Tuesday, July 08, 2008

My Knight in Shining Armor

Sometimes, it’s really interesting to be married to a man who is more of a romantic than I am. I’ve actually always been quite skeptical of the idea that women are the romantic ones, men the practical ones. After all, who were the ones who for centuries were writing all that romantic literature and composing all that romantic music? Certainly not the women, who were too busy having to make sure everyone was fed and clothed in clean and mended clothing and that households were kept tidy and free of things like bugs and cobwebs while men dreamily wrote female characters who were sweet and beautiful and sexy, characters who never had to worry about the baby’s runny nose or varicose veins or whether or not her husband had yet again spent his entire paycheck at the pub, ignoring the six hungry children he’d sired.

This is not to say I’m not romantic. I’m nothing if I’m not an idealist. But I had an interesting conversation with my mother last time I was visiting her about Georgette Heyer. I’ve been intrigued by Heyer recently, mainly because quite a few of you have been writing about her, and I was reading Cousin Kate, my first ever Georgette Heyer, while I was visiting my parents (which for the record, my sister Lindsay tells me is not the one to read first, since it’s a rare Gothic romance, not one of the regencies for which she is so well-known. But where else would someone like me start if not with a Gothic one, even if not her best work?). My sisters and mother have always read Heyer, returning to her again and again for comfort reading, and my mother surprised me on this visit by saying, “I just don’t think you’re going to like her very much.” This was all the more surprising, because I hadn’t yet told her that, although I’d been enjoying Cousin Kate, it hadn’t quite been as captivating as I’d thought it would be.

Right now, I’m not feeling that Heyer (after reading only one of hers) is to romance what Margery Allingham (after reading only one of hers) is to mystery. Granted, I’m not much of a romance reader (okay, I’m not a romance reader at all, except for some chick lit writers – and I’m very picky about them -- or when I’m suffering from insomnia in the middle of the night and want something that won’t tax my brain too much) and never have been, but I couldn’t let my mother get away with that without asking her why. Her response was, “You’re just not all that romantic.” I immediately protested that I am. I consider myself to be quite romantic in the true sense of the word, not necessarily in the Hollywood sense, of course, but I’m someone who is all about the fullness of living and nature and experiencing everything as much as possible through all five senses. “Oh, I know,” my mother quickly agreed, “but not romantic in the sense that you ever expect men to come along and be saviors.”

Well, my hackles immediately lay themselves back down, because I knew she was absolutely right about that. If I were a character from a fairytale, I’d be the princess in the tower who would have broken an arm and a leg trying to escape on my own, because who else is going to save me if I don’t save myself? When my knight in shining armor finally arrived on the scene, I’d look up at him and say, “Well, it’s about time. If you hadn’t been so hell-bent on figuring out the answer to that Troll’s question and had taken the road over the other bridge, despite the fact that road is longer, you still would have gotten here sooner, and maybe my arm and leg would both still be in one piece. And look at you! You’re a mess. Can’t you see you need new boots? You’re about to wear a hole in the toes. Is that the only sword you’ve got?” Then I’d insist he take a shower and polish his armor and make sure he looked at least halfway decent when we went out to meet the adoring public, so glad their knight had found his princess. (You can see why I didn’t exactly have men lined up, knocking down my door for dates when I was single.)

This is not to say I’m not someone who has tears streaming down her cheeks, as I recently mentioned, when she reads Frances’s eighth-grade graduation scene in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. And it’s not to say that I don’t relish L’Morte d’Arthur when I read it, or that Wordsworth and Shelley leave me cold. It’s merely to say that I’m not exactly convinced that the average member of the opposite sex is any more competent than I.

Bob, on the other hand, strongly believes that as a man and my spouse, his job is to be my savior. Thus, whenever anything goes wrong in my life, he must try to fix it. He’s also extremely overprotective. Don’t ever hurt me and let him find out about it (in fact, don’t let him even think you might have hurt me in some way).

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that this sort of pairing would make a great movie, one that would have people howling with laughter. In real life, though, it’s only comical in retrospect. In real life, being someone who longs to be saved, who doesn’t want to do it all on her own, who believes her husband can truly save her, would probably be a much better thing for me to be with a husband like Bob. I’m way too skeptical ever just to let him come to my rescue, though, and he’s been hurt many a time by my rejection of his attempts to do so. The truth of the matter is that often I do need rescuing. I very often can’t see the best way out of a bad situation when he can. However, the flip side of that coin is that I very often am capable of rescuing myself, sometimes seeing the situation better than he does. And I am perfectly capable of confronting others when they’ve wronged me and then forgiving and forgetting. I don’t really need a personal body guard to fight my battles for me.

I’m thinking about doing a little experiment, though. Maybe I’m going to designate a certain number of problems to him for which I’m going to ask for his advice and then follow that advice exactly as he presents it. I’m going to squash all my natural tendencies to say, “Oh, that just won’t work or help because of (x, y, z),” and see if it really does. Maybe I’ll learn something. Maybe he’ll learn something. Maybe we’ll both learn something After all, isn’t that what marriage should be all about?

