A few weeks ago aliterati
and our friend Dan and I had a conversation about the love stories we obsessed over growing up and how they effect our taste in partners, our dreams of what relationships should be, and the way we go about our romantic business. Since today is Valentine's Day, I thought I'd talk about the romantic daydreams of my childhood - those bits of feeling gleaned from books and t.v. shows, before we started figuring things out on our own.
Like many little girls, my favorite book when I was young was Little Women*. I read it cover to cover, over and over, and identified with Jo and hated Amy and loved Laurie. I didn't understand why Jo turned Laurie down in favor of the older, less pretty, less fun-loving Professor Behr. I had a crush on my own dark-haired, mischievous best friend and desperately wished he'd stop in the middle of one of our adventures in the woods and declare his undying love for me.
However, as much as I liked Laurie, he was not my romantic idol. After all, he didn't end up being good enough for Jo, and had to settle for annoying Amy. (My best friend didn't end up being good enough for me either - something I didn't understand even when I realized he would only be friends with me when no one else was around. I thought that meant I
wasn't good enough for him
No, I met my great storybook love when my mother, seeing my fondness for Little Women, got me Anne of Green Gables. Now Anne Shirley, like Jo March, is a great character for girls to identify with: clever, independent, endlessly creative, passionate. But it wasn't Anne that I read the Green Gables books over and over for - it was Gilbert Blythe.
Gilbert Blythe was, at age ten, the embodiment of everything I wanted. Keenly intelligent, he is Anne's only intellectual rival (how I wished I had a handsome, flirtatious intellectual rival at that age!) and though he loves to tease her he stops when he hits on something she is sensitive about (the exact opposite of what all the boys I knew would do). It takes Anne years to realize she loves Gilbert back, but when she does, he is there waiting for her.
The third and final romantic book I loved was The Witch of Blackbird Pond. This is a little less famous than the other two, so I'll sketch out the plot - Kit, the orphaned child of Caribbean slaveholders, flees to Puritan New England to be with her mother's family, rather than marry the middle-aged friend of her father. On the journey, she meets Nat, the captain's son, who earns her displeasure by pointing out the flaws in her privileged, frivolous worldview. When she gets to her aunt's town, she tries to adapt herself to her new surroundings, but quickly becomes frustrated, and often escapes to be with Hannah, the witch of Blackbird Pond. It turns out that Nat is a friend of Hannah's as well. When the town turns against Hannah, Nat and Kit help her escape and, by the end of the story, fall in love and live happily ever after.
Why I love these books:
~ In all three books, the hero falls in love with the heroine first, usually for her independence, intelligence and bravery. The heroine takes her time to come to terms with her feelings.
~ However, they do not become doormats - they can clearly see the heroine's flaws and will point them out to her. When the heroine sees a real flaw in them (arrogance, rudeness, lack of compassion, lack of direction) they do their best to change themselves.
~ Except for Laurie (who is my least favorite of the three), they have a strong sense of self and a person they want to become regardless of what happens with the heroine. Gilbert wants to become a doctor, Nat wants to captain his own ship and try to win American independence and abolish the slave trade.
~ They all really like to tease each other.
These are actually rather common themes but they still ring true to me. I like intelligent, good-natured guys with enough self confidence to call me on whatever bullshit I put out there. I find stupidity, lack of direction, meanness, and an uncritical view of me to be huge turnoffs. And someone who likes to be teased and can make me laugh is just icing on the cake.
What about you? What were your favorite childhood romances, and can you see their influence in your life now?
* Actually it was Lord of the Rings, but there was no real romance in that. I didn't understand Eowyn until I was older and Arwen and Aragorn's star-crossed whatever still
doesn't feel like romance to me. Little Women was my second favorite book.