Good afternoon, folks! Just to set the stage: this post is going to have nothing to do with 20/20, our progress, or life in Kirkland or Tucson. It’s strictly a personal interest that you or others might find interesting too. I owe y’all an update on the life-progress front as well, but I’ll get to that.
Fair warning straight out of the gate: If the concept of having a romantic interest in a fictional character is something that sounds bizarre and alien to you, this won’t be the post for you. For me, romance and desire have always been about the emotional and the mental first; those are things you can get from good writers and developers that take the time to include them in their characters. The people on the page or screen may not be real, and they may be represented by drawn, unrealistic images or text descriptions, but they behave and react as real people would; this is the gift that fiction brings to the world. Their behaviors might be overly dramatic or tuned to suit the situation, but the same is true of real life – when was the last time you had iron control over what you did and said to other people? That said, I know plenty of people just don’t “get” the concept and that’s fine. I’m not ashamed at all to respectfully disagree – but those folks won’t find much here to enjoy.
I also promise to keep this post SFW (Safe For Work): I’m not here to air my dirty laundry! This is a discussion about personality traits, not sex. Keep it classy, please!
Over the course of my life as a card-carrying geek, I’ve encountered a few specific characters from anime, video games, and novels that manage to turn my head in ways that leave a lasting impression. The most recent one sneaked unexpectedly into my life a little over two years ago, and at a time when I thought I’d gotten “too old” and “too jaded” for such things as romance, blushing, and sheepishness. Meeting “him” threw me for a loop, because I’m the sort of lady that’s typically hyper-aware of my own weaknesses and thought processes; I’m almost never surprised that way. It was equal parts embarrassing AND thrilling – as love so often is for all of us.
I’ve spent the intervening time trying to put together the pieces of what drives my interest in that specific character. Even when it’s enjoyable, I don’t like it when my brain does things I don’t understand! I’ve come to realize that there’s a pattern that he and many of my other imaginary paramours share, and that’s fueled my interest in writing this post. I want to try to put into words what attracts me to the people I’m attracted to. Most of the characters I’ve fallen for across the years aren’t actually attractive to me physically – which is good, because most wouldn’t be healthy or even possible in reality! If you changed the drawings, it wouldn’t affect my feelings. It’s all about the internal factors: how they think, how they act, what matters most to them, and what they’re willing to do for the sake of the people they love.
And just as a last word: yes, John knows all of this already. We’ve had extensive conversations about all of it, across all the years we’ve been together – fifteen and counting! I’m beyond grateful to have a patient, caring, and supportive spouse who understands and accepts the idea of fictional love interests. None of it takes anything away from him or my love for him; there’s a reality that I live in every day, and I don’t need or want that reality to change for the sake of a fictional ideal. This is the trap that so many women fall into when they pursue romance through novels or games, and it’s not a trap that works on me. There are many aspects of these fictional characters that John does share, and many that he doesn’t – and I don’t expect him to. He’s the one I come home to at the end of every day, and I couldn’t be happier with that. Everything else? Strictly imagination.
Now… let’s get to the good stuff!
The Things My Paramours Share
– should we call this the X factor? –
- They have emotions and thoughts. This is the biggest indicator that I’m going to like someone! Many writers make the mistake of not accounting for this in their projects, and it makes their work so very hard to relate to. Human beings are emotional creatures, and as such, we respond to the emotions of others. If the person on the page or screen doesn’t let us in, doesn’t show us what’s going on in their minds or hearts, then we can’t cheer for them or condemn them for their choices. Even the person who pretends to have no emotions, but clearly shows that they have them when they’re alone, is telling me something I can relate to. Even villains often have emotional traits and thought processes that they share with other, less villainous humans. I like to get to know people, and for me, a truly blank slate doesn’t allow for that.
