The Chick-Lit Heroine

by | September 12, 2014 |

Note: In my blog post The Politics of Romance, I sketch out the idea that part of the interest of a romance novel is the way the narrative highlights the sexual politics of the time period of the story. In my blog post The Romance Heroine, I identify two kinds of heroines: the naked aspirational and the self-sufficient. I claim that Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett exemplifies both kinds. She is naked aspirational in that Mr. Darcy is out of her league, and she is self-sufficient in that she has force of personality and controls the plot.

The chick-lit heroine has a recognizable profile. She either possesses a fashion sense or has a bestie who can trick her out when the need arises, namely for a Big Date. She is either serially unlucky in love, or she is divorced (probably recently) from a cheating scum-bag who had enough qualities for her to marry him in the first place without revealing enough of himself for her to know in advance that he would be a cheating scum-bag. She either already has children, or she is awakening to the possibility that she desires them. She knows her pop culture references. She is likeable and easy to relate to, which means that she does not aspire to appear in a narrative intended for anything other than a breezy beach read.

Being of the moment, the chick-lit heroine with fashion sense has certainly read enough articles in Cosmo to know what’s up with the dating scene she has either been wading through for a while or has recently plunged back into. The one with a fairy godmother is likely to hear wise advice on how to behave as she is being dressed for the Big Date, because the fairy godmother will have read those articles. Two pieces of advice come easily to mind:

#1. Don’t talk about your ex, especially when you’re seated across the table from a hunky guy you would have thought was out of your league but who has, nevertheless, taken an interest in you.

#2. Don’t get sloppy drunk.

Rule #1 is straightforward. If you’re talking about your ex, then you’re not over him, and you’re not ready for a new relationship. Rule #2 is common sense. If you get sloppy drunk, you won’t look cute, and your behavior will make a very bad impression on your hunky dinner partner, especially if he’s one of the good guys who won’t take advantage of you in that condition.

A few years ago I lost my husband to cancer. I went back out on the dating scene when I thought I was ready. I knew there were more divorced men than widowers in my age bracket, and I am aware that perfectly good people get divorced for all sorts of reasons, and so I didn’t (and still don’t) object to going out with someone who has been divorced.

I did discover early on, however, that a surprising number of men on a first date with me would bring up their ex in one way or another, never a good one. I can imagine that men know about #1, but I can also imagine that the dynamics of a divorce – as opposed to the death of a spouse – sometimes make the desire to say something about the ex so great that the person on the date just can’t help himself (or herself) from saying something. I’m sympathetic but unimpressed by the lack of impulse control during a space of, say, an hour and a half.

I like a drink as much as the next person. I can admit to the fact that there have been occasions when I’ve been feeling no pain, but I would never imagine that a man would find me attractive in that state, especially not in the early stages of getting-to-know-you.

Now let’s say a woman violates both rules on the first date. In the real world, she’s unlikely to be asked out on a second date. She’s more likely to appear as a horror story in a GQ article entitled “Crash-and-Burn First Dates.” Only in chick-lit land – not always but sometimes – will her bitter, if brief, references to her ex be overlooked and her inebriated state perceived as spontaneous, adorable, or even not her own fault.

I get that chick-lit is like eating the most divine no-calorie chocolate ice cream. It’s yummy to lap up the story of a likeable heroine who indulges in bad dating behavior and still gets her HEA. I guess I like mine with hot fudge sauce, that is, when the heroine behaves in way to justify her HEA in a modern real-world sort of way.

Everybody deserves a second chance. Even in breezy beach reads, isn’t the post-string-of-bad-luck relationships/post-divorce first date with a great guy already the second chance?


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This post was written by Julie Andresen

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