Why Books Have NOT Given Me Unrealistic Expectations Of Men

I absolutely should have posted something like this around Valentine’s Day, but hey ho. Let’s string out the red hearts and flowers a little longer.

So I recently read Ellie Lit Nerd’s list of Classics to Read This Valentine’s Day, which is a great list that includes some of my favourite novels and you should absolutely go read. In this post, however, she also linked back to a previous post, On Growing Up With Unrealistic Expectations About the Opposite Sex.

I know, right? We’re all totally familiar with this concept and I’ve nodded my head along with anybody who has sighed that it’s so hard to find a Mr Darcy in 2015. Real men just can’t compare to Colin Firth; we accept this.

Then I started to think about my favourite fictional relationships – Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane and Rochester, Celaena and Chaol… they’re nice and cute and they make me feel all fuzzy. But I absolutely do not want my real-life relationships to be even vaguely similar.

In the real world, relationships are messy, convoluted, complicated, full of doubt and questions… and I wouldn’t give that up for anything. The romances in books are so damn perfect. Sure, they may have a few chapters of withholding their feelings, but they eventually confess and they’re Together and everything’s rosy and perfect. Married within a chapter.

Even the modern YA relationships, where a wedding isn’t necessarily the end goal, are guilty of this. Boy and Girl get together in an over-the-top, dramatic display of love… and it’s just rubbish.

Who wants that? I want the awkwardness and the baby steps please. I want to be mildly nervous everytime I know I’m going to see the object of my affections and I’d like to be pestered with constant questions from my friends about how we’re getting on.

Also, let’s make a list of things men in the real world are unlikely to do:

1) Hide a crazy ex-wife in the attic.
2) Propose by stating how socially inferior you are.
3) Smoke a cigarette ironically.
4) Get all stressy because you brought him a nice meal.
5) Get all stressy because you kissed another bloke to save your life.
6) Spy on your personal emails for more than a year.
7) Sneak through your window every night to watch you sleep.
8) Sell your baby to the Devil.
9) Disown you for being raped, after he spent a weekend with a prostitute.
10) … be your brother.

There’s a mix there of classics, YA, modern fiction, sci-fi… and I didn’t have to try very hard to come up with those.

This post isn’t just for the women either – fictional men get a raw deal as well. It’s especially prevalent in YA fiction, but authors are now so intent on providing strong female role models that they go too far in the opposite direction and turn their lady characters into absolute cowbags.

You’ll rarely see a young female character who likes to have a door opened for her or who can accept a snide comment from her boyfriend when she knows he’s having a tough day. That’s not real either. Instead they’re actually just kind of psycho. I’d draw up a list like the one above, but they all have the same failing – screaming/crying/having temper tantrums to the poor bloke about imagined slights. The Selection, Teardrop,… you can almost pick a YA at random and see how badly these women treat their men.

My point is that a) both fictional men and women are hardly to be idolised, but more importantly, b) real men have given me unrealistic expectations of fictional men, not the other way round.

What about you? Have fictional relationships altered how you view romance in the real world?


  1. Katie says:

    Right?! With all these "perfect" romances fiction brings us, where is the fun? Where is the friendship and the silly little in-jokes that make no sense to anyone else? (metaphorical cigarettes do not count.) It's one thing for fiction to portray all these swoonworthy romantic heroes, but you would want to be with someone you can actually live with and have fun with. Yes, there are some great characters like that, but a lot seem to spend so long being all mysterious and sexy and protective (or overprotective if done badly) that you just can't imagine them living day-to-day lives. And if they're not up for ordinary life with all its little ups and downs, then what's the point?

    1. admin says:


      The friendship and the little in-jokes just aren't present in any of the classic novels and I'd definitely miss it if I had to pop into Elizabeth Bennett's shoes. I know it ended happily, but it just wouldn't feel right to me.

      Ordinary life FTW 🙂 I want someone I could go home to, kick off my shoes and watch a film with, not somebody I had to be 100% perfect for all the time (although naturally I do a damn good 98% :p ).

    2. Jimjamjenny says:

      I was just going to comment with something so similar to this that there is no point now! Thinking about it, all of the relationships on TV and in books that I love are all based more on friendship than any sweeping romantic gestures, and really I think that is what strong relationships are made of anyway. I would be so bored if I went out with so many of the characters in books who are supposed to be ideal boyfriends (although a short fling might be fun, haha). After you left the honeymoon stage, what would you be left with?!

      Real life, yay!!

    3. Katie says:

      Although it is a fictional romance, I love the bit in one of the Anne of Green Gables books where Anne is fantasizing about her "house of dreams" and dark, handsome brooding ideal husband, but her childhood friend Gilbert keeps popping up in her daydreams, getting in the way and doing the gardening and arranging things and all the little jobs the fantasy romantic hero would consider beneath him.

    4. admin says:

      I've never read Anne of Green Gables, but I do sort of want to now 🙂 I'd rather have the childhood friend than the dark, brooding asshat!

      Jenny, I agree completely. Strong relationships are definitely helped by being based on friendship. I'd go mental if I had to go out with any of these fictional idiots :p

  2. Love this post, I was mentally cheering you on all the way through it!

  3. Etudesque says:

    What a clever post! It was fun to guess all the titles before mousing over the lick 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *