Book boyfriends and Jamie Fraser…some lite research

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I’ve been seeing a term used a lot lately; it’s the term book boyfriends. There are polls, websites and blogs dedicated to the topic. In fact, one of my posts was used by an on-line book club to spark a discussion about alpha book boyfriends.

Evidently, there is an established criteria that male fictional characters are being measured against to establish their book boyfriend worthiness. Included in this criteria are characteristics such as strength, wit, fighting skills, looks, and virility.  The members of The Saucy Wenches Book Club were discussing the merits of their favorite book boyfriends and why each needed to be included in a list of top Alpha Book Boyfriends. Reading the bantering of the members was enlightening. One of the bones of contention was the idea that James Fraser, of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, might be too perfect to reign atop the ultimate alpha book boyfriend list!  If Jamie is too perfect, he’s my kind of too perfect!  These “flaws” that people love in their book boyfriends make for interesting reading, but do not equate to desirable qualities in a good real-life relationship.  In fact, take my advice as an old woman with a 38 yr. marriage under her belt, should you encounter a man with some of these “interesting” flaws, run. run like hell!  There seems to be a difference in what women want in real-life and….Hmmmmm…..

This discussion piqued my curiosity and I wanted to know more!  I started googling book boyfriends.  There were pages of links to the words’ use, but curiously enough, I couldn’t find a definition.  Thinking that I must be mistaken, I googled again. Nope!  Even the urban dictionary lacked a definition for this phenomenon.  Well, I thought to myself, SOMEBODY is missing out on some interesting social research!  Now, I know falling in love with fictional characters isn’t new, but has it ever been studied?  I mean, we know they’re not real, right? Right!  And yet, the feelings they inspire are real. At least…while I’m reading..and Fangirling with my like-minded friends. Seriously, if someone had just walked into the room during one of these sessions, I’m pretty sure they would think we were all lusting after a real man. Hmmmm….interesting.

So… I googled, “why do we fall in love with fictional characters?”.  I found that there seems to be a couple of trains of thought:

  • Women who fall in love with fictional characters are unhappy with themselves and their own lives.
  • We desire the kind of love the character offers.

I’m not sure I’m too happy about either of those options. So, I set about to find evidence to disprove the idea that the reason I love James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser is because I’m some desperately unhappy woman with low-self-esteem and an unrealistic idea of love and relationships!  There had to be another explanation. There are too many of us out there who would appear to be highly functioning, relatively happy women with okay self-esteem who love book-boyfriends! Soooooo,…… Let the “lite” research begin!

THE FINDINGS

One of the first articles I came across was written by a Yahoo contributor named Kyra Lennon. Back in August of 2010, she wrote an article exploring her love for J.K. Rowlings character Sirius Black. She had come to the conclusion that her love for Sirius was just an, “Extension of my love of J.K. Rowlings writing skills.”  Whoo hoo! I liked this!  It’s Diana’s fault! If she wasn’t so damn skilled at writing three dimensional characters, I wouldn’t have an issue!  My love for Jamie is just a natural progression fueled by my appreciation of Diana’s writing skills.  Sigh…..nope…still wishing I was Claire.  Damn….and that rationale sounded all “intellectual” and everything!

Ms. Lennon went on to add that she thought the “fantasy” for women was that these male characters could be perfect. “They will never disappoint or hurt us and they’ll be there when we need them”. She added she felt loving fictional men was okay, as long as it isn’t an obsession.  Obsession. Well, there’s a term I’ll need to clarify!

NEXT

I found a WIKI page entitled, “How to Cope with Being in Love with a Fictional Character”.  It didn’t take me long to realize these people were serious! This was REAL advice for those who found themselves obsessed with someone who wasn’t real.  The article pointed out that loving a fictional character can cause you to disconnect with real-life and judge others harshly because you are focusing on perfection. They deemed this to be unhealthy and encouraged people to “fall out” of love. (ya’ think?) The very serious wake-up call for their readers who were seeking help was to understand that the character they are in love with…can’t love them back.  Wow.

