Hello, All the Single Ladies,
My last post in our honor was about HEA’s and why we are more than capable of writing them.
I wasn’t planning on writing another post about “single ladies,” but there’s something I feel the need to discuss.
Actually, there’s a part of that something I’d rather not discuss in public, but I’ll take one for the team and admit that two weeks ago, I went to a singles event at my synagogue. (Yeah, I know. Gasp. Ick. What was I thinking? In all fairness, it was one of the nicest I’ve been to and with the exception of the problem I’m about to talk about, I actually enjoyed it.)
I live in Jerusalem, where being single, especially at my age, is not the norm and something a lot of people want to help me “fix.” There are even matchmakers floating around. No kidding. They’re all very nice, but yeah, things can get a little “Fiddler on the Roof.”
So there I was at Shabbat dinner, seated at a table with a randomly selected batch of single men, thinking, as I often do, about how I could work this particular situation into a novel.
And then came the speaker. A married male.
He had some questions and suggestions:
“Think about why you’re not married.”
Easy peasy. Because I haven’t met the right guy. Actually, I’d bet that most of the people in this room are single because they haven’t found matches who meet their standards.
Plus, I’m busy living my own life.
Do you take the time to talk to yourself and get to know yourself, who you are, and what you want in a relationship?”
Oh, honey. I’m single. I spend a lot of time with myself. I think I’ve got the “knowing myself” part covered.
As for the what I want? Bless your heart. I actually have figured it out, and I shared it with the world. Thanks for asking, though.”
“Confidence will help attract the right person. What do you need to do to develop the confidence you need to attract the right guy?”
Look, I may be five feet tall and I have a voice not so dissimilar to Bernadette’s from The Big Bang Theory.
I can be shy and introverted at times.
I’ll never be willing to bungee jump off a tall building.
But if you think I lack confidence, think again.
I sat there annoyed and edgy.
Honestly, I was insulted. Enough with the assumptions.
Confidence manifests itself in many forms, some of which may not be so obvious.
My single friends don’t sit at home in sweatpants, eating Ben & Jerry’s and feeling sorry for themselves because they aren’t married.
They’re too busy buying their own homes, writing novels, producing podcasts, moving up in their careers, and, in the case of one friend, running marathons. She’s trained for and run seven.
Even my single friends with multiple cats do not, in any way, fit the description of a “crazy old cat lady.”
As for me, I’ve been busy building a life and a business in a new country. By myself (sadly, my two dogs haven’t been pulling their weight).
This got me thinking about romance novel heroines, and I had a sudden realization.
HEA’s come at the end of a romance novel. Which means that in every romance novel ever written, the protagonist is a fellow single lady throughout the majority of the story.
And that means that we’d better portray them as the strong, independent, and confident women they are.
So, how do we do that? What are the characteristics of a truly confident protagonist?
Let’s discuss. Thunderdome style.
Who’s more confident?
Buffy Summers vs Rachel Greene
Okay, I’ll explain.
Combat boots, trucks, and power tools don’t equal confidence.
Your protagonist may appear to be tough as nails. You can dress her in leather jackets. You can put her on a motorcycle.
But all that is for show. When it comes to confidence, you might want to dig deeper.
Let’s take a look at Buffy. She’s pretty tough, right? I mean, the woman had to figure out the plural of apocalypse once saving the world became something she did on a regular basis.
Now, it feels like sacrilege to say anything critical of Buffy or The Honorable Joss Whedon, and I hate being mad at my beloved Xander.
But when it comes to Riley, I can’t help it.
Riley made Buffy visibly shrink. Instead of admiring her for her mental, emotional and physical strength, he was jealous.
Jealousy is more than “not good.” It’s downright dangerous.
And Buffy saw the jealousy and tried to make herself less than to boost his ego.
Clearly, the woman needed to blast Ace of Base and “see the sign.”
When (spoiler alert), Riley was on his way out of the picture and I was waiting to cheer, Xander gave Buffy the most insulting lecture ever, which Buffy not only endured but seemed to take to heart, and then she got all weepy that Riley the Manipulative Wimp was leaving.