- They don’t always say what they think. Similar to the above, but a little bit different. Most of the characters I’ve fallen for are very honest at their core – but most have learned through life experience to lie or hide the truth from others, sometimes even the people they trust most. In the worst cases, they hide it from themselves. (On some level, though, the attraction mandates that the person still be aware of the fact that they are lying.) As someone who has been through that experience in my life, I’m very sympathetic to it, and getting to watch as the walls break down over time is something very intimate and romantic for me. Knowing there are parts of someone that they’ve consciously chosen to let you – or you and a small number of others – see is a gift. There’s a difference between lies that only benefit the liar, and lies that come from shame or fear too – I’m mostly interested in the latter. If someone’s intentionally trying to get one over on me, that’s bad. If someone was struggling to open up to me about something that hurts them, or something that they didn’t want me to know, that’s interesting and actually a sign of trust and honesty.
- They’re not “typical dudes.” While I’m comfortably heterosexual and cis-gender (though not a zero on the Kinsey scale by any stretch,) I’m not and have never been a “typical” girl. I have less than zero interest in the sweaty, muscled, testosterone-fueled beefcake archetype of a guy. I have no patience for fragile or toxic masculinity. I don’t want to have to play a game or guess to find out what a guy is thinking or feeling. Blank slates, as I’ve already said, bore me. Dreams, goals, fears, joys, and pain are all things I expect any human on this earth to have, and the absence of them just shows me that a guy isn’t integrated into the world around him. Apathy isn’t attractive to me. Show me a heart! And if he’s worried about being gay because he held my purse for five seconds or wore a pink t-shirt… he can worry about that with someone who cares.
- They have reasons for what they do. Whether they’re the hero or the villain of the story, the characters I fall for are all major actors in the stories they inhabit. They aren’t just serving as scenery; they’re making choices that affect themselves and the people around them. Sometimes those choices are bad ones and hurt someone. They then have the opportunity to choose whether to make amends for that, or continue making more mistakes. Sometimes those choices are good ones – but even good choices can have unforeseen consequences. It can be hard to live with the result of the “right” choice in life too. This is, again, a very real-life human trait that I need to see in the characters I relate to and love. I want to know what choices a person has made throughout their life. I want to know why they do what they do, for better or for worse. I also want them to be able to know and care why I do what I do, too.
- They stand for something. This is about respect and admiration. Even if a guy is absolutely dedicated to something I despise, I can respect him as long as he has ideals that he will fight for and stay true to because he genuinely believes them to be righteous. He might be wrong, or differ from my own – and that’s OK. Having discussions about different ideals and different goals in this way is something I think is really interesting and can foster intimacy if it’s done respectfully. Note that this doesn’t apply to every situation – if a guy is strictly insane and wants to destroy the world, that’s not appealing. Someone who wants to destroy the world because they lost faith in the plan of the god or goddess they were sworn to serve is more interesting. They’re trying to right a perceived wrong, and in choosing to correct that wrong, they’ve become something terrible. They still had to find the courage to say “I won’t stand for this any longer,” and commit to the path that their choices (see above) dictated, win or lose. I’m likely to respect and love them for that, even if the means don’t justify the ends and literary/moral justice becomes necessary.
- They let ME stand for something. As I’ve said, I have no interest in being a “typical” girl. My paramour, whoever he might be, is NOT at liberty to speak for me or stand in my way when I’ve got something I feel passionate about. He’s not at liberty to “protect” me by shutting me down or discrediting my feelings – even if I’m wrong. He can argue with me if he’s so inclined, and that’s fine – but anyone who thinks that I don’t deserve the right to speak my mind is going to get punched in the face, not loved. All of my love interests would go out on a limb to allow me the chance to speak my truth, even if they didn’t agree or like what I had to say. They would see me as an equal worthy of respect and consideration, not an annoyance that just needs to shut up so that the man in the room can talk instead. I want to fight my own battles, live my own truth, and suffer my own consequences for the things that I do, think, and say – just as he does. Anything else detracts from my experience as a learning, growing human being.
