I’m not someone who spends a lot of time telling people about my feelings—although certain family members are usually well aware when I’m pissed off. But you know who generally spends even less time talking about their feelings than me? Men.
Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t men out there who openly share their thoughts and emotions with the people they’re close to. But most don’t, at least not often and, usually, not easily. I’ve read some works that suggest that this state of affairs is tied with our society’s views on masculinity: that a real man does, not feels; that manly men should be tough and stoic and bullet-biting and up-sucking (hey, that’s a phrase, right?). Childhood socialization undoubtedly plays a part: girls tend to play games that involve sharing and cooperative interaction, whereas boys are encouraged to play games that involve physical action and competition. Other factors may be involved as well.
Whatever the causes, in my experience few men—gay or straight—talk about their feelings very much, whether to women or to one another. When I read gay romances, one thing that never fails to pull me out of a story is when the two guys sit down (or lie down) and have a long, deep, carefully thought out discussion of how they feel. These scenes just ring false most of the time, especially when the characters are generally macho or taciturn types to begin with.
For example, I just cannot see the protagonists in my novel Good Boneshaving this kind of talk, at least not until their relationship is very well established. Neither of them is especially chatty, Dylan’s used to hiding things about himself and unused to intimate company, and Chris has some pretty major self-esteem and abandonment issues. When I was writing Good Bones, there were plenty of times I wished I could tie Dylan and Chris to chairs and not let them go until they were completely open and honest with another. I bet Kay would gladly tie them up for me. Ditto with Miner and Ennek in the Praesidium trilogy.
Instead, my characters and others have to show their feelings in more subtle ways. When Chris cooks dinner for the two of them, or when Dylan in wolf form pisses around Chris’s house, that says something about how they feel about one another. I think there are some really excellent authors who can convey a character’s emotions and thoughts with a good description of a body movement. Sometimes even what the characters don’t say can be very telling.
What do you think? Am I on the right track with this or totally off?
10 thoughts on “Feelings”
You know how I feel about this. I think this is one of the chief struggles of writing men. The temptation is always there to remove obstacles with communication, but in actuality some of the best conflict derives from the very real reticence to talk about feelings and relationships.
You’re right–it does make for a challenge to a writer sometimes, but I think it’s usually more rewarding to read.
I have no doubt that men experience a world of emotions, but I suspect most guys don’t obsess about them the way some women do. And I know that most men don’t enjoy dredging up their emotions in a discussion–even for the sake of their beloved. To me, one of the great appeals of gay romance novels is that the emotion can be more subterranean, more subtle, and therefore more intriguing. If I wanted a character emoting all over the place, I’d read het romance with an overly dramatic heroine. But that’s not my cup of tea.
I think subtle emotion can be more interesting to read, too. Feelings Talks tend to come across like a bunch of sort of weepy exposition, sometimes.
As a writer of M/M fiction I have learned the hard way that some readers seem to expect male characters to wallow in their feelings at every bump on life’s highway. Wallow in them in much the same way as a female character in a poorly written Harlequin romance might do.
Needless to say, these readers are wrong. Totally wrong. But you’ll never be able to convince them of their ignorance.
Not showing one’s feelings is also a cultural thing for men and women of certain backgrounds.
As authors, we have to learn to grin and bear it when someone leaves a one or two star review because the characters didn’t talk about their feelings.
Excellent points! I guess if readers want feeling-wallowing, they can get it somewhere else.
Itotallyagree. (My ipad apparently thinks that’s all one word) I’m related to some of the kindest, most generous and loving men walking the planet. ( do not EVER tell my brothers I said that. I will deny it to their faces :D) Not a one of them has ever told anyone, within my hearing, that they love them. Not me, my parents, their wives or kids.
When I was in my early twenties and had just broken up with my boyfriend of three years, my older brother called me and suggested I go over to his house for dinner and hang out with him and his wife for the weekend. We didn’t talk about the break up. We hung out, but that small gesture of offering me a place to lick my wounds could not be interpreted in any way other than that he cared that I was hurting. That’s how guys work, and that is how I try to write them. Most of my stories I end up going back and deleting about half the dialogue and replacing it with other stuff. But I do need to write the dialogue to figure out what the hell is going on their heads. But it doesn’t stay in the book, because that would be, well, wrong….lol
iPads have odd ideas of what constitutes a word.
Your brother’s gesture is an excellent example of how actions can tell us much more about emtional states than endless words.
I have known a few men who were introspective and willing to talk about their feelings on rare occassions, so I don’t necessarily call BS when I see this sort of thing in novels. But in general, I agree with you. On the other hand, I don’t think there are many women who are truely honest and open about their feelings, either. I think our culture limits expression of certain emotions, and while those limitations are a bit different for men and women, they still exist for both.
I think you did a good job of conveying your characters’ thoughts and feelings to the reader, even when the characters themselves were pretty clueless. Dylan’s and Chris’s miscommunications made sense to me.
Thanks for your comments! I agree-even women are constrained in which feelings we share and how. I’m really happy to know that you felt that Dylan’s and Chris’s thoughts were clear–although not to each other!
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