The Right Man for the Job
I think our internal romantic preference may be permanently set at the dawn of our adult hormonal lives – in that dim, dark, scary pre-teen place where we transition from total child to official angst-ridden teenager. That’s right. I’m talking middle school, or as we called it back in my day, junior high.
Those were the days when my friends crushed on the latest pop star or celebrity. Bobby Sherman and Davy Jones, simultaneously actors and singers, were popular cross-over hits for a lot of my friends. (Who’d dating herself now, Gina? Yeah, just wait for this next one.) My tweenager crush?
Not actor Leonard Nimoy. Mr. Spock. Star Trek TOS debuted the week I started sixth grade and I was totally hooked. Pugnacious alpha Captain Kirk, in his serial shirtless glory, cavorting with alien babes at the drop of the Prime Directive, was never even in the race. Mr. Spock, though, was a guy who knew how to solve problems in ways that didn’t involve mutual concussions, the risk of interspecies STDs, and a prolonged stay in sick bay.
I tell you, I learned how to play chess for Mr. Spock, it was that serious.
Fast forward to the mid-eighties, when I discovered Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. Heyer was notorious for writing Regency alphas (aka “rakes”) – what she called her Mark I hero. She had some Mark II guys as well – they had a stronger altruistic backbone and less womanizing, but still embodied the Regency masculine ideal, either through military service, excellence in sporting pursuits, or responsibility for the management of their estates.
But she only wrote one Freddy Standen, the hero of Cotillion, and once again, I was in love.
Freddy can’t compare with his Mark I cousin, Jack. He isn’t handsome. He’s not sporting-mad. Although he’ll inherit his father’s title, he has no responsibility for estate management. His entire family consider him to be a fool. Indeed, he says of himself “Got no brains.”
But he’s a Pink of the Ton. His taste, tailoring, and social address are above reproach, and he has a heart soft enough to allow himself to be talked into a false engagement with the heroine, Kitty, so she can escape her skinflint guardian and enjoy a month in London.
Kitty, who had ulterior motives – and a Mark I fiancé in mind – when she makes her bargain with Freddy, changes her mind about him over the course of the story. She informs Freddy’s incredulous sister that she believes Freddy is the most chivalrous person imaginable.
“I daresay Freddy might not be a great hand at slaying dragons, but you may depend upon it none of those knight-errants would be able to rescue one from a social fix, and you must own, Meg, that one has not the smallest need of a man who can kill dragons!”
Heyer nails it with that statement. The perfect hero is the one who has the tools to help his counterpart – whether heroine or, in the case of M/M romance, co-hero – solve the difficult story problems at hand. Not solve them on his own – because then he’d be a controlling know-it-all jerk – but with the brains to understand the issues and the heart to share the journey.
In spite of the Vulcan mojo, Mr. Spock has a heart the size of the Neutral Zone, and commits it entirely to his missions and his friends. Freddy, in spite of what he believes about himself, has the brains exactly suited to steering naïve Kitty through the complex shoals of Regency London society.
My own Curmudgeonly Husband has recently begun watching past seasons of The Walking Dead. One night at dinner, he looked at me, deadpan, and said, “Don’t worry. If you turn into a zombie, I’ll be sure to shoot you in the head.”