- They’re smart. I don’t really have a preference between the raw intelligence variety, the world-wise and weary variety, and/or the clever, scheming variety – all are acceptable attractions in their own ways. Wisdom and emotional maturity are huge bonuses where possible. He doesn’t have to be right all the time, but if he’s thinking through the possible results of something he’s about to do, or thinking about the outcome of the choices he already made in hopes of doing better next time, he has my vote. I’m a smart lady and I don’t want to fall into the classic, stereotypical pit of having to babysit a man and/or his emotions – guys are capable of so much more, and I have high expectations when it comes to that. Reading the room is something I’m typically very fast at as well; there’s nothing more empowering than knowing there is someone else seeing the same things you do and responding to them without having to be told or have things explained first. A guy who bothers to understand the people he loves is the sexiest thing alive for me.
- They act on the emotions they have. I prefer the kind of guy that can manage his own emotions and doesn’t need babysitting – but that’s not to say I want him to be a calculating machine. There can and should be things that he feels strongly enough about that he will stop thinking and ACT because action is demanded. I am the sort of lady that thinks and overthinks before doing things, but there are certain triggers that will cause me to stand up and make a scene in the middle of a crowded room, fears and insecurities be damned. In other words, there are things that mean more to me than my fear. I admire this quality in others because I know how hard it is to take that risk myself. Knowing that a guy can be fierce in standing up for what he believes in makes me happy – I can trust him to go the distance when something isn’t right with him, with me, or with the people I love. And for the love of Pete, “fierce” does not have to mean jumping straight to a fist fight! A battle of wits, ideals, or ideologies is far more admirable and honorable.
- They’re charismatic. I’m really ashamed to admit this one – I’ll be honest. I have a soft spot for the guys that are confident. I’m not talking about bravado or machismo – I’m talking about the faith in one’s self that comes from trying to live a good life and trying to make the right choices, whatever those might be. Someone who knows that they can survive anything, no matter how bleak or how terrible, is a light in the darkness for me – and I am much that way myself for the people around me. It’s easy for this kind of bravery and courage to be foolhardy, and the number of would-be paramours that have died due to this trait is far higher than I care to admit… but there’s nothing more attractive for me than someone who’s willing to admit that he may not know what’s going on, and he may not have all the right answers, but he’s going to change the world anyway, in spite of it all. He wears his heart, his hopes, and his dreams on his sleeve, and cares nothing for who might mock him or question his resolve. It doesn’t mean he never doubts – doubts are only human, and they’re a sign of knowing that things don’t always go according to plan. But at the end of the day, he still follows his heart to see where the path leads.
- They’ve lost something or someone. Most of the guys I end up falling for have some sort of tragic backstory. It’s not the sadness itself that draws me in, but the fact that these guys have experienced pain, loss, and sacrifice – emotions that most men I’ve known in my life hide or bury for the sake of their masculinity. I have not lived an easy life, both by my own choice and by circumstance, and it’s subsequently hard for me to connect with people who have never had to make hard, painful decisions that have cost them somehow. To see other people of either gender who are truly affected by the things they’ve been forced to experience, to witness, and to accept is automatically comforting and reminds me of my own strength in addition to theirs. Seeing their pain gives me the strength I need to protect them and the rest of the people I love; I want the things I have suffered in my life to give them the strength they need to fight, too. I’m the sort that needs to believe there’s a reason for the things that happen to us; this is the good that can come from it.
- They’re shy but able to be direct when needed. As I’ve said before, I dislike having to guess at what other people are thinking; my life is so much better when I can trust what I’m being told and shown by the people around me. There is a confident, flirty side to my personality that can take over if I’m with someone I trust, and that naturally blends well with shy or direct types. The ability to tease and joke with someone shy until they open up is natural to me, but my ultimate goal is almost always to progress to a more direct, frank, and honest sort of communication. The teasing and joking still happen, but there’s no shame or fear or hesitation involved – everyone knows they can trust each other and they’re comfortable saying what’s on their hearts and minds. I don’t want to guess, and I don’t want others to have to guess what I’m thinking, either. That directness I’m looking for fosters a relationship where honesty and clear communication take priority. Whether that comes out as poetry or silliness doesn’t matter!
