song that’s supposed to convey a romantic sentiment, why would you ever want it that way?

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Filed under Marriage and Relationships, political correctness, romance, sexuality

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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Filed under romance, Thought Experiment

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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Filed under Marriage and Relationships, romance, sex in society, television

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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Filed under DC Comics, Marriage and Relationships, romance, superhero comics, Wonder Woman