Featured Post

Familiar in a Strange Land

Familiar in a Strange Land

Diana Gabaldon’s popular historical romance series Outlander is having a moment since it was recently rebooted as a TV show.  I’m talking about romances this month, so it seemed like a good book to revisit. 

I’ve had a really hard time getting into the Outlander series.  The books are widely beloved and came highly recommended to me by my former boss, but Outlander was just meh for me.  I ended up reading the first book three times – not because I loved it, I honestly didn’t care for it much at all – but because I kept trying to get swept up into the magic that so many others have found within its pages. I have finished the second book, Dragonfly in Amber, zero times.  Just lost interest, and I have a hard time reading a book as an assignment rather than out of enjoyment. There are too many awesome books in the world I could be reading instead.

Despite my overall misgivings, the setup of Outlander is intriguing.  A woman from the year 1945, Army nurse Claire Randall, is transported by a circle of magical Druidic stones* back in time to the year 1743 where she meets and falls in love with sexy Scotsman Jamie Fraser.

There’s a wrinkle to all this, though, and it’s that in the year 1945, Claire Randall is totally married.

One time I was chatting with a darling older relative of mine, and she was telling me about a romantic dream she’d had about Pierce Brosnan.  She said, “It was so funny because in my mind I kept coming up with all these reasons why my husband wasn’t around. He was working, he was busy, he was on a trip, and then he was dead!”   And we laughed and laughed because I could totally relate. I mean, husbands, you know? It’s not that you don’t like the guy, but sometimes you just wanna spend some quality time with Pierce Brosnan.

That’s The Husband Problem.  

For some reason, a lot of women, myself very much included, have a tough time getting into fantasy scenarios if they aren’t at least a little bit realistic.  And there’s little that’s less realistic than riding off into the sunset with Pierce Brosnan or his bodice-ripping doppleganger when some other guy is popping up in the middle of your daydream asking where his keys are and if you remembered to pay the gas bill this month.  And he doesn’t even have to actually interrupt you to cockblock you.  It’s enough to know that he exists.  The real world needs to go away for a while and Dearest Hubby is most decidedly a part of the real world. 

It’s not your husband per se, it’s that he represents the intrusion of the real world into the realm of the fantasy.  You have to get rid of him – mentally anyway – to get swept away to wherever it is you want to go. In dudespeak, it’s like if every time you went to utilize the ol’ pressure release valve, there was a hologram of your mother reminding you to take out the trash appearing smack dab in the middle of the Victoria’s Secret Catalogue.

Outlander may not be my fave book ever but I must admit, Diana Gabaldon has a clever solution for The Husband Problem.  Most romances evade The Husband Problem entirely by giving us a nubile and unformed 17 year old heroine with no family ties, but I’ve found as I have gotten older, the adventures of nubile unformed 17 year olds are not terribly interesting to me.  In Outlander, Gabaldon tackles THP head on by making Claire’s husband into the bad guy instead.

Genius.

It’s not really Claire’s husband, of course.  It’s the ancestor of Claire’s husband, Jonathan Randall, who happens to look exactly like Claire’s husband Frank, only he’s completely and totally evil.

Sheer genius.

Now, you may think you know where this is going, that there’s going to be a bizarre love triangle in which Jonathan Randall obsesses over Claire, but then it turns out that Randall is actually kinda more into Jamie.  It’s an even bizarre-er love triangle than you were expecting.

New Order – Bizarre Love Triangle Music Video

Some pretty weird stuff happens in this book.  I’ll leave it at that.

Romance novels can tell us a lot about the ways men and women are different.  That’s partly why it’s fun (for me anyway, I pity you, my poor captive audience) to write about them.  And basically what it boils down to, is this…

It’s top secret.  Lean in.

Men are visual.

Ok, I’m kidding,  It’s way more than that, of course.  I think maybe a better way to put it is that for women, romantic fantasy is greater than the sum of its parts, and for men, it’s mostly about the parts and not so much the sum.  I’ve never been a man, at least in any lifetime I recall, so I can’t speak to that experience. But from what I’ve witnessed as a casual observer, it appears to involve specifics – like trying a certain extraspicy position or breaking a taboo or focusing upon a particular body part or series of body parts or on a particular partner or series of partners.  Women seem to focus more on the overall situation, the scenario, and not so much on the gory details.  

One time my husband asked me to tell him a fantasy and I said,  “Once upon a time there was a man and a woman, and they were passionately in love!”  And then he looked at me expectantly but that was really all I had.  In my head there was a big elaborate setup, lots of obstacles were overcome, misunderstandings were smoothed over, then they kissed or embraced or maybe did a little groping.  And that was it. 

If you’ve seen the part of When Harry Met Sally where she describes her biggest sexual fantasy you get the general idea. 

When Harry Met Sally… (5/11) Movie CLIP – Sex Dreams (1989) HD

It was the journey of people falling in love and all the stuff that went into that journey – where they were going, what they were doing, what they thought about while they were going someplace and doing something, what they were wearing and eating and what the weather was and everything they packed to take along with them upon the voyage – that turned my crank and not the what-came-next.  Most of my fantasies are sadly (well, it’s not sad for me, IDGAF, but it’s probably sad for anyone who would like to hear me talk about them in detail) kind of PG-13 affairs where the wardrobe and the cast and plot and the scenery and the menu and what the main characters think about everything are all-important and the sexual particulars aren’t even remotely as thrilling.   

I believe that’s why women read romances and why romance novels > porn for us.  Pictures in a magazine or video on a computer screen don’t do a whole lot for me.  Even written descriptions of sexual acts lack appeal.  When it comes to a really graphic romance like Fifty Shades of Grey or whatever, I find myself skimming the sex stuff because it’s mindnumbingly boring and to be honest, kind of a little gross.

I want the setup, not the conclusion.  The conclusion I can come up with myself.

I sometimes think males and females are the victims of a cosmic joke in which we’ve evolved to want and like different things in pretty much every arena of life and  most of those things are mutually exclusive.  Somebody is always settling for something that’s less than ideal for them. And that’s the best case scenario.  Worst case, everyone’s miserable – lonely, isolated, feeling unloved and unappreciated and unfulfilled.  In no arena of life are these differences greater than in matters of sexuality. There’s no utopian scenario where if only we read the right books or watch the right episode of Dr. Phil, that men and women are gonna be equally happy with the exact same aspects of every romantic and/or physical encounter.  Our Venn diagrams of sexual happiness only marginally intersect.  Maybe we just aren’t built the same, or maybe it’s the software.  Either way, we can’t adequately communicate our wants and needs to each other, because what’s superduperly important to one of us is irrelevant, even meaningless to the other.

That disconnect is very difficult to fake your way through.  He gives us flowers because he knows we like it and not because it does anything for him.  Which is a nice gesture, but those who have been married a long time know that things that are nice gestures tend to get lost in the shuffle of work and kids and sheer physical exhaustion.  Buying flowers becomes less of a nice gesture and more a chore, or worse, an attempt to buy a response that may not be forthcoming.

All this is why The Husband Problem is such a problem in real life, not only in the pages of a book.  Because not only can’t you ride off into the sunset with Pierce Brosnan if your mind is full of worries and responsibilities and irritating Facebook posts and Marie Kondo and the status of various household tasks, you can’t ride off into the sunset with your actual man, either.   At least not ecstatically and with complete physical abandon.

Real life gets in the way of female sexuality.  Full stop.    

Husbands are awesome.  They really are.  Husbands are partners and buddies and you work with them side by side to accomplish important household and life tasks. You love them and like them and if you’re lucky like me you are attracted to them.  But at the end of the day, it’s all very mundane, isn’t it?  There’s very little ripping of bodices and even if there was, knowing you’ll be the one who has to sew it back together eventually is a major buzzkill.  You’ve both been up since 5 am doing all these really unsexy tasks – changing diapers, mowing the lawn, doing dishes, scooping the cat litter box, reading bedtime stories and getting each kiddo 400 glasses of water, working at some job where you’re likely underpaid and not at all appreciated – and then what?

Keep in mind that real life gets in the way of female sexuality.

He’s too tired to create a romantic scenario, he just wants a pile of quivering body parts.  And she’s too tired to be reduced to a pile of quivering body parts without a romantic scenario (particularly as she’s laying there next to the pile of laundry waiting to be put away, the permission slip that needs to be signed, the clothes laid out for work in the morning).  What one partner wants requires work on the part of the other and while it’s a nice gesture to make the effort, it IS effort. It’s hard work that no one really wants to do at the end of the day.  Hubby serves as an avatar of all the stuff that Wifey needs do to and hasn’t done that keep her from relaxing into fantasy so she can become the quivering pile of body parts that he requires.  And it doesn’t take too long before “become quivering pile of body parts” becomes another chore to be marked off the to-do list.

Buzz Killington.

And yet, there’s a weird dichotomy in romance novels.  Even though we know there is a Husband Problem and in fact it’s why many of us read romances to begin with (Oh, Pierce…), the vast majority of romances portray marriage as a desirable and wonderfully happy state of affairs. Marriage is even, in a great many romance novels, presented as a handy solution for some terrible problem the heroine faces. She’s lost her virtue, she needs to get out of a bad living situation, she’s being pursued by a villainous cad and must be protected.  Of the 6 romances I read this month, the heroine ended up married in 5 of them, and married primarily as a solution to a problem in 4.  (I never finished the Fifty Shades series.  For all I know bells were ringing in all 6.)  Marriage, to the rescue!

Romance novels are pro-marriage propaganda.

How can there be both a Husband Problem and a Marriage Solution?  How can these two seemingly incompatible things coexist in the pages of a romance??  (Aside from the characters from living fictional lives that are utterly divorced from reality, that is.  I did not see a lot of litter box scooping going on in Ashes in the Wind.  And as I’ve said before, being a fictional character really does kinda grease the wheels of life for you.)

A lot of people believe that romance novels are harmful in the same way that a lot of people believe pornography is harmful.  They will tell you that romance novels create unrealistic expectations that men could never live up to, and that they set women up for disappointment in marriage.  While I can see where they’re coming from, I suppose, this has not been my experience.  (I have never expected my husband to rip any article of clothing I own and in fact I’d be exceedingly pissed if he did.) Instead, I’ve found that experiencing the excitement of a new – if fictional – relationship vicariously right up to the happily ever after can feel rejuvenating.  Makes you think about love and marriage and all the positive things about that guy who isn’t exactly Pierce Brosnan but is a whiz with cat litter boxes.  The feelings that are stirred by the romance novels are transferrable into the real world.

So I think it’s pretty cool for Diana Gabaldon to try and solve The Husband Problem while still giving us the Marriage Solution.  Even though Outlander doesn’t really do it for me personally, it does for some people and that’s great.  I can’t recommend the book, but I commend the creativity.

A romance novel like Outlander can be in effect a circle of Druidic stones you pass through into another world in which cat litter has never been invented.  But you get to come back whenever you want.

Because in this world, your husband is the good guy.          

*If you’d like to read a not-at-all-romantic Black Mirror-y story I wrote about social media, impersonal sex, and the curious magic of Druidic Stones, please check out Wonders After Dark.

Photo by erwlas Familiar in a Strange Land


Contributor
Home Page Twitter 

Kristin is a geek, a libertarian, and a domestic goddess. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals and works with women around the world as a fertility counselor. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of https://atomicfeminist.com/

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

117 thoughts on “Familiar in a Strange Land

  1. Due to my long and fraught experience with romance, I’ve always empathized and sympathized with the husband in the husband problem because that would be the role I get assigned if I was cast in a romance movie. The decent but totally not sexy man that could provide stability but not passion. A lot of romance advice aimed at men is telling you to be at least a little like Jamie and that is something really unappealing.

    What I’d argue is the real true heterosexual male romantic fantasy, or at least my fantasy, is a woman who will romance me. Not having to earn each and everything.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • But it’s a trope, Lee. And like so many tropes, it’s not really as true as you might think.

      I think there are lots of stable guys who are totally sexy, and lots of unstable guys who completely lack any appeal whatsoever.

      We’ve kind of bought into this Hollywood lazy writing version of “passion” where the men who show “passion” are controlling a-holes but in the real world I think what women want are NOT bad boys but that passion. I think a lot of stable guys are socialized not to show that passion to women while some sociopaths use it openly and constantly like a weapon (like in my Twilight piece – making a woman feel special). Some women are tricked by that, but the remedy is to not be afraid to honestly and genuinely show some passion now and then, if that makes sense.

      As for the second point, it’s really interesting because I feel it is women have to earn everything. We can’t get any affection – even the smallest little thing – from men without an expectation of sexual reciprocity. This is partly what I mean when I say we’re the victims of a cosmic joke. You feel like it’s asking too much to romance and you’d prefer not to…it’s work to you. And it’s only a half-step from something that feels like work becoming a chore and then a tit-for-tat kind of arrangement…which doesn’t work for anybody.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • I think it is more like that stable guys receive many mixed messages regarding showing passion. We have been taught against the big romantic gesture even though in my personal experience the closest I’ve gotten to getting into a relationship involved a big romantic gesture. We are told to take the lead, prove our value but also don’t approach those that don’t want to be approached. It is very contradictory and when you point out the contradictions people yell at you.

        As to your last paragraph, what I’m asking for is not always having to take the initiative. To have to identify a woman I’m interested, figure out something, ask her out, accept rejection gracefully or if you get a date follow up and if rejected accept gracefully. I’m in
        late thirties and had nothing but a bunch of really sucky experiences romantically. Yet the only solution offered is to go out and try the same thing again. If you jump and crash, get up and jump again until you get success or you die. It’s too much.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • I don’t want to be an asshole about this because I know you suffer a lot and I don’t think I would do well in your situation. But when you describe your challenges in this arena you always always leave out that you have a very specific, romantic, and traditional “glam” ideal of what a woman should be like, and that possible solutions to your problems that involve women who are not glam (or even just found in contexts where they are way less likely to be glam) are not solutions you are willing to consider at all.

          It seems to me that it is not that there are not women and contexts where these contradictions don’t exist, it is that those women and those contexts *do not appeal to you*. That doesn’t mean they aren’t there. It means you don’t care about them so they don’t count. And why should they count, in your day to day life? They’re not pertinent to your own desire to find a partner.

          But it makes for a poor basis for generalizations about women or romance. Because you’ve pretty much begged the question by whom you are willing to consider as a valid romantic partner.

          Perhaps I’m off base – perhaps you reconsidered this stance since the time 2 or 3 years ago that you and I discussed it on here at length, and have since explored different, broader contexts for getting to know women who don’t meet that ideal and don’t come from that specific context or one very close to it – but if not, well… that’s certainly your right – people are attracted to the people they find attractive, almost-but-not-quite tautologically – but it’s hard to take your generalizations as in any way accurate beyond the very narrow field you are willing to look at.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • I freely admit that the type of woman that I find generally more appealing than other woman is the type of woman not likely to find me appealing. Not really sure of the reason why this is though. I guess part of it is that I’ve been excluded from this area from life for so long that area for so long I feel somewhat, to use the dreaded e-word, entitled to something a little special. Going for something else would seem more than a little anti-climatic. It is a sort of a way to say fish you to the entire world, I’ve won. I guess that is not a very kind way of looking at things though. Another issue is that trying to date someone I find not appealing that way seems more like a slog than something fun.

            On the other hand, I’ve aways been attracted to women with what you could call glamour and flash. The girls and women I’ve had the heaviest crushes on or have been in love with were usually actors, dancers, artists or something similar. When I was twenty-nine, I feel in love in a particularly hard way for a dancer. It was literal instant attraction. It was an exhausting but exhilarating experience that lasted for three years. It didn’t work out obviously but I have no regrets about feeling totally besotted. That’s how I want it to be.

              Quote  Link

            Report

            • So, yeah, that’s fine and I’m not trying to diss you for it… but it strikes me as a poor basis for the very sweeping generalizations that you tend to make about women and what “they” want.

              Surely you can see that if you take a step back?

                Quote  Link

              Report

              • It’s kind of hard when you personally feel something is being withheld from you and the political moment seems to be demanding you give your full support to something you feel actively frozen out of. It’s not just lacking a girlfriend while other people in your age group are sending their kids to school, it is still struggling to get into situations where getting close enough to form attraction is possible.

