~ By Jayne Denker
Powerful billionaires. Bad-boy bikers. Commanding Navy SEALs. Ah, the take-charge alpha hero of romance novels, the kind of guy who’ll tell a heroine what she wants, and will tell her that she likes it, driving the point home with so much testosterone she can’t help but say yes as she collapses into his (always hugely muscled) arms, and ends up pressed against his (always ripped) abs.
This blog post…is not about them. Sorry!
Okay, not sorry, actually. I’ve never been a fan of alpha-male-heroes in romances. My heroes have always been betas. I know! I know! What is wrong with me? What can possibly be desirable or sexy about a wimp, a weenie, a soft-spoken guy who doesn’t brandish his club about (so to speak)? After all, an alpha’s confidence, his overwhelming presence, even his perceived brutality—that’s sexy!
I guess that raises the question of “what is sexy?” For an alpha hero, it’s overt strength that shows his leadership tendencies. And let’s face it, haven’t we got it in our DNA to be attracted to the strongest caveman who can protect us against the invading tribe or the saber-tooth tiger? That show of power and confidence can imply the alpha will be loyal as well—standing by his love interest, standing up for her (or him), being strong when s/he can’t manage it.
But are those traits reserved only for alphas? Is it only the tough guy who gets respect and gets his intended to swoon? What if sexy is not a forceful personality, but different manifestations of confidence and strength? What if “beta” doesn’t equal “wimp,” but instead means someone possessing a quiet grace, an understated power? A beta hero steps up when stepping up is required and handles things modestly. He pitches in when needed, sometimes behind the scenes, without needing acknowledgment of it. He doesn’t threaten (unless pushed, and then look out). Without shouting out a demand for respect, he gets that respect all the same. That, I adore.
Ah, I know what you’re thinking! We’re talking romances, here. Fiction, not reality. What’s the harm in fantasizing about a “man’s man” taking you in hand and rendering you helpless? Fair question, as long as it’s a brief fling. Don’t give me a happy ending that asks me to imagine a long-term relationship with the guy, because reality intrudes, and I start thinking that eventually “taking you in hand” turns into “make me a ham sammich.”
But, you might ask, what about the implication that there’s an enticing package (the emotional one! get your mind out of the gutter!) buried deep within the hero, under the crusty exterior? What about the whole delicious drama wherein the heroine thinks he’s a jerk, but in time, with enough persistence, manages to uncover the gem underneath, reserved just for her?
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Maybe it’s because I’m old—older! ahem!—but I can’t help but think that no woman should have to work that hard to find the nice in a guy. I know, from experience, that it’s quite rare that you do all that digging and actually come up with a gem. I’ve been around long enough to have learned first hand that in reality most surly, tough guys aren’t diamonds in the rough; they’re just lumps of coal through and through. If he is of two minds, an arrogant jerk out in the real world but a sweetie behind closed doors, that doesn’t make me think he’s keeping his true self just for the heroine, but instead has a freakin’ split personality.
So yeah, I’ve always preferred the mild-mannered ones. (“I prefer” are the operative words here, of course. This is my personal preference. I’m not saying that one is right and the other wrong. Different strokes and all that.) The heroes in my contemporary romantic comedies are indeed quietly strong—perhaps not men you’d notice right away (despite their good looks), but ones who emerge as intelligent, sensitive, powerful in their own way and, yes, leaders. Men who can take charge without bringing down any nearby structures in the process, men who can be physically threatening but prefer not to be, men who can also take charge for the heroine—and of the heroine (wink)—when necessary.
For example, Mason, the hero of my second book, Unscripted, is a community college professor. Not the type of guy you’d think of as swoonworthy (unless you have a thing for three-day beards and tweed jackets with patches on the elbows), but he has his own strengths. He is patient when the heroine, Faith, is doing too much navel gazing, takes care of her when she’s sick, and helps her sort out her messy relationship with her mother. At the same time, he doesn’t let her run roughshod over his feelings and is fiercely protective of his students—even when it’s Faith who inadvertently nearly destroys their hopes and dreams. And he has phenomenal hair.
Betas are not always weak, and alphas are not always strong. What might be best, then, is an eradication of the classifications. Just make the hero a good man, and I’m sold on the romance.
Jayne Denker is the author of three contemporary romantic comedies – By Design and Unscripted are available in all ebook formats, and Down on Love will be released on November 21. She is hard at work on a fourth, a second small-town romance that’s a follow-up to Down on Love, which will be published in July 2014.