More Pet Peeves about Romances
Because I include romances in my Central Galactic Concordance space opera series, and because I’m working on three new secret projects that all involve romance, I read a lot of them to make sure I’m meeting reader expectations. I love romances in my favorite space opera, fantasy, and paranormal genres, but certain habits and tropes really put my knickers in a twist. So this is me, bitching, with more pet peeves about romances.
Virgins and Virginity
New adult (NA) or young adult (YA) stories are generally not to my taste. Maybe it's because I've forgotten my own life and feelings at those ages, or maybe it's because I never had any of my own kids to treat as social science experiments, er, raise, so I don't find stories about them interesting.
Therefore, when I run across a character in their late 20s or older who is still a virgin, they're not very believable to me, unless the author is clever about it. Sadly, it's too often used as a cheap plot device as a way to keep the love interests apart, and the implied imbalance between the lovers leaves me cold.
Popular religions place enormous emphasis on chastity in general, especially female. I expect it's partly to do with natural selection, where mating behaviors favor successful genetics, but it's also partly to do with the history of regarding females as commodities. Females bear the offspring, so controlling them ensures lineage. (Never mind that they're smart, autonomous entities in their own right…)
Physiological barriers notwithstanding, the act of intercourse isn't that remarkable — tab A into slot B, and all that. With very few exceptions, most people I've ever talked to about sex agree the first time is usually awkward and mistimed. Like anything else, it takes practice to get it right.
So when authors write about transcendent sex with a virgin, I tend to roll my eyes. Loving your partner does not inherently make mind-blowing orgasms. Show me how the lovers discover and overcome their experiential differences, and I’m right there with you. Wave a magic wand and call it “the power of love,” and I’m paging forward until the more believable plot picks up again.
What Size Do You Wear?
Maybe it's just my bad luck, but I've recently read a plethora of stories where, for various reasons, men buy clothes for the woman they just met… and the clothes fit. I call BS.
Unless he happens to be a woman's clothing designer, a man raised in Western civilization has nada, zip, zero ability in this area. In my life, the resident mad scientist is a paragon among men, but he walks into the store, buys pants in his size, and leaves. He has no idea that for women, the numbers/letters on the tags can't be trusted at all, or that a jacket that looks good on the hanger is such a bad fabric choice that it looks dreadful when actually worn, or that bras are as idiosyncratic as the boobs they're meant to support. And don't even get me started about women's shoes, a.k.a. torture booties.
Oh, and by the way, no free passes if the man is a centuries-old shifter or vampire male. Long life doesn't magically grant shopping skills.
As a minor sub-peeve, I'm thoroughly perplexed when a woman is embarrassed knowing that a man has been in her underwear drawer. I don't know if the woman thinks the man is judging her about the size or the general quality of her lingerie (hah! see above paragraphs), but some characters are nearly phobic about it. If I'm in the hospital, or hiding from enemies in a secret lair, or am about to embark on an intergalactic trip, I'd just grateful that someone was kind enough to bring me my own clean, comfortable clothes.
What Size Do You Like?
This is about male anatomy. I'll try to use circumspect language get my point across. When an author obsesses about size of naughty bits, it throws me right out of the story. It's like this weird one-upsmanship to make the size of “tab A” bigger and bigger—including actual measurements. I have one word for it: Ouch!
Note to authors who write sex on the page: It's not the size of the tool, it's what the user of the tool does with it.
Bonus Rant: Dubious Consent, Again
Dear Romance Authors,
Hi. It's your buddy, Carol, who is an author, but she's also a reader.
Why the hell do we need to have yet another conversation about dubious consent?
But no, we're still stuck with supposed love interests who use each other (“I'll put him on my team so I can ruin his father”) or extract horrendous bargains (“I'll save your brother's life if you have sex with me for a day/week/month”), and who nevertheless somehow end up together in a happily ever after. This is just another face of the 12-sided die of dubious consent. Slavery isn't consent; it's coercion.
I hope that you'll take my plea to heart and lead the way to show readers that informed, enthusiastic consent isn't just powerfully sexy, or the right thing to do, it should be the expected thing to do. If not, I won't you out by name/title or leave one-star reviews, because I'm not objective about this. Instead, I'll leave it to enlightened readers who will, I profoundly hope, vote with their one-click fingers and find someone else's books to buy. It might take time, because humans are a contrary, recalcitrant species, but we'll get there, with our without you.
Okay, I'm putting away my curmudgeon hat. If I've seriously harshed your mellow, please go find some funny videos of cats and dogs to help put you in a better mood.