I’ve become a curator of reasons for reading and writing romance – particularly male-male romance. At first, I sought reasons because I was surprised that my attraction to romance stories included the M/M genre, then because the layers of reasons kept peeling back to expose more of life and humanity and myself. I keep looking because I keep liking what I discover.
I’ll give you an example. In Hara Estroff Marano’s article, “Love and Power” (Psychology Today, January/February 2014), she explores power plays in relationships in general. In a section on gender roles, she includes this tidbit:
“In 200 years, says [John] Gottman, ‘heterosexual relationships will be where gay and lesbian relationships are today.’ That’s a long time to wait for change, but it reflects his findings that couple interactions are far more direct and kind among same-sex partners than the power struggles that arise among heterosexual ones.”
Marano goes on to share more details about Gottman’s findings regarding same-sex couples, which I consider worth paying attention to, because Gottman is a preeminent relationship expert with a lot of his own research to draw from. His twelve-year study of same-sex couples revealed, not surprisingly, similarities in the ways same-sex couples operate as compared to heterosexual couples. “But research has shown that there are also some qualities of strength (like humor and [the] ability to calm down during a fight) that are especially key to same-sex couples” (from Gottman’s website page on Same Sex Couples).
Even before I found Marano’s article or Gottman’s research, I knew I felt like I was learning... well, I wasn’t exactly sure what, but something, whenever I read a romance I enjoyed that featured characters who were not like me in some way. It’s like when I read those stories, my psyche is reaching out for something new — maybe a new way to learn — that bypasses old synapse pathways and creates new trails that push into the collective unconscious. Because I don’t want to wait 200 years for the collective unconscious to get a clue about better het relationships, I’m jumping the gun and learning from people (and story characters) who are, in some ways, not like me.
If I write a male-male love story, I’m hampered by not being male and not being gay. But I'm hampered whenever I write about a character aspect that I haven't experienced or can't experience for myself. One of the great (and sometimes challenging) things about writing fiction is that it shows me who I am and who I want to be. When I let my imagination be my teacher, use it to show me what's important about the things I haven't experienced, I bring to the table my willingness to explore the vast expanse of common ground we humans share, to celebrate our differences, and to pay attention when I stumble into a barrier, because then I can do something about it.
I can look for more ways to be “direct and kind” in my close relationships. I can bring in more humor and calm down sooner.
I can keep questioning what I learn as I explore and write about human love and sex and romance. I can be open to what I discover.
It’s my way of pulling the future closer.