I was reading American Love Story and rolling my eyes at all the people calling it YA when something compelled me to try to find romance books with heroes like me. Sexually inexperienced, sexually awkward, or just inept in the world of lust and romance in general.
I was thoroughly enjoying American Love Story, and I vowed to never take anybody seriously that calls any bit of writing, "YA." I’ll live and die on this hill, that anybody, professional critic or not, has absolutely no idea what a young adult book is, so they call something young adult when they personally don’t like something.
In all of the romance books I’ve read, the MC’s are naturally skilled in the bedroom. This is, after all, a romance book, so that’s the thrill. That’s the journey, to have sex vicariously through someone that’s both scintillating and sweet. I’m obviously oversimplifying the journey here, a romance book is so much more than just a sex experience. It’s a way for people like me to live out our happily ever after with some of our wildest fantasies, or our sweetest fantasies. Romance books also allow other people to see, and understand, love stories that aren’t their own lived experiences. All the same, and even though romance is a diverse genre anyway, I had an exceptionally hard time finding books with romance protagonists like me. The kids would call me, cringy, but I personally think we need more cringe in romance books as much as I hate that word.
I scoured high and low on the vast internets only to find this starting point by Lovely audiobooks talking about protagonists that are awkward. I’m always hungry for more people like me on the page, because then, not only can I add it to my books to understand me collection, but I can point to something and say this is basically what I go through. Get this. Read this to understand me. Read this to live inside my world for a few hours.
I believe this is partially why I just immediately gravitated to the Kiss Quotient. It made me feel seen in a way no other romance book has ever done. Even though I’m neurotypical, that book spoke to me on such a powerfully understanding level I begged everybody to read it, even if they didn’t want to read it. I’m kidding, but all the same, the book sang to me in a breath of companionship, and I wanted to find more books that featured myself on the page, anxious sexually inept heroes. We deserve our happily ever after as well. I’ve often heard that if you can’t find something you want to read then write it yourself. I’m doing that, certainly, but until more books of mine get published or noticed, I’d like to know that I can read about an insecure hero and know that there’s space for us too. We can co-exist alongside the mainstream heroes.
I don’t know how this idea of having, ahem, cringey, characters in books manifested to be bad things all the time. Many people automatically dislike a book because the character comes off as, ahem, cringey. I fully stand by what I said. We need more cringe in romance books, not less of it. By getting people to read about an experience that’s different from theirs, maybe they will eventually learn that this sudden understanding they are afraid of and don’t want to have, is empathy.
Romance is a beautiful way to understand each other. We need more stories that are different from us because there’s nothing wrong with understanding where we’ve all traversed before. Love and relationships are such a timeless experience, filled with so many variations, that we can’t hide uniqueness’s away, nor should we want to. Romance can show us more about ourselves and each other than we could possibly imagine. In order to have romance continue to work it’s magic, we need to root for the protagonist that’s nothing like us.