                  Quote  Link

                Report

            • So I just want to point one tiny thing out here.

              If the only girls you go for are the spoiled princess archetype it may explain why all the women you meet seem like spoiled princesses.

              That doesn’t mean it’s universally true.

              I know some women who are super entitled themselves, believe they are worthy of special treatment, pampering, etc and then there’s the rest of us.

              It may be the case that there are personality qualities that go along with glamour and flash that may not be conducive to you getting what you want.

                Quote  Link

              Report

        • I have every sympathy in the world because I do think men get a lot of toxic and confusing messages and are all too often cast in the role of bad guy unfairly.

          But here’s the thing. If you think you get mixed messages about making romantic gestures and overtures, women receive equally mixed, if not even more mixed messages, about initiating romantic contact. When women don’t take the initiative it is not always the reason why you think. Women are told not only by society, but by men themselves not to pursue because it makes them appear desperate, slutty, a tease, etc. Sadie Hawkins is a joke because she asks guys out. Women who show sexual aggression in tv shows and movies and books are 99 times out of 100 punished for it in some way. And even beyond asking out, if a woman is perceived as being too friendly, too famiiar, flirtateous, without intending romantic contact, she is very harshly judged by everyone. We don’t take initiative because the majority of the times we’ve tried it or even just been open and friendly, we’ve gotten thumped for it, and hard. The solution presented to us is to stop trying and wait for Prince Charming to come along and you’re right, that’s no solution at all.

          If you don’t believe that this is real, scroll to the bottom of this set of comments. You’ll see that I was somewhat rebuked by someone I consider a friend, warning me about flirting in certain ways with men because they might get the wrong idea. Over a hypothetical conversation. I’m 48 years old and a man (totally well intentioned) feels he has the right to correct a perceived sexual overaggression on my part.

          That’s why I say all this is a cosmic joke. It is on ALL of us. I think what you may be getting wrong is that you assume women are in on the joke, that they’re playing it on you. But it’s on all of us, every last one. Whether it’s culture or whether it’s some sort of hardwiring for whatever reason our expectations in the romance department don’t mesh particularly well and it sucks for all of us.

            Quote  Link

          Report

  2. So did you get far enough in the story to where Claire goes back to 1945? I hesitate to get very specific because spoilers, but I was very much not liking her character there. As in, what a bitch.

      Quote  Link

    Report

        • I need you to refresh my memory about the particulars because it’s been like 6 years since I read that one. I didn’t even bother with it this last time.

          What I remember is that Claire seemed really disinterested in Jamie and equally disinterested in Frank (who had just died) and yes she was pretty unlikeable at that point. I assumed it was to make the daughter more of the focus.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • Hmm. Maybe the tv series plays fast and loose with the book narrative. Also, any internal monologue is necessarily missing. Anyway, I guess maybe being a husband IRL I found myself identifying with Frank somewhat.

            [spoiler alert!]

            She’s in a happy, satisfying marriage complete with passion. Totally by accident travels through the portal to 18th century. In fairly short order falls in love with and ultimately marries Jaime and gets pregnant. Well why not? She figures she’s stuck in the past, amirite?

            Then she ends up going back to 1945. Frank is the spitting image of his truly evil ancestor and she just can’t, you know? But he doesn’t abandon her despite quite reasonably believing she ran off, had an affair (which she kinda did, right?), and has no rational explanation. He raises Brianna as his own child. Really steps up.

            What the hell did Frank do to deserve any of that? It didn’t take her long in the 18th C to hook up with Jaime when she assumed she was stuck there but when she came back she couldn’t EVER forgive Frank emotionally for just being who he is, basically a stand-up guy that she appeared to be initially deeply on love with and just happened to not be Jaime.

            You know what I think happened? I think Gabaldon decided half-way thru writing the first book to extend the story but had written herself into a corner wrt Frank. Basically, the ultimate resolution to the Husband Problem was to turn Claire into a widow and just write him completely out.

            So the gist of the Husband Problem is that since the Husband can’t actually be the romantic lead as you ably described, then he either can’t exist yet (i.e., virginal maiden scenario), or no longer exist (widow story), or the protagonist needs permission to cheat (he’s abusive or whatever) because it sucks to imagine yourself as “bad”. She started out her tale with a reasonably clever “permission” scenario but for whatever reason decided to shift it to the “widow” story and did so clumsily IMO. She essentially relied on “the heart wants what the heart wants” as — moral? — justification. Really, the whole story was more straightforward after Frank died.

              Quote  Link

            Report

            • Any man who gets in the way of a woman’s passion, no matter how nobly and honorably he behaves, is but an inconvenience at best or actively evil at worse even if he has done no wrong. His pain does not matter. This is the law. No exception.

                Quote  Link

              Report

            • it’s been a long time but I read the book (and definitely the show) as her being *traumatized* by how much Frank looks like Black Jack. The kids would say “triggered”. Not that he deserved how she acted but that she couldn’t help but react that way based on her traumatic experience of his ancestor.

              I actually find that pretty darn plausible, given my own experiences of being triggered by resemblances (the few months where I couldn’t deal with beards without panicking were…. particularly unpleasant time for both me and Jay, and that was *with* me understanding exactly what was going on and how I could work to get over it, and him helping) … especially since the idea that traumatic interpersonal experiences could lead to a condition that was basically the same as shell shock was not part of people’s headspace (even doctors) back in the 50s…

              The book was also quite a lot kinder (IMO) to both parties than the TV show was. Show amped up the drama there, and made both Frank and Clare look worse because of it. One of the few places where I felt it didn’t stay true to the spirit of the book.

              Which party was more appalling (in their treatment of each other, not the kid) by the end of it in the show is somewhat a matter of taste. Frank definitely had a cruel streak (and, indubitably, a drinking problem), both of which came out after she came back. He cannot have been at all easy to live with. Within parameters for men in the 50s-70s in his situation, yes, but that doesn’t mean he was some sort of paragon.

                Quote  Link

              Report

              • (Book Frank is a bit of a paragon, IMO. I liked him all the better for it but perhaps the show people felt it was unrealistic.)

                Is it possible that the show is female-gaze-focused enough – and not just in the sex scenes – that your wife is picking up on aspects of Frank being vicious and drunk (by times, only by times, not generally and not where it directly hurts Brianna) after they are back together that you didn’t? Because those things are not mostly spelled out, they’re depicted subtly and quite masterfully. Frank remains a good man but the situation brings out the worst in him (which is not all that bad compared to any real villains, of course) in the show.

                He never rejected Clare totally but he never forgave her, either. And being the less socially/legally powerful partner in a relationship where one person holds a permanent grudge is not an enviable situation. Even if they have a very good reason to hold that grudge.

                It’s not like Clare had good odds on *literally* any other options as someone bearing a child out of wedlock in 1945. It was an awful situation for both of them, and in the book they come to that conclusion on their own together, and are kind to each other.

                  Quote  Link

                Report

                • Er, not out of wedlock. In adultery? You know.

                  What I find far more problematic about the book

                  (SPOILERS AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE)

                  is that Jamie basically rapes Clare at first but even though she gets really mad at him and he learns to treat her more respectfully, it’s also forgivable and fine and good because Jamie and things were different in that time period and Their Love Is Destined and secretly she wanted it blah blah blah, so it was totally different than the life-in-danger stuff of Black Jack Randall and etc. I haven’t reread that with adult eyes (I was 19 when I first read the books and have skipped it on rereading), and I suspect it might be a dealbreaker for me now in a way it wasn’t then. I mean, it was extremely bothersome to me, but it was also a very common romance novel sex trope in the 70s–90s and so I was under the impression that it was just something I had to put up with in romance novels. (It’s far rarer now, or rather it’s NOT, but it’s more kept to its own dubcon and noncon lanes for people who want that fantasy specifically, instead of being in every damn subgenre, unpredictably.)

                  They softened the hell out of that, made it much more definitely consensual, in the show and it still made me uncomfortable.

                    Quote  Link

                  Report

                • Yes, well, I’ll trust that the book may have handled all that better than the show. I haven’t (and don’t plan to) read the book so I’ll take your word for it.

