Tag Archives: stalker

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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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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When Obsession Becomes A Crime

Ever feel like you’re being watch? No, I’m not talking about the kind of watching that those in tin-foil hats and poor mental health talk about. I’m talking about the feeling of actually being watched by someone who isn’t a CIA agent, a lizard person, or an agent of the Illuminati.

This isn’t a spy movie or a conspiracy theory. This is an extension of the whole love vs. obsession discussion I began yesterday. When I started writing about this topic, I realized quickly that one post was not going to be enough. There are just so many aspects to this issue that it’s hard to capture everything necessary to convey the message I want to convey. Even this part will only convey part of that message.

When you break down the fine, but obscure line between love and obsession, you enter a strange part of human emotions that borders health and unhealthy attitudes. Love is probably one of the healthiest things you can do for your soul. There’s a good reason why those who marry and form stable, loving relationships live longer than those who don’t. In some sense, sexual healing is a real thing.

Obsession, on the other hand, is not going to increase your lifespan. It’s not going to help your social life either. Obsession at a certain level becomes a symptom of mental illness, be it crippling depression or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. It’s hard to know where that level is, which is why it’s so hard to know the difference between love and obsession.

There is, however, one clear line that becomes painfully apparent once crossed. It’s a line that represents the endgame of sorts in the love vs. obsession conflict because it turns emotional upheaval into an actual crime. That crime, in this case, is stalking.

Unlike obsession, stalking is a crime and can be prosecuted as such. It takes obsession, dips it in napalm, and throws it into a furnace to create a perfect raging firestorm of emotional unrest. It’s the point where any and all potential for romance fades, becoming instead a case-study in what happens when emotions go haywire.

To make matters worse, the age of the internet and social media makes a stalker’s job so much easier. It’s no longer a matter of just asking the Yellow Pages to not list your address and phone number. If you have an internet presence of any kind, someone obsessed enough can exploit it. It’s scary as hell, but that’s the age we live in.

For most of us who don’t have a vindictive ex-lover, we don’t have to worry about being stalked most of the time. It’s not a passing concern, which is why the whole love vs. obsession conflict kind of flies over our head. For celebrities, though, the concern is real and so is the harm.

So in the interest of providing perspective in what happens when obsession goes too far, here’s a video by WatchMojo detailing some of the most disturbing cases of celebrity stalkers in recent memory. They don’t include cases where the stalker was intent on murder, as that kind of skews the issue. This is just about people who took their love and obsession too damn far.

I admit these cases are extremes. The people involved have serious mental issues and I’m not just talking about the eccentricities of the celebrities either. This is what happens when emotions go haywire and become so unhealthy that it leads to real harm. For an erotica/romance writer who wants to tell stories about healthy romance, it’s an important lesson to heed.

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Love Vs. Obsession: Why Knowing The Difference Is So Vital

We’ve all asked ourselves one fateful question. It also happens to be the question at the basis of 85 percent of all romance movies and 99 percent of all bubblegum pop music songs. It affects us all in some form or another and is a core component of the human experience.

“How do I know I’m in love?”

It’s a profound, but beautiful question to ask. To love someone is a big part of being human. One could argue it’s one of the most important parts of being human. Being in love is one of those basic, emotional experiences that drives us all. We seek out love because it helps make life worth living. Like chocolate, bacon, and hot showers on a cold winter day, it fulfills us on a fundamental level.

Love is a beautiful thing. It’s a beauty I get to admire from a unique perspective as an erotica/romance writer. Pretty much all of my books deal with love in some form or another. Some books, like “Holiday Heat” and “The Escort and the Gigolo,” go to great lengths to build up a romance. Others, like “The Final Communion” and “Jackpot,” use less elaborate forms of romance.

Whatever form it takes, I enjoy writing about romance and many of my future novels will deal heavily in romance. When mixed with a healthy dose of erotic undertones, it can make for some pretty potent narratives, among other things.

As much as we love romance and as critical it is to the human experience, there’s another question that’s somewhat linked to romance, albeit indirectly. It’s a question we don’t ask ourselves quite as often and in some cases, that’s becomes a big problem. It’s uncomfortable, unpleasant, and distressing to think about. That’s a clear sign that it’s still worth asking.

“How do I know I’m obsessed?”

Stay with me here. I know some snicker at that question the same way they would if a five-year-old came up to them and asked why dogs don’t talk. It seems like an unrelated question. It seems like something that really shouldn’t enter the equation when talking about love, but it does. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s a big part of the flawed narrative we collectively craft about what love is.

This is another insight I’ve been contemplating while reading “Sex At Dawn,” a book that has already offered quite a few insights into the mechanics of sex and love. The sexy parts are plenty interesting to say the least, if only for those who opt to wear tight pants, but the parts about love are just as insightful.