She never should have put up with him for so long. She needed the confidence to know that she deserved better.
She needed to make this her anthem:
Note: I’ve taken self-defense and am hoping to take more classes. Yeah, it feels good to know that I have the ability to break a brick with my bare hand (pictured here wrapped in ribbon), but what matters to me more than that is the mental strength the class gave me.
I have confidence in my ability to protect myself.
All of the protagonists in the trilogy I’m working on take self-defense. They wear shirts that say “Fight Like a Girl,” but they never have to lift a finger to anyone.
The point is, they could.
But again, it’s the mental strength that matters more.
The ability to be alone, make one’s own decisions and take care of oneself does equal confidence.
You know who has that ability?
And yes, I do mean the one with the haircut.
She left her loser fiance and moved to the city, where she cut up her father’s credit cards and got a job to support herself.
Waitress at a coffee house may not be the first job that comes to mind when thinking about success, but for Rachel, even though she wasn’t great at her job, it helped her grow up and develop a whole boatload of skills.
She knew what she liked and she knew she wanted to end up in fashion.
And that was before Ross.
Then, when Ross came into the picture, she had enough confidence to know what she didn’t deserve:
She didn’t even fall for this romantic gesture. Don’t you love how she handled this?
Look how successful Rachel was by the end of the show’s run. Yes, she ended up with Ross. But that wasn’t because she had to fix anything about herself in order to be in a relationship with him.
Ross had to grow and change to get himself up to her standards.
Who’s more confident?
Elena Alvarez vs Rory Gilmore
Okay, I’ll explain.
Brains and success don’t equal confidence.
You know those books Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches refers to as “competence porn?” It’s always fun to read about a woman to is great at her job and can take care of herself.
You could argue that the brilliant Rory Gilmore is the poster girl for competence porn. You would think that with her high grades, acceptance to three ivy-league schools, and the adoration of her entire town, she’d have just a little more faith in herself.
She ended up with Jess even after he spoke to her like this:
Um. . . I don’t think so.
And not long after that, she slept with her married ex-boyfriend.
That’s right. Attractive, intelligent Rory who could pretty much take her pick of guys lacked the confidence to do just that. So she went running back to Dean.
Not to mention that after she got some harsh criticism about her performance as an intern, she stole a yacht and dropped out of Yale.
Are you kidding me?
If she’d had confidence, after that one foreboding night alone cleaning her keyboard, she would have washed that man right out of her hair:
I guarantee that the quality of her life would have shot up, and the Gilmore Girls reboot would have been less depressing.
Living “one day at a time” and leaning on female family and friends does equal confidence.
Elena Alvarez, the fifteen-year-old daughter of a self-proclaimed “badass” single female veteran and granddaughter of an immigrant from Cuba certainly has role models when it comes to confidence and independence.
Her best friend, Carmen, is also pretty incredible.
Elena refuses to wear make-up and is never afraid to stand up for what she believes in:
For the sake of those of you who haven’t seen the Netflix reboot of “One Day at a Time,” I won’t spoil the show even more.
But I will warn you that the father – daughter dance scene of the season finale will rip your heart out and then totally make your year. (Not to mention that the whole storyline with Elena’s outfit had me all choked up.)
Just trust me on this. Watch the show (it gets better towards the end of the season) and pay attention to the behavior of the women – especially Elena.
And check out Rita Moreno opening those curtains at the 0:35 mark:
Every woman, single or married, should have that kind of confidence.
Who’s more confident?
Amy Farrah Fowler vs Maria
Amy Farrah Fowler
Okay, I’ll explain.
Knowing what you like, not conforming, and asking for what you want does equal confidence.
I don’t even know how to start talking about Amy Farrah Fowler. She slices brains with the utmost precision. She dresses the way she feels most comfortable and doesn’t adjust her style to fit in with the more classicly trendy Penny and Bernadette.
She enjoys playing the harp and isn’t shy about singing:
And she takes zero s*&% from Sheldon:
Best of all, when it comes to sex. . . well, this says it all:
In fact, Amy and Sheldon’s relationship has sparked a whole new conversation about consent.