                  We inevitably bring our own experiences to bear when reading/viewing this sort of material. In your case a dark history of an abusive father. In mine… well, I’ve been married 34 years but this is marriage #2. #1 ended due to infidelity on her part.

                  So from Frank’s perspective, which maybe I find myself more naturally sympathetic to, she just inexplicably vanishes. Then just as inexplicably shows up a couple years later. Pregnant and with some insane story of time travelling to the 18th century. And she doesn’t want a goddamn thing to do with you in a husband/wifey way.

                  I’d drink too.

                  And the fact that he didn’t kick her to the curb and instead raised Brianna as his own daughter… That’s some St. Joseph level stuff there. They were both deeply traumatized in their own ways, but in the end he seems to actually handle it more gracefully than she does. And tbh puts more effort into dealing with it.

                    Quote  Link

                  Report

                  • The idea that infidelity and disappearance is equally traumatizing as being put in fear of your life repeatedly through sexual violence at the hands of someone you know has committed murders and violence before is….

                    No, those aren’t equally traumatizing things.

                    I understand how you might find his perspective more relatable, but this isnt’ just my own history talking, it’s also the context of Black Jack Randall, who is sexually violent toward Clare, threatens her life, and tortures someone she loves. Literally, physically and sexually tortures. On the show. Where they chose to emphasize the similarity by having the same actor play both men.

                    She’s not “being a bitch”, she has PTSD. The PTSD may lead her to seeming like a bitch, but it’s really a different order of thing than betrayal is. It’s not Frank’s fault he didn’t understand that, nor hers that she couldn’t seek medical treatment for it.

                    Please understand, I’m not upset that you have your own interpretation at all, what bothered me and led me to comment was the part where you said “So should I be worried that my wife didn’t seem to quite understand what I found objectionable in that series of events?”

                    As if her being able to see it a different way meant she was untrustworthy. Tongue in cheek or not, I found that really unpleasant. And it led to me wanting to answer your question about what Frank did. What he did, in the show, was not believe in, trust, or be honest with his wife, as well as transmitting anger and blame at her for the better part of 20 years. His reasons are completely understandable. But it’s not *nothing*. It’s a long way from sainthood. And in 1945, both people’s options were very very limited.

                    (Perhaps the real difference is that in the *book*, Frank really wants a child, fears he will never be able to have a child, and is immediately infatuated with Brianna from the moment he meets her, and that love for Brianna is what gets him and Clare to a point where they can be kind to one another. It’s not a noble sacrifice to love Brianna and accept her as his own, it’s the unshakeable impulse that holds everything else together. That’s DEFINITELY muddied in the show.)

                      Quote  Link

                    Report

                        • I think what it does to her thesis is provide the turn to the second half of her thesis (that the book is trying to do both Husband Problem *and* Marriage Solution) where she talks about how Gabaldon was doing her best to have her cake and eat it to? :P

                          I mean, she already covered that in the OP….

                            Quote  Link

                          Report

                      • Personally, I think there are an awful lot of “romances” that are really some-other-genre-with-heavy-romance-elements-that-get-them-classed-as-romance, and I would definitely include this series as one of those.

                        I mean, talk about not having a HEA….

                        Nobody in these books (or the show!) gets to be happy for like more than five minutes. They owe as much to Les Miserables as they do to romance traditions, IMO.

                        Which is to say, yeah, I find it odd, but I know SOOOOO many women who think this is the most romantic story they have ever or will ever read (including some heavy-duty romance readers) that I’m forced to think it’s one of those things that has wide-spread cultural consensus among women, that I just don’t entirely get. (For the most part I identify as both-and-also, not neither, but wow are there some times when I feel very much not-of-either-party…. of course I know plenty of cisgender-identified people who feel the same way….)

                        I mean, I am quite fond of the books. But I don’t find them so much romantic as an interesting exploration of time-travel and the kinds of *personal* (rather than world-shattering-paradox) troubles it can cause. And of different time periods and people’s different ways of dealing with war and loss, and business like that. There are parts I find romantic, I suppose, but definitely that’s not the main thing for me about them at all.

                        Perhaps relatedly, I far prefer the Lord John Gray spinoff series – I enjoy the main series but I’m a total stan for the spinoffs. (Speaking of noble people making noble sacrifices for love, nu? Though in his own series there’s rather a lot less of that and a lot more derring-do, adventure, and mystery.)

                          Quote  Link

                        Report

                • Ooooooh yeah. Thanks for reminding me of that.

                  It’s so funny that I completely did not get the reference based on the description of “Claire acted like a jerk” LOL.

                  So I’m assuming I’m in agreement with your wife here, Road.

                  I had the second interpretation of Claire’s behavior. (PTSD actually hadn’t occurred to me, but also seems entirely plausible.) Granted it’s been a bit since I read the second book, but as I recall, for all Frank knew, Claire had been taken prisoner, held captive, ended up pregnant, and in fact that was far more likely than that she’d just run off. He still couldn’t forgive her. I was outraged by that and angry on Claire’s behalf.

                  It’s a real live thing that men get angry at their wives for being raped and taken advantage of. Of course in many countries women are even put to death after having been raped with the support of their husbands and families. Soooo…that was the lens through which I viewed that turn of events. That Frank was never able to let it go and it destroyed their marriage.

                    Quote  Link

                  Report

                  • Like seriously, her story was so crazy people thought something had happened to her mentally to make her think that those things had happened. Isn’t that right?? They thought she’d broken from reality as a coping mechanism. So for Frank to go on blaming her and never forgiving her for 20 years + when for all he knew she was abducted, assaulted, and it was so awful that it actually caused her to have a mental breakdown and fabricate a false reality so she could deal with what happened – that’s icky to me.

                      Quote  Link

                    Report

                    • So she’s the only one for whom this story isn’t utterly insane because she’s the only one who experienced it. So… why not just make up a more believable tale? Assuming of course that she actually wanted to save the marriage.

                      Her character is drawn as a very smart, capable, strong, and resilient woman. But here, with Frank, she just sort of relinquished all agency. She expected him to either believe her crazy ass story or… what? Make up his own story I guess? He didn’t hold it against her that she was abducted and raped because she never made that claim.

                      I don’t know, it’s been awhile since I watched that sequence and I never read the books so whatever.

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

                      • I think it’s just probably just a plot device.

                        But what I recall from reading the book (and it’s entirely possible I just filled in the blanks) was that she had a nutty story and most people thought she’d had some kind of psychotic break. Like either she had experienced something so traumatic that her brain made up that tale for her very sanity (which implies abduction/rape) or that she had a psychotic break from stress over the war and had no memory of what happened during that time (in which case she could hardly be held accountable).

                        It seemed unfortunate to me that Frank couldn’t get over it given that set of circumstances. (but realistic)

                          Quote  Link

                        Report

                      • I don’t know if this is relevant to this convo, but I recently listened to (not read !!??) the book Circe, *in which* she (the narrator) describes Ulysses as a concerned and caring husband/decent man-person, a view which holds right up until – later in the narrative – we here countervailing evidence from both his son and wife. So who ya gonna believe, the narrator we’ve grown to love and empathize with or testimony from the wife and son?

                        I thought this was a fantastic narrative device by the author of that book (a chick, no less) and added to the idea of the unreliable narrator theme in post-modern literature. Ahh, well….

                        So my only contribution to the Outlander debate (apart from observing that the story is wildly implausible on internal rather than external grounds, tho who cares at the end of the day?) is that the story is from the perspective of Claire, and there’s no reason to believe that she’s transcribing events accurately. And maybe that’s how all these disparate ends tie up: the story is from her point of view, so *necessarily* incomplete slash incoherent.

                          Quote  Link

                        Report

                              • That book will do it. It’s written in what we used to call “high prose” but still clips along at a contemporary pace and feel. (Is that a snobby thing to say. Oh well). The writing is outstanding, the story is compelliing, the perspectieves on the oldest of all themes is facsinating.

                                One thing I loved about this book: it was feminist without the hammer. Like it was sophisticated feminism (for lack of a better word).

                                  Quote  Link

                                Report

                                • Adding to that comment: the writer of Circe exudes more talent in a single sentence that most pop writers have in entire books. No fucking lie.

                                  Now, I know that lots of people at this site don’t like me, but don’t let that get in the way of reading her (Madeline Miller) books. She’s ridiculously outstanding.