A big part of “Sex At Dawn,” involves breaking down what it describes as the “Standard Model.” Again, this model is just the stereotypical boy-meets-girl-and-they-live-happily-ever-after-like-an-old-Disney-movie narrative. It’s very familiar to modern Western civilization. It’s the ideal embodied in sitcoms, music, and movies.

However, in analyzing this model, the book highlights a few unflattering features that are hard to overlook. A big part of this standard model requires that the man and the woman be completely devoted to one another, the first thought they have when they wake up and the last thought they have when they go to sleep, presumably after a quick round of highly-scheduled, missionary-style sex.

That’s all wonderfully romantic on the surface, but take a closer look at the finer details of this narrative. They’re completely devoted. They direct all their romantic and sexual energy at each other. Their thoughts and feelings are completely narrow and focused on a singular person. At what point does that kind of sentiment turn from romance into obsession?

I ask that question knowing there isn’t a fine line. However, it’s difficult to decouple the details of this narrative from the definition of “obsession.” According to Dictionary.com, the definition for “Obsession” is as follows:

  • The domination of one’s thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, desire, etc.

With this definition in mind, think back to the narrative surrounding the standard model of romance I mentioned earlier. How much of that romance is built on love and how much of it is built on obsession?

It’s a hard, if not impossible question to answer, but it’s a question that’s worth contemplating because it reveals something about the nature of our emotions. Part of being in love is to desire someone and to be desired. However, sometimes our faulty, flawed brains take it too far and that can really hamper the romance.

When someone is obsessed with someone, especially when it’s done out of love, it consumes a person so completely that they struggle to function on a basic level. They can’t focus at work. They can’t focus with family. They can’t focus on whatever goals, aspirations, or dreams they may have had in their lives. It all becomes secondary because of a person.

A good way to contrast this is to look at it from the opposite end of the spectrum. There are all sorts of people who are obsessed with someone out of hate. There are even entire groups devoted to hating others. For most reasonable people, this is deplorable. Devoting that much time and energy into hating someone just seems wrong. It makes no sense.

So if hate is that wrong when taken to extremes, why should love be different? Isn’t that just as unhealthy? I admit it’s not an entirely fair comparison. Comparing love and hate is like comparing candied bacon with expired kale. They’re two very different manifestations of something that’s so basic, broad, and varied. That doesn’t make the extremes any less damaging.

Being in love is a wonderful feeling, but then again shooting heroin and smoking crack can feel wonderful too. That doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. The problem is that Disney movies, pop songs, and bad romance novels have created this ideal about what love is and some of that ideal involves more obsession than love.

There are plenty of examples to explore and I plan on doing more blog posts on this issue. I hope to break it down a bit more, if only to help me craft more complex, engaging romances in my novels. For now, I’ll focus on one particular example involving music.

When it comes to sappy love songs, pop music can always be counted on to give us a massive glut of material from boy bands, country stars, and 80s hair metal bands. There are so many love songs out there of so many different kinds that if super-intelligent aliens landed tomorrow, even they would be confused about how our music defines love.

This leads me to a very famous song that is often mistaken for a love song. It also happened to be one of the biggest pop hits in 1983, voted song of the year by Rolling Stone. Chances are, if you’re over the age of 30, you’ve heard it at some point or another. If you aren’t familiar with the lyrics, you’re at least familiar with that soothingly haunting tune and the undeniably handsome face of Sting.

This song was, and still is to some extent, widely regarded as a love song. However, if you look at the lyrics a bit closer, how much of it is love and how much of it is obsession?

Every Breath You Take

Every Move You Make

Every Bond You Break

Every Step You Take

I’ll Be Watching You

In a certain context, that sounds sweet. It sounds like something a dying spouse would tell their lover before they passed away to provide comfort.

In another context, it sounds creepy as hell. It sounds like a note a stalker would leave someone, as if to warn them that they can never escape their obsession.

The mere fact that such context is even needed says a lot about our inconsistent sentiments towards love and romance. On one hand, we want to be desired. On the other, we don’t want to be stalked by someone who devotes every waking hour to obsessing over us. It’s a tough balancing act.

This conflict is something that even Sting himself, the writer of this song, admitted in a 1993 interview. He goes onto say:

 “I didn’t realize at the time how sinister it is. I think I was thinking of Big Brother, surveillance and control.”

Again, it’s pretty telling when we can’t tell whether a song is about love or obsession. It says a lot about how we assess love, sex, and romance. Since I’m in the romance/erotica business (or at least trying to be part of it), it’s something I think I need to assess more than most.

At the end of the day, stories about love and romance still strike us on a fundamental level. They have an appeal that spans generations, civilizations, and terrible pop music. I want to channel that appeal with my novels because in the end, a story about love will always be more compelling than a story about obsession.

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