Feeling pretty does not equal confidence.
Is there a more romantic movie than West Side Story? Wow. Isn’t it beautiful?
I could listen to the songs, which I used to sing when I studied voice, on a continuous loop.
Isn’t Maria confident? She stands up to her family and recognizes how gorgeous she is:
If only she didn’t feel pretty just because she was “loved by a pretty wonderful boy.”
There’s just one other tiny, itty bitty little thing. . .
Uh, Maria? A boy like that? Really? Because you know, he um. . . would and did kill your brother.
Well, that, and you’ve known him twenty-four hours.
Yes, conflict fuels our stories. But in my opinion, there is such a thing as too much conflict.
How about this version of the story:
Maria sends Tony’s ass to jail, helps her family’s business thrive while she figures out what she wants to do in life, and marries a guy who is actually deserving of her (and isn’t, you know, a murderer).
So. . .
As you can see from these examples, plenty of women who are in relationships a) don’t know what they want and b) lack confidence.
You know what else? If the argument that men are attracted to confidence was 100% true, Julia Roberts would have gotten herself off the streets and into more “decent” clothes before Richard Gere was attracted to her.
(And by extension, Eliza Doolittle would have lost her accent on her own before Henry Higgins gave her a second glance.)
We wouldn’t all have that at least one friend who settled for “low hanging fruit” (those are the words of a dating coach from that afore mentioned singles event) because he showed interest in her and she couldn’t handle being single for two minutes.
Being saved by a man who boosts your ego does not equal confidence. If your protagonist’s journey involves gaining confidence, please oh please let the source be just about anything that’s not a man.
We, as romance writers, are trained to think about conflict and character arcs.
But you know what? In the end, a “happily ever after” has more to do with chance, chemistry and sexual tension than anything else. All of that self-discovery and contrived confidence building matters a lot less (if at all).
Getting married is NOT an accomplishment. Yes, relationships take work.
Natalie Brooke says is best:
“You don’t have to have a brain, drive or special skill set to get married. You just have to have a willing partner.”
She also points out that:
“It is 2016 and being popped the question is still more celebrated than academic and professional pursuits of women. Yes, college graduations and landing a great career and receiving wonderful promotions are all received with happiness from friends and family, but not even close to the same level of elation received when you announce that you are getting hitched. This is my experience, at least.”
So, Single Ladies.
You haven’t found your match. That’s very much okay. Don’t ever let anybody tell you that being single is a) a problem and / or b) something for which you should be blamed.
Don’t ever settle:
“Playing with matchesA girl can get burnedSo,Bring me no ringGroom me no groomFind me no findCatch me no catchUnless he’s a matchless match.”
Most importantly, never forget that you, like the protagonists you write, are astonishing:
“There’s a life
That I am meant to lead
A life like nothing I have known
I can feel it
And it’s far from here
I’ve got to find it on my own
Even now I feel it’s heat upon my skin.
A life of passion that pulls me from within,
A life that I am making to begin.
There must be somewhere I can be
I’ll find my way
I’ll find it far away
I’ll find it in unexpected and unknown
I’ll find my life in my own way
Hopefully, the same is true for your protagonists.
Oh, and hey. Don’t worry. Just like last time, I’ll leave you with some Beyonce (By coincidence, I found this video thanks to a Facebook post from the organization that offers my self-defense classes):
“They love the way I walk
‘Cause I walk with a vengeance
And they listen to me when I talk
‘Cause I ain’t pretendin’
It took a while, now I understand
Just where I’m going
I know the world and I know who I am
It’s ’bout time I show it (ahh)”
* What traits do you like to see in a confident protagonist? Feel free to give examples!
Melina writes contemporary romance with a pinch of oregano and a dash of chutzpah. She loves to travel, especially to her family’s village in Crete, and turn her adventures into research for her novels. In July of 2012, she moved to Jerusalem with her adorable but sneaky cocker spaniel. Her family now includes an incredibly sweet yet troubled rescue puppy. You can visit her at http://melinakantor.com