In last Friday’s post, I talked about 3 offputting behaviors of male love interest. Here are three more things that tend to crop up in paranormal romance and YA that make male love interest much harder to love.
One day he’s head over heels for her, and the next he won’t give her the time of day. He stares at he for an entire class period and then storms out as soon as the bell rings. He declares his undying love for her and then vanishes for a week without calling. This gives the impresson that either he’s indecisive and totally oblivious to her feelings, or that he’s actively manipulating her. Even if you know that he’s only acting this way because he’s having vampire/werewolf/zombie-unicorn-space-pirate problems, in-universe most of the characters don’t. The goal is to make him seem unattainable and mysterious. The result is that he looks like a flake.
The hot-and-cold love interest is usually a tool for driving the tension by making it unclear whether he’s into the MC. Focus on ways to create uncertainty while also giving him a measure of consistency. Figure out what his baseline is when the heroine isn’t around. Then think about more subtle ways that he can signal his interest that leave room for interpretation. Another way to go about this is to focus on the development of the relationship, rather than constantly thwarting their attempts to communicate their undying love for one another. Since the characters don’t actually know each other that well, this is a good place to create subtext and to build up genuine chemistry between the characters, working towards the moment that they realize they’re into each other.
Justifying Creepiness with Phsyical Attraction
As Dr. Nerdlove expertly explains, creepiness has a lot to do with boundaries. We have different boundaries for different people, which is why it’s not weird when your mom asks for a hug, but it is weird if the dude you just met on the supermarket checkout line does the same thing. It’s reasonable for the MC to make certain allowances for her crush. However, there’s a limit. If his actions are constantly inapropriate to their relationship that’s a sign that something is amiss, and it begins to look fishy when the heroine doesn’t notice.
With disturbing frequency, the heroine tolerates creepiness because she is physically attracted to the love interest. Sometimes her friends intervene. Sometimes she kicks herself over the fact that she’s still following him around like a lost puppy. But it almost always boils down to, “I should leave him, but he’s soooo hot.” This doesn’t cut it, and after a while it starts to strain willing suspension of disbelief. Attractiveness doesn’t negate creepiness. More so, when the narrative tries to act like physical attraction/true love/rippling biceps keeps her hanging around in spite of the way he treats her, this usually makes it look like the guy’s personality is a total wash, and that the only thing about him that’s worthwhile is his body.
Making him more attractive doesn’t make him less weird. Set up a relationship which has reasonable boundaries and think about what lengths the average (straight, allosexual) girl would go to for a set of abs. (Hint: its not that far.) Also, work on making deeper personal connections and giving him a good personality that fits with—not justifies, not ‘is wholly disconnected from’—his behaviors. This makes them easier to accept as a normal part of who he is, while also making it clear why she doesn’t jut leave.
His Behavior is Treated as if it was Acceptable
Not only do these behaviors tend to make the love interest creepy and unapproachable, but the fact that the heroine blatantly ignores the the blazing warning sign over this guy’s head reflects poorly on her. At best, she’s really naive (which can be made to work in a high school setting if you’re actively aware of this). At worst, she’s desperate and socially inept—and not in a way that most readers will find endearing. Moreover, the fact that she ignores these warning signs and is rewarded with a hot, devoted boyfriend sends a message to readers that they aren’t really warning signs at all. A guy ignores you for days and keeps secrets from you? Sounds like boyfriend material.
A failure to treat his offputting behaviors as, well, offputting also creates a sense of dissonance. Readers will notice that something if off. If the text continues to insist that this isn’t the case in spite of what they’ve seen, this doesn’t make the behavior less creepy. If anything, it makes the text appear more permissive of the behavior and causes it to stand out more. Refusing to acknowledge the behavior means that the guy can’t apologize for crossing boundaries or stop to make sure that what he’d done was okay.
Glossing over unsettling boyfriend behaviors generally happens when the writer is either afraid that readers will realize how strange things are if they call attention to it, or isn’t themself aware that the guy comes off as creepy.
In the first case, the solution is to address the problem, either by removing the uncomfortable behaviors or acknowledging and resolving them within the scope of the story (in other words, treating his lack of boundaries and poor social calibration as a relationship problem). If plot or characterization don’t allow you to alter his behavior, consider altering hers. Realistically, how would your heroine react to someone treating her this way? Think about her personality. Think about her friends, and whether they would intervene. Think about what she would do when she realizes that something is amiss. More so, think about whether she would actually pursue a relationship with someone who treated her this way, and if she did, what compromises she would require of him to make things work.
Not sure if your love interest is creepy? Ask your readers. If you can’t tell on your own, or if you’re afraid that you might be so taken with your own character that you can’t see all of his flaws, that’s okay. Find a couple of beta readers who you trust to give you honest feedback, and let them know that you’re focusing on character relationships. Don’t just look at whether or not they like the relationship, but also pay close attention to why they feel that way.
Another good litmus test is to ask yourself, if a friend of yours told you that their significant other treated them this way, would it make you uncomfortable?
(Surprisingly, I cannot seem to find a good quiz or checklist for the love interest creep factor. I’m going to work on putting one together).