12 comments:

musingsfromthesofa said...

Ok, I'm adding 'Venetia' to your book pile. 'Cousin Kate' was really not the one to start with, but if you don't like Venetia, then Heyer is definitely not for you.

litlove said...

I know just what you mean - I don't like anyone questioning my competency, either. But I do like the idea of being rescued, although it doesn't happen. Having said all of that I think you would rather like Heyer because her heroines are so determined to rescue themselves and are not prepared to let men compromise their independence. I would recommend The Grand Sophy as the best place to start with Heyer, or even the less well-known Faro's Daughter. it's the grit and the feistiness of Heyer's female protagonists that I always really enjoyed.

Pete said...

I think I like the idea of the heroine who can save herself, but who lets the hero do a bit of saving too to make him feel useful. Never having been married I can't comment on what makes a good marriage (although I liked Maureen O'Dowd's comments on an Ideal Husband here).

Jordan said...

**laugh** I also have a Bob who wants to fix everything! But I'm not afraid to admit that he's ALL kinds of incompetent. But that's why I'm nuts about him.

ZoesMom said...

I think there's part of me that thinks I want a knight in shining armor, but I've never liked it when a boyfriend of mine was like that so I guess I really would rather rescue myself as well. My husband is over-protective, but he's not a problem solver. It's a good combo because he'll do whatever needs doing, but he won't try to "save" me. I can see how that would be a difficult situation for both parties. Keep us posted on your experiment!

Dorothy W. said...

Maybe it's good that you and Bob are together to check each other's inclinations and balance out a bit. I'm like you and can't stand the idea of wanting a man to save me, except, of course, that I expect Hobgoblin to save me all the time, like when I need to fix a flat tire quickly, for example, or every evening around dinner time. No, I'm not a mass of contradictions, really.

Emily Barton said...

MFS, oh good, another Heyer test subject.

Litlove, hmmm, and more Heyer test subjects...

Pete, love the Maureen Dowd article. Every twenty-something should read that one.

Jordan, why is it that incompetence can make a person so adorable (well, when it isn't making him or her completely frustrating)?

ZM, I will definitely keep you posted. Thus far, I haven't manged to let go and start it yet.

Dorr, oh yes, I would definitely like to have someone who would rescue me by fixing a fat tire quickly, and dinner's not a problem, but I do want someone who will call insurance agents/accountants/mechanics, etc. and deal with them for me.

somanybooksblog.com said...

OMG, are we twins? I am the same as you and my husband is just like Bob. He has this idea in his head that some things are his job because I shouldn't have to get dirty or possibly cause myself injury while trying to fix something no matter how capable I am. And when I talk to him about things at work he always tries to fix them and I am always stopping him and saying, I didn't tell you this because I want you to fix it, I told you because I wanted you to listen and by sympathetic. He's also the one that always thinks of hiding notes in my work bag or other places for me to find, thinks of buying me silly little presents or giving me a card or flowers just because. I love that he is so romantic and sometimes feel guilty that I don't think of doing those kinds of things for him.

Emily Barton said...

We have what's become a cliche in our house, "I don't need help; I just need a hug." Oh yes, and I often feel bad that I don't remember to do things like stick notes in his pockets when he's going away when I find little messages from him on my pillow.

Froshty said...

Emily, it's interesting that Cousin Kate was your first Georgette Heyer because it was mine, too. I picked it because at the time I read it, I think I was in the 9th grade, I was reading Victoria Holt. If you ever decide to read another Heyer, try False Colours. It's hilarious. Also, I think that, overall, most men want to be a savior. Lorenzo certainly wants to be mine, although he says he admires the fact that I don't sit around wringing my hands and crying when faced with a problem. Also, he's a huge romantic. All of his favorite songs are about love; my favorite song is about a man driving a train.

Susan said...

Can you hear the laughter from a little bit north of you? that's me, trying not to wake everyone as i read your post and nod my head. Independent doesn't even describe women like us! And my husband wants to protect me, too, which I love him for, even if he's not very good at it. My problem is I don't even let people know when I need help, something i am trying to work on! (I don't need help, I need someone with brains to assist me!!)

I've tried Georgette Heyer and can't get into why so many people like her - it's formulaic....do the heroines speak in partial sentences, or is that Barbara Cartland I'm thinking of (also read 2 of hers and never again)?

lovely post, and one of the things with marriage is letting our partner in to that secret place that no one else is allowed into (except best friends). Not easy to do for strong women even when we marry our princes.....keep us posted on your experiment, Emily!!

Emily Barton said...

Froshty, ahhh, it was YOU who read Cousin Kate (and perhaps recommended it to me at some point?). Funny, I thought it was Linser. It's quite obvious Lorenzo is romantic.

Susan, oh I'm awful about telling anyone I need help until I'm on the verge of collapse (or have a broken arm and leg). Life would be much easier if I could learn to ask for it a little more. You must be thinking of Barbara Cartland, because, at least in this book, Heyer's heroine did speak in full sentences.