When I was in first grade, I was suddenly faced with the choice of what kind of man I was to become. So, without thinking about it too much, here it is: Luke Skywalker or Han Solo?
Soon after it was Bo or Luke. Not long before it was Starsky or Hutch, and not long before that it was Butch Cassidy or the Sundance Kid--okay, maybe I'm not quite old enough to have pondered some of those, but you get the idea. The fact that most of these pairings have a blond guy and a brown-haired (Come on, brunette is too...well. And blond isn't? It is, but "yellow-haired" guy is worse. It's complicated.) guy means that much of the choice has already been made before you get started. The rest happens at a level so deep in the subconscious that it takes a lot of soul-searching to work out where it comes from. I'll try not to think too much about the fact that I identified with the whiny, inexperienced, eventually-kinda-priestly kid who turned out to be the brother. Meanwhile, one of my best friends was taller, darker, more dangerous, and actually went to college to become a pilot. Well, there it is.
I'm starting to wonder, though, if all this time we've been asking the wrong question. Perhaps the question should have been not "Luke or Han?", but "Luke/Han or Bo/Luke?" Each of these pairings came from a single mind, which means that they may have more in common with each other than they do distinctions from one another. For example, Bo and Luke were much more into each other than they were in women. I don't mean gay, but the fact that the only woman on that show that most people remember had a particular fashion sense named for her is telling. Plus she was their first cousin. If I recall, Bo and Luke seemed as though they'd rather hang out with Cooter, even Enos, even Boss Hog than with any women at all. Contrast that to the fact that by the time we've known Leia for ten minutes, she's saving everyone's ass and bossing them around. The fact that Han and Luke both find this kind of a turn-on means that either would be a better choice than Bo or Luke.
Similarly, Leia would be a much better choice than her mother. Even in a gold bikini, Leia was a much better action hero than Padame, whose fighting credits include closing her eyes to shoot her gun, and getting precisely half of her shirt bitten off. And yet, to return to my thesis--assuming you're back from checking out those links--the fact that these women were born of the same author means that they have more in common than differences. Take for for example their peculiar speech-patterns. As Harrison Ford said, "George, you can type this shit, but you can't say it."
Which brings me to the reason that I've been thinking about all of this recently. I have been out of the dating business since 1991 and I haven't been tempted to tuck my pants into my socks and wave around carnival canes as lightsabers since the late-'70s. I'm thinking about this because The Hunger Games movie is coming out soon, and a whole new generation of young men (and women) are going to be faced with this dilemma.
SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't read The Hunger Games trilogy, you should probably do so now. The fact that they've been around since 2008 and you haven't gotten around to it means that you probably only needed my say-so to finally do it. I won't be giving away any major plot points, but I will knowledge that characters exist and that they do things. You've been warned. Also, I may mention Twilight. I but I haven't read any of those, so I probably won't ruin anything for you. Also Harry Potter, and Bloodsucking Fiends, and...wait, this blog's called The Slacker's Guide to School, and now there's a reading list?
I had planned to finish at least the first Twilight before writing this, but haven't yet been able to make it through the adverbs. Luckily, my wife pointed out that there is already lots of excellent Twilight analysis out there, for example here and here. Despite the criticisms it so richly deserves, the fact that Twilight is so successful is testament to the fact that Stephenie Meyers writes unquenchable desire really well. The primary focus of discussion surrounding Twilight shouldn't be Edward vs Jacob. It should be the terrible, unhealthy things a person can be capable of when desire becomes the all-encompassing drive in his/her life.
To call what Bella experiences a "crush" may be understating things a little, but it's as close as most of us have come. If you've ever had a crush, you know it's possible for the crush to take on a life of its own, divorced from the object of the crush. If you've ever had a crush turn into a relationship, you know that it is possible to still pine for the person you have a crush on while actually in the presence of the person you have a crush on. It's not that they fail to live up to your expectations, it's that your expectations have taken on a life of their own and a living, breathing person is a different experience altogether. Even if it's a good experience, it's different. The act of desiring something that you're already technically experiencing can leave you feeling like you're living in some kind of parallel universe.
Read Twilight if you must, but in my opinion a better vampire series is Christopher Moore's trilogy, which starts with Bloodsucking Fiends and also includes You Suck, and Bite Me. Come on, the titles alone have you tempted.
The male protagonist in these books is a beta male. Everyone knows about alpha males--evolved from the guys who were big and strong, and were therefore the best choice to go fight the galloping hoards and/or kill the caribou. Meanwhile, according to Christopher Moore, there was another kind of male (from which I very well may be descended). These guys stayed behind, tending the fires, caring for the children, singing songs, and generally providing company to the women in their loneliness and boredom. The fact that we are still around means that our genetic material did somehow manage to get passed down. Jodi, the exceedingly (I know that's an adverb, just...shhhh) hot protagonist in these books was never in a position to be tempted by Edward--clearly the alpha-vampire choice. However, the very existence of beta males in the gene pool means that we can't be 100% certain who she would choose if she could. Otherwise, guys would all be a lot more chiseled, and we probably wouldn't have so many comic books and video games in the world.
Which brings us, finally, to The Hunger Games. The remarkable thing about the male love-interests in The Hunger Games is that Katniss really can't make an entirely bad choice. Gale and Peeta aren't perfect, but every woman should have such men to choose from:
- Relationship began as a friendship and a partnership based on mutual respect
- Physically attractive to her
- Recognizes things that she does better than him (think hunting and survival skills, not housekeeping)
- Makes grave personal sacrifices for her family
- Is generally gracious and civilized, allowing her space to make her choice
- Interested in her, but not so overwhelmed by it to make things weird between them
- All of this, and still not gay
- Harbored a long-term unspoken and unrequited crush
- Managed to keep the crush from making things too weird between them
- Relationship began with a covert act of kindness
- Physically attractive (she at least recognizes that he is objectively attractive)
- Recognizes things she does better than he does (think moving stealthy and killing people, not...)
- Participates in acts of physical intimacy on her terms without taking advantage
- All of this, and still not gay
It reminds me of the romantic choices offered to the students at Hogwarts. To tell the truth, when J.K. got going on the it's-all-about-love sh...stuff I tended to make little gagging noises. However, Harry, Ron, or Cedric; Ginny (book version only, mind you), Hermione, or Cho--any combination of those people were could have been generally healthy choices (well, not the brother and sister, but you get the gist), based in friendship, mutual respect, and genuine attraction that went deeper than sparkly skin-tone. Harry Potter and The Hunger Games place romantic interests into a larger context of young people's lives, alongside their wide variety of interests and talents, in a world that is sorta just about to end.
Authors are not obligated to provide good dating choices in their works, but it's not a bad idea to analyze these choices anyway. For one thing, choosing one of these people (either to have or to be) is a much lower-stakes game than doing it in real life. Be careful, however, that there is a good choice to be had in the first place. In other words, if you're looking for a healthy relationship, make sure that you're in the right story before you go trying to find the right character.