                                    Quote  Link

                                  Report

                                  • I’m the first to admit I don’t understand the culture of this site (really at all) and I’m starting to think I never will, but as far as I’m concerned you’ve been consistently nice and welcoming since day one.

                                    I really appreciate the book recommendation and also appreciate your reading my pieces and commenting upon them.

                                      Quote  Link

                                    Report

                                    • The thing about the culture of this site is that if you’re trying to plug into it, you’re gonna lose.* Not saying you’ve done that (on the contrary), but people here wanna read folks who aren’t trying to sell them something.

                                      Keeping on point tho, I’m an evangelist for Madeline Miller, dude.!!

                                      {{Really, she’s a ridiculously good writer…}}

                                      *And unfortunately that’s true of people who didn’t want to plug in. Jason K, for example.

                                        Quote  Link

                                      Report

                                      • To your aside: Jason K got tired of people (people who mostly aren’t still here) ad homineming him every time he wanted to say something. He’s still well part of the culture of the site, and will be even if he doesn’t write anything here, or comment directly, for a decade. Too many of us are paying sufficient attention to him for that not to be the case.

                                        (It’s also not the case that most people here don’t like you, . Though I think it may be part of the culture of the site to wrongly believe that most people here don’t like oneself, as I’ve heard almost every long-term commenter or participant – self included – express that opinion at one time or another. Some more than others.)

                                          Quote  Link

                                        Report

                                      • I’d think I’d rather eat broken glass than plug into the culture of this site. I have met some awfully nice people here, though.

                                        It’s fascinatingly disconcerting to be at this much of a loss after 2 years of relatively intensive OT study. Both peculiar and mesmerizing, which I suppose is why I keep coming back.

                                        I’m officially on the lookout for Madeline Miller books. Thanks again.

                                          Quote  Link

                                        Report

                                        • I can only offer you congrats on continuing to show up, and a willingness to keep posting given the uncertainty of audience reception.

                                          I mean, how good would you feel about yourself posting an essay which you *know* the audience would lap it up?

                                          As a necessary aside, I must remind you that *I* don’t write for the front page of the OT on a regular basis. Take from that what you will… !!!

                                            Quote  Link

                                          Report

              • Back in my boy days, I was at this party. A woman there met me, took one look at me, and said, “I can’t be around you. You remind me of someone.”

                Her boyfriend was super apologetic. In fact, he seemed embarrassed by her. I told him it wasn’t a problem. I understood.

                She couldn’t be around me. I reminded her of someone.

                  Quote  Link

                Report

                • Exactly.

                  I have found that sometimes that is worth working through, and sometimes it is not, but it is fishing hard work to work through. And sometimes it *cannot* be worked through, only mitigated or given up on. (And in a casual social situation with a stranger, as in your example, there’s no way to work on it… no existing leverage or context to push against it with.)

                  In the case of this story, I think it’s at least as hard on Clare as it is on Frank. They literally weren’t at a point in the history of psychology where they had much of a chance in hell of figuring out how to solve that particular problem, contextualize it, etc. Really it’s amazing they managed to raise a child together at all, if anything is implausible about book!version, it’s that things didn’t end up more fished up than they were….

                    Quote  Link

                  Report

                  • Yep.

                    Let me add, from her body language and tone of voice, I could sense it was something bad.

                    This was deep in my boy phase, way before I had much feminist insight, but even then I viscerally understood. Some things are bigger than my ego.

                    (Honestly, it worried me that her boyfriend wasn’t more sympathetic.)

                      Quote  Link

                    Report

  3. This was another really interesting read!

    Some disjointed thoughts

    My personal mostly evidence-free theory is that the whole men-from-Mars-women-from-Venus thing is very much overstated. There may something to it on average, but much less of a thing than it gets talked up to be.

    So, when it comes to men being more visual in their sexualities and women more about the shared journey and emotional connection – my suspicion is that while that might be true of the means, it’s not by that big a margin, and that there’s a whole lot of overlap in the bell curves. So of course opposite gender couples exist where the sexual chemistries are as you describe them here, but almost as many exist where they’re the reverse.

    Also the husband problem. Mmmhm. That resonates with me, and I’m a husband (and probably also a husband problem).

    Also too Wonders After Dark was awesome. Thanks for the reminder!

    Thinking of that story, and a number of themes from this review, puts me in mind if Catherynne Valente’s novel Palimpsest – it’s really mind blowingly awesome. The hyper condensed premise: gateway-between-works fantasy in which access to the magical world is a sexually transmitted addiction condition.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • Very much this. I feel like this is an important caveat for any of these kind of Mars/Venus ‘women are like this and men like that’ pieces.

      I seldom recognize myself in the description of how women are supposed to be and while I have come to accept that I’m okay despite not being a ‘normal’ woman, there was a ton baggage to get past from a childhood spent in the Bible belt, where ‘not normal’ is often condemned as ‘unnatural’. (And yes, even though I’m cis gendered and het, I was very much in the category of sinful unnatural females who weren’t properly submissive and pure).

      That said, I’m as prone to fantasy as anyone, so sure I can look Jason Momoa half dressed in Aquaman and think “If I was Mera…” But there’s where I can insert myself into romance-ish heroine: when she’s smart, kickass, and falls for the guy b/c she comes to recognize him as her equal.

        Quote  Link

      Report

  4. Our opinions diverge a bit on this one, Kristen!

    I really enjoy the Outlander series. Granted, it took me a long time to get into the first book, some of the story lines are very eye-rolly, and most of the 7 or 8 books in the series could be 300-400 pages shorter, but I do get caught up in the story enough to keep me coming back. I even learned some history that somehow never made it on to my radar.

    Both main characters suffer from the “impossibly perfect” syndrome. When they do highlight supposed flaws, they are things like “oh that darn Jamie, he’s always putting himself in danger to save others!” i.e., things that really aren’t flaws at all. Kind of like being at a job interview and answering the question “what’s your biggest flaw?” with “I’m a workaholic and a perfectionist.”

    I also really like the show. When I first started watching it I thought the actor playing Jamie was just all wrong for the part, but he grew on me. And the show stays fairly faithful to the book, which I like.

    There is one more book coming out, but Gabaldon seems to be a student of the George R.R. Martin school of “let them wait forever and hope I don’t die first.”

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • I do want to get back to the show again. I think I could end up really enjoying it (if I wasn’t watching it with my mother in law sitting there, LOL)

      Someday I may wade my way through the second book. I’ve heard from a few people that it really picks up after that. (especially Gabaldon survives to write the final book!)

      Thanks as always for your comment.

        Quote  Link

      Report

  5. I enjoy the show, though I haven’t seen the latest season.

    Sure, the idea that her husband could turn out to be a bad guy is really improbable, much more so than time traveling via ancient druidic stones, because all husbands are really great and wonderful people. All of them. ^_^

    I also note that the flow of time in the past and present was structured so as not to create a major cougar angle. “OMG Jamie, you’re still young! It’s like Culloden happened last week!”

    But as a guy, my main issue was that she returned to the past without enough mid-20th century firepower to equip SEAL Team 6. “Claire, you just came from a future that has guns that would allow one man to wipe out an entire brigade of redcoats, and you didn’t even think to bring me one…”

    Another possible plot: After returning to the 20th century and becoming a surgeon, she talks to a select group of friends about a high-risk/high-reward investment strategy, and converts their pool of capital into gold bars. Then she fanatically researches every London Stock Exchange record from the mid-1700’s to 1960. She takes the gold back in time and, with Jamie’s help, sets up a variety of financial instruments with detailed buy-sell instructions and a mechanism whereby they can regain control of the investment fund in the 20th century. Thus they become richer than JK Rowling and Queen Elizabeth combined and live happily ever after. Sure, it’s pretty much the sports almanac angle from Back to the Future II, but much more highbrow because it’s British investment firms.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  6. I recall reading that Jim Morrison went around telling interviewers that his parents were dead when in fact they outlived him.
    But the image of the solitary, brooding poet/ mystic/ rebel outlaw, shorn of the mundane network of family was too delicious to pass up, in fact, was demanded by his fans whether they knew it or not.

