The Smell of Desperation.

Posted October 12, 2011 by Holly in Discussions | 12 Comments

I recently read a contemporary romance novel where the heroine was 30 and desperate to get married. When I say desperate, I mean desperate enough to pay a matchmaker $1500 to set her up with her one true love. Only the matchmaker died, so her grandson had taken over the business. And naturally the grandson had an ulterior motive and no experience (and of course they fell in love in the end, because this was a romance novel), and was basically just bilking her out of the money. In other contemporary romance novels I’ve read, heroines have been so desperate that they’re willing to trap an man with pregnancy so he’ll marry her, or rape a man to get at baby.

My question is: Who are these women and do they really exist?

I’m skeptical, I admit. It’s not that I don’t think there are women out there who desperately want to get married or have a family. But with technology today, there are so many avenues to explore. I don’t understand why a woman would have to tie a man up and rape him to get pregnant. She could go to a local sperm bank and get the same results with a lot less hassle. If a woman wants to get married enough, tricking a man into having sex so she’ll get pregnant is silly. Especially with online dating sites and etc. If you’re going to marry a man, why not marry one who actually wants to marry you?

I think my biggest problem with these tropes is how it makes us, as women, look on the whole. A woman who is so naive she’ll shell out $1500 just for a chance at love? At 30 years old? Or one who will trap a man into marriage by getting pregnant on purpose, or worse, tying him up and raping him so she can get pregnant to have the baby she so desperately needs? These women make the rest of us look bad. Very bad.

Maybe I’m just being judgmental, but I’d like to see more strong, independent women in romance novels. Ones who don’t need a man to have a baby, or a baby to get a man. Where are the 30-somethings who have careers and are comfortable with themselves? Maybe they want a man in their life, but they aren’t so desperate they’ll resort to drastic measures to get one.

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12 responses to “The Smell of Desperation.

  1. Hi Holly! I’ve just started reading Heartstrings and Diamond Rings LOL. So I know a little bit where you come from. Let see if I can make my two cents coherent.

    Okay, so here’s the thing. Most women want a father as well as the baby. The women who believe they can be single moms, sure they won’t have any problem going to the sperm banks. However, many seems to have a very traditional view of marriage and family, despite all the “advancements” and what is happening in today’s age.

    As for women who trick a man into pregnancy, well most of the time, those women are not doing it to have children… what they want is THE man they’re tricking.

    I know what you mean by those heroines making women look bad… But at the same time, I think there is some truth in there. What needs to be avoided is generalization.

  2. So are you saying the behavior is acceptable?

    What I’m struggling with is the way “desperate” women are portrayed in romance novels. Yes, there are women like that in the world, I know (I was being sarcastic when I said they didn’t exist). But what bothers me is the increasing number of heroines who are so obsessed with finding a man, and getting a man and keeping a man, that they compromise themselves and, in a way, the rest of us along the way.

    Heartstrings and Diamond Rings was just one example. The fact that the heroine was SO DESPERATE to find a man left a bad taste in my mouth. She was 30, not 90, and seemed to disregard all the good in her life, only focusing on the fact that she didn’t have a man. Like having a good job and great friends and a loving family meant nothing, because there was no man there to share it with.

    Perhaps, as I said, I’m being too judgmental. But the idea that a woman needs a man to complete her bothers me.

    My life is certainly more rich with my husband in it. He’s a wonderful person and compliments me perfectly. I truly wish everyone else in the world what I have with him.

    But if I hadn’t met him, I’d be fine. I’d still have my family and friends, my children, my pride and integrity and strength. Those things are mine and mine alone. They aren’t mine because he gave them to me. Would I be sad without him? Yes. Would my life be over? No.

  3. I’m not saying that their behaviors is acceptable. Tricking them to get married or forcing them so you can get pregnant are definitively not acceptable and seriously, I doubt that you can be happy…

    As for portrayal of desperate women in romance, my take is that it is that way so there’s conflicts, to build up the storyline, to build up the page count.

    And you are happier with your husband no? He makes your life richer. Perhaps the portrayal is a bit uni-dimensional in the books… but who doesn’t want to be happier?

    And in Hearstrings and Diamond Rings, the heroine being desperate… well I kind of understand her. I’m not desperate as she is, but I think late 20s and early 30s is really your prime to get married and have kids. If she waits a few more years, the biological clock will start ticking… but I guess that’s another issue.

  4. Well, no, I wouldn’t say I’m “happier” with my husband. Am I happy with him? Yes. Definitely. But the question here is whether or not I’d be happy without him. I say yes, definitely.

    While I understand the point you’re trying to make, I guess I’m just frustrated with the basic “I can’t be happy unless I have a man” mentality that is currently circulating in contemporary romance novels(not that this is new, mind you).

