‘A beefy caveman totes his trusty club over one shoulder while he drags an unconscious woman by the hair through the dregs’ in many ways sums up the nature of romantic relationships. For the caveman, he has proven himself worthy to the female with his prowess in her capture and presumably has a lair in which he can provide shelter and food for his new-found love. If the caveman is successful he will have many offspring from several such headache-induced seductions. While this is a distasteful method for finding romance there is an acceptance of this scenario as being the fundamental social building blocks from which we have evolved. The result being that the confrontational relationship between men and women does make for bountiful sexual tension and thus good romance.
Allow me to first assure everyone that no anthropological evidence exists that early man engaged in the practice of clubbing women to acquire them as mates. The notion of such behavior is traced to stories written sometime in the eighteen eighties. However, the popularity and acceptance of the idea that men ‘hunted’ women in prehistoric society is telling as to our own perceptions of the dynamics between the sexes. What is it that attracts us to the juicy story about the pirate who captures a noblewoman and falls for her, a wounded cowboy tended to by a gentle Indian woman that doesn’t trust him, or perhaps the small town preacher’s daughter who discovers her boyfriend is a blood-sucking vampire? All of these are ripe with conflict and would make appealing plots.
In telling an enticing tale of the heart there are two basic forms of conflict, social dominance and physical dominance. Social dominance serves as both hook and obstacle for the would be couple. The difference in social standing can be anything, a wealthy industrialist and animal rights activist, royalty and commoner, people from different nations or cultures, but in the end it is this difference that electrifies the situation into an engaging story and makes the characters memorable. The unique situation that divides them is what constitutes the satisfaction of their coming together.
The second form of conflict is physical. This is the more delicate to handle, however takes the drama to a higher level. The kidnapped woman is the most familiar incarnation of physical dominance. The reader may know that the abductor, who is behaving as an antagonist, has no intention of harming the damsel in distress, but it is her fear and uncertainty that acts to entertain the audience. The physical threat can also be less menacing and may appear as withheld assistance. The brave woodsman who refuses to guide a noblewoman through a forest fraught with danger unless she deigns to grant him a kiss, or the nurse that mends a fugitive’s gunshot wound only if he reveals why he wishes to return to his parent’s graves before turning himself in to the police are examples of such physical dominance.
These dynamics are the focus of my writing and it was the exploration of such relationships in my first book that made me aware of my fascination with this aspect of human interaction. Somewhere between the need to control members of the opposite sex and submit to them is the balance that defines love for each of us. Reading and writing about this journey to discover that balance among characters allows us to live that experience in ways we would not be able to on our own. In short, romance is drama and drama is conflict.
Michael Matthews Bongamon