    Fantasies not only allow us to conveniently jettison the mundane world we live in, they allow us to shed our selves, or at least the parts of ourselves that we aren’t too fond of.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  7. I am torn on this piece.

    On one hand, I agree wrt the books. I couldn’t get into them. The show however, at least the episodes I’ve seen which is small-ish subset of the series, struck me as good primarily for how it played to the female gaze. A lot of shows are oriented to the male gaze – to showing female bodies from the standpoint of attraction/desire – but Outlander really let us view Jamie as an object of desire, not because he was a good guy or heroic or whatever, but because he was *hot*.

    I mean, you say:

    Men are visual.

    Ok, I’m kidding, It’s way more than that, of course. I think maybe a better way to put it is that for women, romantic fantasy is greater than the sum of its parts, and for men, it’s mostly about the parts and not so much the sum.

    To which I reply: “Jamie Frasier. Your argument is invalid.” ;)

    But as I said below, maybe it’s just me. I have never fit the stereotypes of how women (supposedly) think/feel/act. I find a lot of porn laughably silly to the point where I feel like it would be better if they skipped the ridiculous ‘plot’ and just went straight to the sex. But then, depending on the writing, I also don’t find sex stuff boring or gross (50 Shades type stuff would definitely be an exception since personally I find sadism/dominance the opposite of sexy).

    However, I think you’re right about THP, at least in the sense that when real life is exhausting and you’re overwhelmed by demands of kids and work and ‘to do’ lists, romances can be a ‘Calgone take me away!’ thing. Although in my experience when the kids were little demanding, I did not need hubby to create a ‘romantic scenario’ – if the situation arose where we had a decent span of time to become ‘quivering body parts’ we were like teenagers who’d snuck out for a clandestine assignation. If that means we skipped dusting or laundry? Oh well… In fact, ‘skip the laundry, I’d rather have you than folded shirts’ is really all the romance I needed. lol

    Which isn’t to say there weren’t a lot of times when one or both of us was just too tired. Everyone in a marriage or any long term relationship deals with that. If it’s on-going a bit of escapism can help. In fact, a lot of couples find sharing such things helps, which I think may be why HBO’s Game of Thrones is so popular with married couples.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • When writing a piece I want to be about a certain thing (in this case, the husband problem and romance as an escape from real life) I’m trying to compress a lot of very complex thought processes to communicate an idea or set of ideas that most people are familiar with. Most people have heard the “men are visual” thing (meant as a joke BTW), most people have heard of “Mars and Venus” so I used those trite, narrow and overused terms to get across a body of thought that people were already aware of…that there are some inherent gender based differences between men and women. Not because I feel that those terms are all encompassing, always true, or universal in every case, etc but because I wanted to set the stage and get people’s heads to a certain place to talk about what I wanted to actually talk about without having to waste several paragraphs on redefining a concept that most people are already entirely aware of.

      I’m trying to produce streamlined, readable pieces and not a diary entry about all my thoughts on a particular topic. So even though I realize and agree there’s a wide swath of normal human sexual behavior and experiences with a huge amount of cross- and inter- gender crossover, I have to pick a lane in order to sort of set the stage to bring up what I intended to talk about in the first place.

      I get this criticism a lot on here (when I use a known and fairly stereotypical quantity/argument as a shortcut to express a lot of thoughts rather than spell them all out in a piece) but when I don’t use those shortcuts, I find my pieces are too long and too all over the place instead of being focused on the element(s) that I intended to discuss. While it irritates me whenever my pieces are less “perfect” than they should be and receive (deserved) criticism, I’m trying to be more succinct and to the point than some of my other pieces have been in the past.

      I appreciate the criticism, I agree with it, and hitting the balance between being concise and avoiding trite terms in my writing is something I’m working on.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • I get what you were trying to do, it’s just that after spending my formative, teen and young adult years being told I’m ‘unnatural’ for not fitting the prevailing stereotypes of how women are supposed to be/think/feel/act, I have an ingrained reaction to ‘women are like this’ things that don’t apply to me.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • I understand and I’m sorry. I should have tried harder not to take shortcuts. I’ll try to do better on that in the future.

          That having been said, the divergence, mostly along gender lines, in comments in this thread actually illustrate much more closely than any silly “Mars-Venus” type of thing what I was really driving at.

          This was meant to be a fairly lighthearted piece that did not delve quite so deeply into issues of sexuality so I shorthanded it (again, apologies for that). But many of the posts have been totally indicative of exactly what I’m talking about. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better demonstration.

          The disparity of expectation, who deserves what and when, who is owed what and when has been one of the defining problems of my life. It has ruined a lot of otherwise good things for me.

            Quote  Link

          Report

    • You’re right, but it’s all I know how to do!

      It’s just like that one cartoon character in that thing and they were totally one dimensional and their one dimensionality revealed not only their unforgivable personal failings but also the miserable cultural limitations of their entire social strata!

        Quote  Link

      Report

  8. I didn’t read the books but enjoy the show.

    I like how there is an implicit acknowledgement of one of the absurdities of romantic fantasy, which is the connection between romance and wealth.

    As with almost every time travel yarn, Claire doesn’t drop in and spend the rest of her life as a serving wench or wife of a peasant farmer and dying of consumption at 45. She magically ends up rubbing shoulders with kings and queens and even George Washington, and then in the current season, bucolic idyll.

    But, the show demonstrates that the fabulous wealth of the Europeans nobility and Americans is extracted with remarkable cruelty and injustice by the very people we have come to like and admire.

    By implication, it draws attention to how our romantic or sexual fantasies always seem entwined with circumstances that objectify other people as props for our own gratification.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  9. I was thinking last night about the Husband Problem, and how / whether / to what extent that experience manifests itself differently in our polyamorous context vs. a monogamous one. Didn’t make it into my comment then as the thoughts were even less than half formed.

    There is the possibility of having the thrill of a new paramour or fling, without the Husband having to be removed from the picture. Which can reinject some excitement in the relationship with the Husband.

    The plural of spouse is spice – but that too probably wears off to some extent, and the Husband Problem becomes the Husbands Problem. (I say probably because I’m not the one with spice, I am one of the spice).

    I don’t read romance novels much, so the fact that I haven’t encountered any where polyamory is a thing, might not mean much at all. I’m going to guess though that romance novels are not all that far off other artistic depictions of romance though – relatively monogamous & hetero-normative, as with movies and pop songs and the rest of it.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • Being somewhat disassociated from popular culture in 2019 (and having been somewhat disassociated from it for at least a decade), I’m not sure how much discussion of the poly thing that there is out there in the wild.

      Back in the 90’s, of course, we had the soundtrack to 10 Things I Hate About You that has Joan Armatrading’s “The Weakness In Me” featured prominently.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6a8MRbHf5pA

      But, seriously, that’s it. That’s all I can think of.

      I go back through other examples of multiple people having sex with multiple people in pop culture and those are pretty much all “open relationship” kinda things rather than “many loves” kinda things. Bowfinger, Afterglow, LA Story… it’s about being okay with having sex with a lot of people but it being limited to funsies. (Infidelity and overcoming the bad feelings associated with it have no end of examples in pop culture.)

      Even when someone is in love with two people, it’s a story about picking which one.

      Has anything changed with that in the last 10 years?

        Quote  Link

      Report

        • Healthy, functional polyamory doesn’t make for great fiction because there is not any drama. It is the same reason why level headed monogamous couples that clearly communicate are rare to. Cheating and non-functional polyamory or monogamy are great for fiction because it has so many ways drama can be created. Healthy polyamory is at best, a schedule conflict to writers like having one kid in the band and another kid playing sports at the same time.

            Quote  Link

          Report

              • I suspect it’s mostly because poly is rather subcultural. Mainstream audiences wouldn’t get it.

                That said, there is plenty of space for narrative conflict. Heck, I could turn a few real life episodes into stories, if I still had the writing bug. But going from real-life tgirl poly drama to television? We’re lucky if they’ll put any trans folks on TV, nevermind something current and accurate.

                (And yes I’ve seen Pose. It’s cool and I’m glad it exists, but it’s nothing like my life.)

                (Plus I’m doing a monogamous thing now, but that’s been drama free so far. It would make a pretty boring show.)