- They’re responsible. Most of my paramours are leaders of some variety. This demands a good understanding of other people, and a good level of intellect and skill when it comes to planning, organization, and teamwork. They know that they’re holding the lives, livelihoods, and hearts of others, and usually it gives them strength. It also tends to make them cautious – they have much that rides on their shoulders, and each decision they make is critical not just for them, but for the people they love. They always do their best to do right by the people they serve, and that dedication is something I admire. I’ve been a leader too, and the role is just as terrifying and elating for me as it is for them. I’m able to support that kind of person uniquely because of my own experience and my own interest in the role. All good leaders need someone to help support them, lest they throw away their own lives in pursuit of the common good; if I’m the leader, I fall for that support. If I’m not, I end up most comfortable taking the supporting role myself.
- They learn from their mistakes. This is such a big one for me! So many characters in fiction just make mistakes and then get punished for them – it’s a rare day when you get to see someone mess up and then have to live with the aftermath. If a guy is wrong, and then has the rare gift that allows him to admit that and change his ways, I’m already most of the way in love with him. Most guys I’ve known in my life would sooner die than apologize – it’s the “manly” thing to do, or so I’m told. Rubbish! To me, a real man has the good sense to know when he’s made a mistake, the humility to admit the truth, and the kindness and dedication to change how he does things in the future. I’m not asking for groveling or penance – I’m just asking for an honest admission of responsibility and regret – and then actual behavior change instead of ignoring the problem in the future. If you’ve done something that hurt someone, then fix it and mean it or don’t bother – it’s really that simple, and really that hard for most guys to accomplish.
- They’re professional. This is similar to the responsibility issue – most of the guys I end up falling for are the ones that are highly skilled, either in combat, leadership, intellect, or some combination of those three. They know what it takes to get the job done, and they understand the necessities that go into a job of that kind. Making hard decisions quickly in the moment, and then asking the tough questions or carrying the burden of responsibility later, is something they know intimately. The emotions they have can often lead them to act rashly or foolishly despite this, but only in times where action has become the only possible solution that doesn’t kill their heart and soul (see acting on the emotions they have.) If they’re having an outburst, I know it’s serious and I’m going to pay very close attention to the source because it matters that much to them.
- They’re built for speed, not strength. OK, this one is all about the physical. As I’ve said, I’m strongly against the musclebound freak archetype – no Conan the Barbarian for me, thank you! Pecs and a perfect six-pack don’t interest me. There’s a reason I tend to gravitate toward the more Japanese ideal of male beauty – most Japanese heroes focus on grace, style, speed, and endurance than raw strength and muscle power. They’re not just powerful – they’re beautiful to watch because there are decades of history, tradition, and precision behind every move they make, and their moves flow together like an art. “Grab sword, bash head” or “ride horse with pointy stick into other horse with pointy stick” has none of that. I’ll take the swimmers, the swordsmen, the ninjas, the fencers, the archers, and even the mages – the knights and barbarians just don’t do it for me. Heck – one of my long-time fictional love interests is a cyborg with only a small percentage of his human body even remaining in use. Do with that what you will!
And with that… I’ll end this post with a smile. I think it does justice to all the fellows I’ve been sweet on over the years, and the ones that no doubt will continue to make their way into my life. Try though I might, this thirty-something lady still has blood as red as any, and now that I’m emerging from my shy, constantly-embarrassed self, I have far less shame about it than I once did! If this has been a colossal waste of your time, then I apologize – though I did warn you at the top of this post, didn’t I? If not, then I hope you’ve learned something – not necessarily about these guys that you’re unlikely to meet or know, but about me and the way I look at the world.
Next time – back to updates.