    I want a strong, independent woman who is content with her life. Perhaps she’d like a man in it, but she isn’t so desperate she’d go to any lengths to find/keep one.

    “Getting pregnant to trap a man” is maybe a little extreme, as it doesn’t happen often. But how many times does a woman make a cake of herself for a man? How often does a heroine build castles in the sky when she knows a man just isn’t that into her? This is what I’m struggling with currently.

    Is it ok to want a man in your life? Uh, yeah. It’s healthy to want to share your life with a partner. What’s unhealthy is being so obsessed with that you don’t see anything else. Which is what bothered me especially about the heroine of HADR.

  5. In real life, there are women who sign up to be matched with millionaires and such. There are also women who would steal babies or kill the pregnant moms for babies. However, like you stated, these are NOT the majority of women. I, too, get annoyed with the “get a man/baby at all costs” plots. In real life, the resulting relationships would be toxic to the kids. Still, this is fiction. Also, I’m sure many women have made mountains out of molehills over men who don’t feel the same way, just not to the extremes the heroines go to. Plus, who does all that stalker-y stuff once out of high school?

    And, of course, heroes always turn out to be good husbands and fathers no matter how the relationships got started or what the men claim beforehand (not ever wanting children, for example).

  6. I hear you with this post. I tend to stay away from those kind of plots just because they irk me so. Give me more strong, independent heroines! Personally, I love when she’s a commitmentphobe and the hero has to woo her.

  7. Well hopefully, that is going to be the next contemporary tropes that is going to be exploited 🙂 Instead of small-town 😛

    Anyway, I know what you mean… but I think there’ll always be these types of heroines and tropes.

  8. Anonymous

    The desperation in these books is insane, and I can’t see it happening (often!) in real life.

    However I also know women who are married at thirty look on desperate single women of that age with disdain when they express a desire to find a man. In reality, we only have a limited time if we want children, and it’s one thing to have to settle for the baby without the man, but who honestly wants that?

    I know of people who have forked out quite a lot of money for dating agencies.

    Smug married women are always going on about how hard marriage is and all that, but who doesn’t want a father for their kid? Who doesn’t want a partner? I definitely think women can be getting pretty desperate if they’re thirty and there are no prospects in sight. Being happy in your career is a completely separate issue. A good career doesn’t make you less lonely.

    I don’t like the way that translates into the rape the hero stories though!

  9. Well, I can speak from some experience here. I met the man who would become my husband a few days before I turned 30 (although it took me about a year until I realised he was “the one”). I’m pretty sure my friends and family would have classified me as “desperate”. I wanted to find a man and get married and have children – I had a great job and was otherwise happy but I felt that was missing from my life.

    However, that desperation didn’t lead me to spend a fortune on a matchmaker, tie anyone to any beds or any other weird behaviour. I just got mopey. I’m pretty sure my friends were heartily sick of the subject, but hey, I was with them through whatever made them mope so, fair’s fair in my book.

    I think the desperation is real and the other stuff is just romancelandia’s heightening of reality for the fictional world.

    I can honestly say that my happiness includes my family and I would be totally devastated if I didn’t have either my husband or my child. I’m pretty sure my husband feels the same way (phew!).

    I read the new Kristan Higgins the other day (My One and Only) and there was a part in it which made me cringe a bit because Posey came across as just a little too desperate. However, when I thought about it, I cringed because I could see women doing it (possibly even me, although many many years ago and not about my (now) husband) and it cut a little close.

  10. I like my heroines as strong independent types who are smart, outgoing, and confident – exactly like the ‘real’ people I associate with – so I have a hard time with the ‘desperate’ heroine. I hope it doesn’t happen in real life – but it probably does.

    Higgins (Catch of the Day) and Cruise (Bet Me) are both reigning queens for the ‘desperate pity party’ and I hated both these books mainly for that very reason.

  11. @Kiera, you’re right, he does. But that’s after he sets her up with several really bad matches and then talks her into staying with him. She should have made him return her money immediately. That’s where I’m struggling. It isn’t that she paid a matchmaker, it’s that he really sucked and yet she was desperate enough to keep paying him.

    @Anon – excellent point. I know smug married women can be just as annoying as desperate women. My other current pet-peeve in contemporary romance is all the matchmaking being done by previous couples in series. I just want to yell, Dude, STOP IT!

    @Kaetrin – I think the desperation is real and the other stuff is just romancelandia’s heightening of reality for the fictional world. – very true.

    I’m not looking down on women who are lonely and want to get married. I’m really not. I understand that women want to have someone in their life. It’s perfectly normal and natural. What bothers me is the way these women are portrayed in romance novels. To show them going to such extreme lengths to get or keep a man makes me cringe.

    @Cybercliper – you think Bet Me featured a desperate woman? That’s funny, because I always thought Min was a strong woman. Yes, it dealt with them wanting to find men, but none of them seemed desperate to me.

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