                  Quote  Link

                Report

              • I think the problem is the type of drama. I suspect polyamory creates basically the same amount and type of drama as any other normal relationship, except probably somewhat more (As there are more people interacting.)

                But just like drama rarely centers around a perfectly normal monogamous relationship, it’s not going to center around a perfectly normal polyamorous relationship. No one (Outside of fanfic.) cares about normal relationship drama. No one cares about who is feeling a bit annoyed at how their partner(s) aren’t receptive enough to their concerns, or the stuff that causes stress in normal relationships.

                What sort of relationship drama people want is ‘Huge love stories’, with people actually finding the right person, and at that point the story is mostly over. Which…I don’t know, for some reason fiction doesn’t want to go there with polyamory. Probably because having it as an option would remove some of the problems?

                You know, if I ever somehow end up writing a TV show, I’d polyamorous-bait. (I guess that’s a term.) Or, actually, I’d pretend to bait, but actually do it. I’d do a love triangle with the people all interested in each other, get the fans all riled up with them shipping their OT3 and looking for evidence, pretend I didn’t know what the fans were all talking about, that clearly two of them were going to hook up and the third would be left out…and then I’d just do it, have the three enter into a polyamorous relationship, and watch the fans all freakout.

                  Quote  Link

                Report

                  • And now for some reason I’m thinking of a poly version of You’re the Worst, except with three very broken people instead of two. (Well, four, but two in a relationship.) The show that actually _is_ about relationship drama, but it’s drama created because…the characters are really bad at being people, even when they want to be.

                    Of course, this is, uh, probably not the best way to introduce poly relationships to the general public.

                    I honestly think what might be needed here is to pull a ‘Will and Grace’. Have one person who’s the stereotype and in random relationships where they’re a lot of drama and whatever the stereotypes exist for poly stuff (1) , and they exist mostly to distract from the main character, someone in a serious long-term poly relationship.

                    1) Honestly, I’ve read so much poly stuff in fanfic I’ve sorta forgotten what the general stereotypes are. Several of my major fandoms have very large and popular OT3s. I’ve written poly stuff.

                      Quote  Link

                    Report

                  • Heh. I know someone who has written ‘Jakeward’ fanfic.

                    I haven’t read them (Don’t really do Twilight, haven’t read it or even seen the movies.) So I’m not sure if it’s in _addition_ to either or both of them dating Bella, although the name ‘Jakeward’ just implies the two guys. But I’m sure there are plenty of Twilight poly fics…and now you’ve got me curious.

                    *checks AO3*

                    _24_ works tagged Jacob Black/Edward Cullen/Bella Swan? That’s all? Really? That seems really low for a community that, from what I understand, had a ship war.

                    *goes and checks in general*

                    Oh, huh. I didn’t realize that Twilight isn’t really that big at AO3. (Which could mean it’s not that big anymore, or just it’s generally located somewhere I don’t know.) That 24 is out of 7500 fics, so it’s like 0.3% poly. (Or, at least, that particular ship.) That’s…still pretty low.

                    Compared to, say, Harry Potter, which has 744 Hermione Granger/Harry Potter/Ron Weasley fics…but that’s out of 200,000. Which…also 0.3%. Well, rounds to 0.4% Huh. (And I checked a few other poly ships I’ve heard of, but none of them had more.)

                    On the other end of the spectrum, I read Leverage fics. Of the 6195 Leverage works at AO3, the poly relationship of Alec Hardison/Parker/Eliot Spencer is tagged in 1237 of them. 20%. It’s literally the most population relationship tag…by double the next one.

                      Quote  Link

                    Report

                    • I probably read anything Twilight anyway, it just struck me that a poly angle might make it slightly less terrible in that it would have one interesting element.

                      I’m not surprised at all wrt to Potterverse. I’m more of a Trekkie and after ST:2009 there were a ton of Spock/Kirk/Uhura fanfics, plus updated Spock/Kirk/McCoy and a few Spock/Kirk/McCoy/Uhura.

                      Personally, I always found it an interesting angle for Orions to be naturally polyamorous to the point of regarding monogamous pair-bonding as ‘kinky’. But if you want poly in scifi, Andorians and Denobulians are already canon (though the Denobulian version would be mind-bogglingly complicated to write).

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

                      • The Orville, captained by Seth McFarlane, has all kinds of fun coming up with strange new species and situations. In a recent episode a married member of a single-sex egg-laying all-male species became addicted to holodeck porn. A crewman from a gelatinous goo species had an affair with the ship’s doctor during an incident caused by a species whose profoundly strong mating pheromones had everybody hooking up with anything.

                        Seth goes places that Star Trek would never touch. ^_^

                          Quote  Link

                        Report

                        • I know! I love The Orville and have been watching from the start.

                          They haven’t hit polyamory yet (well, not quite – the dude with the pheromones who seduced both the Captain and XO came close) but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.

                          I have to say the show overall is fascinating. It goes places ST would never go (so far – Discovery has dealt with some pretty dark, untraditional for trek, stuff) but it also feels very true to Star Trek too. (Besides, you *know* if there were holodecks, they would be used for porn. That rings a lot more true than the sort of holodeck addiction TNG showed with Barclay).

                            Quote  Link

                          Report

                      • I’m sorta glad the shows didn’t go into Andorians, because the DS9 relaunch book later invented the four gender and how that worked…the only thing that was canon during Enterprise (The only show that really talked about Andorians.) was they ‘tended to marry in groups of four’ from a line in TNG. The DS9 relaunch, while inventing their fertility crisis, also invented the genders to go along with it. For those who don’t know, they have two different male-looking genders, each with a quarter of the DNA, who both fertilize someone of the female-looking gender who has the remaining half of the DNA, who in turn implants the fertilized egg in the last female-looking gender, who provides no DNA. (All the genders have names, I’m just too lazy to look them up.)

                        And Denobulians honestly almost seems like a parody of polygamy. Society _expects_ people to have three spouses? That is astonishingly large families. Plus…exactly three? No more, and hopefully no less?

                        Basically their sexuality was a ton of different ideas thrown into a blender, any of which would be interesting but when put together, was just…so big it couldn’t actually be addressed by the show.

                        I mean, ‘Denobulian don’t like to touch people they aren’t sexually intimate with, but are willing to be sexually intimate with quite a lot of people, and females are more sexually initiating’, could have been very interesting. Just, Phlox having to deal with random women touching him and reminding himself they are not all trying to seduce him.

                        Instead we get this giant infodump about this, and basically one episode where it mattered and one of Dr. Phlox’s wives showed up and hit on Trip and Trip got uncomfortable with the situation.

                          Quote  Link

                        Report

          • Yeah, it seems we’re very much not there yet with polyamory, to have characters who are poly but the main thing they do in the story is lose their job at the steel mill and hatch an unlikely plan to make money as a chippendale – as there is an incidentally gay character in The Full Monty.

            Heck, my phone keeps wanting me to write polyamide.

              Quote  Link

            Report

        • Lots of books. Especially but not only sffnal books. Many many many books. And some comic books too.

          There was / is a tv show that started in 2016, You Me Her. I’ve seen the first season, and it was entertaining enough as melodramas go. And there is explicit discussion of polyamory as a thing they are trying at some point in the first season.

          Definitely does not set poly up as something the protagonists are any *good* at, mind you,.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You_Me_Her

          The show Lost Girl, which ran for 5 seasons on Syfy, a) is not actually polyamory and b) the main character is literally a succubus, but she does spend quite a long time in a more or less stable V with her two primary partners both of whom are grudglingly respectful of each other. And the show establishes that picking between them is disastrous and cannot be done (as in she will die, and almost does when she tries). As you can imagine the HEA AU fic is proliferous.

          In the not-really-the-same-thing-Mormon-polygamists dept., there is also the nonfiction show Sister Wives.

          I think the stage we are at with polyamory in popular culture is mostly “special guest star” or “heavily implied but not clarified”? Thinking of stuff like having a throuple on Say Yes To the Dress, etc….

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • Makes sense that there would be more (anything) representation in books. There are just more books. Even a simple TV miniseries costs millions of dollars to produce, and optioning a book it’s not one of the major costs.

            I agree it’s likely nor at the point where someone’s poly relationship is just going to show up as a fact about them, like their job or their elderly basset hound or whatever.