AND

Uh..oh…a response to a fan written by Karen Moning, the author of the Fever Series, and creator of Jericho Barrons some serious book boyfriend material.  He is one of those seriously flawed, but totally readable and sexy characters that many women love to love. Ms. Moning seems to be aware that some fans have difficulty keeping reality and fantasy separate and warns us to, “not pretend they are real”.  Women who compare real men to fictional men have,” expectations that are way too high”.  Not, sure I agree. Oh, I’m okay with the don’t pretend they are real part, but what defines way too high?  If she means the whole idea of a man who never smells, burps or forgets to take out the garbage, etc. then okay, but what’s wrong with aspiration and emulation? What’s wrong with having standards? Good is good!  I’m not so sure some men couldn’t learn some things from fictional characters! Nobody is perfect, but don’t we all want to grow and become better versions of ourselves?  I know good when I see it, fictional or real!

….and…

Debra Montieth wrote an article in 2009 asking the question, “Why do women love fictional characters?” Her conclusion? How could they not?  Most fictional heroes are affectionate, beautiful, perfect lovers, listeners, protectors, sensitive and faithful. What’s not to love? This would appear to support the whole “women will get unrealistic expectations theory”, but she was like all, “so what”!  I liked her.

A GENERAL CONSENSUS

Many of the articles I found agreed that engaging in a relationship with a fictional character can be healthy not harmful. They pointed out that getting away from everyday life and real relationships for a bit is a good thing.  They point out that a little escapism never hurt anybody. But,….there’s always a but…they all warned that women need to be on guard against obsession. There’s that word again!

TO TELL THE TRUTH

To tell you the truth, I didn’t find a lot. I found lists of the top book boyfriends extolling the afore mentioned criteria, but not any serious research.

I found articles on why women love bad boys. That might correlate. Being able to love a bad boy on the page would be much easier and safer than loving one in real-life.

I did find one item of real research entitled, “Research of Mass Media Effects on Individuals and Society” by Mary Lou Galician, 2009.  It wasn’t directly aimed at book boyfriends or the women who read them, but it did have some things to say in general about romanticism and it helped me clarify obsession.

The author points out that at the obsessive extreme, ” romantic relationships are a form of addiction”.  This obsession results in, “disabling attachment filled with anxiety, fantasy,and over dependence”.  She labels this as , ” false love syndrome” which is mythical and stereotypical .  Real love she points out is about shared goals and commitment. Real love is “productive, enlarging and joyful” .  Good things to know.

I GUESS I HAVE TO GUESS

Due to a lack of documented research or my ability to find it, I have come to the conclusion I have to make a hypotheses.  My best guess based on my experience and observation.

WHY I LOVE JAMMF

I guess I do kinda blame Diana.  She didn’t write a romance. Instead, she wrote a love story. As a result, she created a character with character and substance.  Jamie isn’t a book boyfriend. No, rather, I find him to be as close to the real thing, a man, as I’ve ever read.  He isn’t perfect, but he does exemplify a man with values, integrity and the ability to love.  I believe Ms. Gabaladon has written a character worthy of my admiration. I recognize a good thing when I see it!  I know he isn’t real and I know he doesn’t love me back.  But, I do think he is a man worth emulating and I think men could do far worse than learn a thing or two from Jamie Fraser.

I’m not unhappy with my life, but I do enjoy the escape from the everyday Ms. Gabaldon’s books offer.  I think it’s ok to live In her world for awhile. After all, she does .  I find it healthy.  It challenges me mentally and emotionally.  However, I am on the look out for the obsession part! I laughingly say I’m obsessed, but I am still able to reign it back and function.

I’m sure there are woman out there desperately unhappy and looking for an unrealistic love.  But, most of the women I know understand the difference between fictional and real. And, sometimes the fantasy helps when real life sucks. If you want to know what I really think of James Fraser read my article on this site called “He’s a Man and That’s No Small Thing” http://wp.me/p4mtBT-41. It’s the one used for back-up info in the alpha book boy friend contest.