              Quote  Link

            Report

          • I think the Crystal Gems are kinda sorta a “poly house,” even if they aren’t really sexual — but if we make allowances for “kids show,” it works.

            I have zero doubt the creators of the show are keen on queer “chosen family” models, along with a fair bit of poly awareness.

              Quote  Link

            Report

          • I thought of another poly TV show: Sense 8.

            First, Amanita’s mom and lovers are explicitly poly. Amanita doesn’t even know which of the men is her biological dad. Second, the cluster itself — although a few of them clearly pair off, there is still plenty of sexual “connection” among the rest (albeit metaphysically complicated).

              Quote  Link

            Report

            • That’s a good example. I haven’t watched that show yet because my hopes for it are so high. Which is keeping me from listening to further episodes of Charlie Jane Anders’ and Annalee Neuwitz’s podcast because I want to listen to the one about Sense 8 after I’ve watched the show and I want wanting to listen to the podcast to get me over my hesitance about watching the show…. it’s a loop.

              Speaking of metaphysically complicated, albeit in a far more petty way :P.

                Quote  Link

              Report

              • — It’s a pretty great show.

                One suggestion: the first episode is pretty choppy, in that it tries to introduce all eight characters, instead of spreading their introductions over several episodes. Also, it drifts into some surrealism, which turns out to be important later. In any case, it took me a few tries to get past the first episode into the meat of the show. It was worth the effort.

                That said, some of the writing is pretty terrible, being painfully Wachowskiesque. It’s still worth it.

                  Quote  Link

                Report

            • It’s formally, labeled, poly at this point.

              (Yes, I still read them. No, I strongly disrecommend other people read them.)

              But as I said above there are approximately 80,000 books with poly relationships, especially in the sff realms.

              It’s elsewhere that they are rarer.

              Oh, that does remind me though, of an oldie but goodie, Tanya Huff’s “Blood” series, which is explicitly poly in the books…. They made it into a TV show in 2007, but they de-queerified and de-polyfied the TV show. (As was common in 2007.)

                Quote  Link

              Report

      • The BSG prequel Caprica had a main character in a poly marriage — 3 or 4 each of male and female — that was treated as an incidental fact of that world. Sci-fi can do that sort of thing more easily than other genres.

          Quote  Link

        Report

    • My (very limited) experience has been that even if the Husband in question is supposedly supportive and seemingly into it, it’s still a Problem. Or quickly becomes one. So yeah I suspect this manifests differently in a monogamous relationship than one that is poly from the outset. A lot more stressors and expectations involved that lead to an unpredictable (well, maybe perfectly predictable) outcome.

      I’ve seen quite a few poly-ish plots come and go both in romance and in fantasy.

        Quote  Link

      Report

  10. Back in December, I was enjoying a burger at the little local college diner. I was having fun and talking with the kids behind the counter and the dishwasher came out from the back and I asked him about the D&D campaign he told me he was running and he said that he had some various problems when it came with creativity. I told him that he had to write every day. Start a blog!, I told him. Write every day. Creativity is a muscle!

    So, there I was, having fun talking to the kids, when a lady about 10-15 years older than I came up to me and asked if I were a professor at the little local liberal arts college. (What Maribou told me when I first told this story: “Did she know how to butter you up or what?”) I said that *I* wasn’t but talked about my wife for a bit. She then started a conversation with me about various everythings going on in the world. We talked about health care, the disintegration of social networks, and crochet. And during this conversation she kept touching me! JEEZ! She kept grabbing my hand. Putting her hand on mine, and whatnot. She said she wanted to teach me to crochet and asked me my favorite color. “Blue”, I told her. She came back with some greyscale yarn and taught me to crochet. And she kept touching my hands!

    (Note: She was attractive as hell.)

    I immediately went home and apologized to Maribou.

    It’s fun to fantasize about all kinds of things. But the second that an attractive woman who was not Maribou touched my hand, I started freaking out. Was she hitting on me? I dunno. (I asked the kids behind the counter if she was hitting on me the next week. They all said “I dunno!” and broke down the reasons why she might have been and the reasons she might not have been.)

    But *MAYBE* being hit on, in real life, was stressful. I kept thinking of Maribou.

    If you’re just having a fantasy, it’s just a fantasy. In my experience, the second something gets outside of merely being in your own head? It’s 100% the husband problem you describe above.

    So I’m trying to figure out why the husband problem is more intrusive for you and whether we’re both smack dab in the middle of our hump in our mode of the bimodal distribution we’re in or whether we’re just in different places on one curve.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • I’m a super big flirt so putting this reply into context here…

      One could make an argument that porn (which I assume most of us on this site are reasonably ok with) is kind of going outside of one’s head and bringing a third (or 3000th) person into a relationship. And some people do let that get out of hand, of course, and it disrupts the relationship.

      It gets a little blurred for me with some harmless flirting being the same as taking a fantasy to the next level while porn isn’t. (which, if you are saying you didn’t feel your personal situation was harmless and was worthy of apology, I accept that interpretation of course…but I feel like there’s a larger point you’re making and it’s that which I ~maybe~ quibble with)

      I feel it’s a little “having it both ways” for there to be one partner for whom exists a ten billion dollar industry servicing seemingly endless likes, wants, desires, and the other gets a copy of 50 Shades of Grey. And flirting is somehow more a violation or crossing of lines than porn is.

      But I’m a big flirt so I of course would see it that way.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • One could make an argument that porn (which I assume most of us on this site are reasonably ok with) is kind of going outside of one’s head and bringing a third (or 3000th) person into a relationship.

        That would be an interesting argument to wrestle with, were it made.

        It gets a little blurred for me with some harmless flirting being the same as taking a fantasy to the next level while porn isn’t. (which, if you are saying you didn’t feel your personal situation was harmless and was worthy of apology, I accept that interpretation of course…but I feel like there’s a larger point you’re making and it’s that which I ~maybe~ quibble with)

        Well, let’s open with Diogenes: “I only wish I could get rid of hunger by rubbing my belly.”

        For my situation at the diner, I have no problem with having fun (and even flirty!) conversations with people. It’s when they start touching me, putting their hands on mine, and then giving me presents in the same conversation that I feel like I had done something leaning toward the untoward.

        Did I feel like I had done something harmful? No. Not at all.
        Did I feel like I had done something that I’d better dang well tell Maribou about (lest it be something that I’m deliberately *NOT* telling her about)? Hell, Yes.

        Am I saying you shouldn’t be flirty? Not at all.
        But I hope you don’t touch other dudes’ hands and give them presents. They might misread that.
        Even taking into account (insert joke pornsite title* here).

        *I was thinking something like “BeerWenching” or “CakeSitters” dotcom jokes but thought that they might exist and didn’t want to google whether they did.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • Setting aside your personal situation, or mine, what I’m driving at is that there are plenty of people in relationships who are plain not allowed to talk to or interact with potential sexual partners even in passing because of their partner’s jealousy. I’m not talking about touching or giving presents, I’m talking about a great many people who are plain not allowed to talk to with half the planet without the express approval of their significant other.

          At least some of these people are simultaneously in relationships with significant others who consume an awful lot of pornography at the same exact time they make demands on their partners to curtail regular day to day interaction with anyone who might be a potential sex partner (trying really hard to avoid gender here, but IMO this is a strongly gender-linked issue).

          Sooo, when I read “it’s ok if it’s in your head, if it’s just a fantasy but when it enters the real world it’s an issue” I experience somewhat of a disconnect because porn is considered “fantasy” and yet it can have real world effects, and a person, particularly of the female variety talking to a stranger flirtatiously (or depending on one’s belief system, even talking to a potential sex partner at all, just in passing) for a couple minutes can be entirely fantasy and it’s over and done with and has no real world repercussions.

          And yet one thing seems to be deemed ok by most and the other thing doesn’t. Even though the thing that’s supposedly just fantasy has real world effects in many cases, and many times the thing that’s supposedly in the real world is a nothingburger.

          It gets a little blurry for me, that’s all.

          That’s obviously not what happened with you, but you seemed to be asking my opinion when you stated that the husband problem might be more intrusive for me and so I responded with the element of what you said that I felt I may have a different take on, to shed some light on that.

            Quote  Link

          Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *