Just who’s selfish?

I have a Kindle, and I love it, and I download a lot of the free stuff. Many times, the story is worth about what I paid, but generally they’re not bad, and I give people a lot of credit for putting their stories out there for people to see, read, and critique. I’ve noticed that romances seem to dominate the Top 100 Free list, or at least come close, and many of these romances are “Christian” romances, and perhaps because of that, quite traditional in many gender roles.

What gets me, often, is the idea that the women have to give up stuff to be with the guy. I was reading a book called Sweet Baklava by Debby Mayne. It’s set in Florida, and features a large, loving Greek Christian family. I’m assuming they’re Greek Orthodox, but it’s never stated. The “odd woman out” is Paula, who’s carrying a torch for Nick, one of the Greek boys. Paula has put down roots in the hometown, including starting her own business, while Nick is in the Air Force and isn’t sure he wants to come and stay.

These are fine issues to deal with. Miscommunication and misdirection by Paula’s mother led Nick to think Paula was done with him. Paula assumed Nick was done with her when he joined the USAF with no warning. They’re still in love, but it’s hard to admit, and hard to find middle ground on what they want. Paula was raised by a single mother who bad-mouthed the father (possibly deserved, hard to say), who went from one job to another claiming she was never appreciated, and sometimes running away from home for days at a time, leaving Paula on her own. Most important, Paula’s mother would threaten to uproot her daughter and move, which she’d done once before, and this led to Paula’s dream of setting down roots.

Nick and Paula dance around, feint and parry, trying to find where they stand. Paula’s business grows, and she takes on help from women in Nick’s family. This is great, really. I love a strong, successful woman in a story. However, what kills me is that Paula comes to think she is selfish for wanting to stay in Tarpon Springs (yep) with her business.

Seriously?

Of course a permanent relationship requires sacrifice on both sides, some big and some small. So in this story, Paula decides to give up daily management of her business (true, she does not give up the business entirely; Nick’s cousins step in and up quickly to satisfactorily handle everything, which is perhaps more fantasy than almost anything else in the story) to marry Nick, who will remain in the USAF for a while. Nick gets everything, in a way of thinking: he gets the girl and he gets his career. Paula gets the man she loves, which I don’t mean to understate, but she also has to move to Texas, away from all her friends, deal with deployments, and deal with moving whenever the AF moves her husband to a new station. This is a lot for a woman who wanted little more out of life than love and roots in a town she came to adore.

So why is Paula selfish for wanting to stay in Tarpon Springs, yet Nick is not? I don’t mean to diss Nick, btw. He’s a decently drawn character, a guy who struggles between wanting to stay in Tarpon Springs to get the woman he loves versus his career in the military. In fact, he decides not to re-enlist, and tells Paula, but before he can put that into action, she makes her decision and he stays. I suppose because Nick was willing and at the point of giving up the USAF, that counts as his compromise or sacrifice.

I’m sorry to digress — my brother is in the USAF, a captain, and I’m very proud of him. He’s currently on his fourth deployment to the Persian Gulf. While his tour is not as long or arduous as the ground troops (God love those guys), it’s not easy. He’s limited to the AF base he’s on, he’s very busy, and it’s considered nice weather when the temperature stays around 105F. He went in July and will be there until February or close to. I have other relatives in the military as well, including a younger cousin in the Army who I know has had one or two tours in Iraq. I am not dismissing the military or its importance, believe me.

Still, it doesn’t seem fair. Does Nick’s career in the military outweigh Paula’s? Maybe. Not necessarily. Nick was considering not re-enlisting anyway, but it was a struggle. I’m sure it is. My brother’s been up against that a couple of times, and he’s opted to stay in, in part because, well, he has a job. Who can blame him?

Yet Nick wants to marry Paula, a woman for whom stability is extremely important. Somehow, the love translates into her giving that up for him. I’d like to think if I loved someone enough, I could do that, too. Being a military spouse is not easy, but I’d hope that it’d be worth it on many levels.

I read another book, In Need of a Tow, by Vivian Vincent, and this same issue cropped up. It’s a fine book, and probably hits true notes with a lot of people. However, I kept disagreeing with the heroine. When it came time to put up or shut up, I guess you could say, she said to herself, what am I doing trying to stay with the young business I created? That’s so selfish when he’s waiting for me. I’m thinking (shouting loudly in my head): No! No it is not selfish! It is not selfish to want to support yourself, and to tend to the business that you started! That’s a lot of self-confidence at risk there, not to mention money and energy. Why is that supposed to be something the woman can give up without a whole lot of fuss?

What would I have done with a story like this? I don’t know. Maybe there’s not a much better solution. Someone has to give up something, right? And it probably won’t ever be 50/50. Still, I don’t like how when the women have something going, it’s “selfish” of them to keep it.

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23 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Lady Falcon on October 24, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    I agree..it’s not selfish for a woman to want to keep her business. I can’t read any further if the heroine is not strong. It doesn’t mean she can’t have come from something horrible…it means she survived it and finds her way back to happiness. Like your heroine in “Horses in the City”. Read that last night for the first time…great story. But I do want to know what happens…sequel?

    I don’t necessarily agree someone has to give up something for love to win. You are right in that relationships take work and there is compromise involved but hopefully the compromises or things given up are made up for by what is gained. When the person in the relationship starts thinking of all they’ve given up then the relationship more often than not is doomed. Since all that is subjective to the people in the relationship its hard for any body else to put a value on the compromises.

    Having grown up as an AF “brat”, been active duty AF, an AF wife, and now part of a retired AF couple I have issues with the assumption that military families do not have stability. While I understand for the heroine of the book (I have not read the book) stability must have been represented by being in once place however, stability is also a subjective quality.

    Maybe I am confusing structure with stability…I don’t know. To me stability means you feel confident about the place you are in and you feel a part of something. You feel strong. (shrugging shoulders) Just my two cents.

    Reply

  2. Well, perhaps that was the lesson the woman needed to learn, that stability doesn’t necessarily mean being rooted to one spot. Still, there was a spot where she was saying “wasn’t that selfish?” when it came to the life she had built, and no, I don’t think it was.

    As I stated, this is a “Christian” romance, so perhaps it could only turn out this way, that the woman does this for the guy. The woman leaves her family, etc. (Please don’t make me quote scripture, it’s been so long since Catholic school. 😉 ) And I suppose that rubs me the wrong way.

    The guy seems to get credit for being willing to give things up, but it’s the woman who actually does it.

    Moving along, there’s no sequel to “Horses in the City” planned for the moment. So feel free to imagine your own. 😀

    Reply

  3. When I saw the movie Grease I had the same thought. Sandy had to change her identity to be with Danny. When I said that out loud to my aunt and cousin, who were with me when I watched it, they thought I was being silly. And they said that Danny also sacrificed. He also changed. But I couldn’t see what change they were talking about.

    Reply

  4. This is another very good example. Although I like Grease, I think it’s fun and the music is good, I agree that this is uneven. Danny *did* change a bit — he went from being the smart-assed delinquent to being a track star. However, this cost him nothing. He retained the respect of the T-Birds and earned the respect of others. Danny got points for becoming a “good boy.” Sandy had to be the “bad girl.” Why his good boy was okay and her good girl was not, I don’t know.

    Reply

  5. Posted by blue on October 24, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    i think this goes back to that mindset that women are homemakers and men the breadwinners of the family. Men having the main income earning salary and the women, if ever, having only supplemental incomes – I think that’s how Christians still view it…As you’ve pointed out these are “Christian” romances maybe that’s why women get to sacrifice a lot than men.

    Having said that, it doesn’t mean I agree with this kind of setting…for me, a relationship should have equality between partners and practicality should come in especially in this economy…kinda unromantic but that’s how I view it…

    Reply

    • You are probably right, and I agree with you. There should be equality in a relationship, but that equality is not going to be an exact 50/50 split of feelings, or household tasks or anything like that. I’m okay with that, really. Not everyone “needs” as much as their partner, or they have different needs. And sometimes it will make sense for the woman to make that sacrifice. In this particular book, she had trusted and competent people to handle the day-to-day operation of her business, which took a certain edge off the decision. Not everyone has that to fall back on. And what she had to give up was not the business entirely, just being there all the time.

      I could only pull one example, but this is of course not limited to Christian romances. As I said, Ms. Vincent’s book had much the same occurrence happen; I believe the woman started an accounting firm, yet she determined she was “selfish” for wanting to stay there instead of going to/with her man. I disagree.

      Reply

  6. Posted by Lady Falcon on October 25, 2011 at 1:00 am

    Wow. Ok, I am a Christian. I just passed my 3rd anniversary of my baptism. I’m 39. A Christian woman does NOT have to relegate herself to being the homemaker or the secondary income. Eve, I can’t quote scripture off the top of my head either..at least not any that will support my POV, but, I also can’t quote any that won’t support it. Except to say in a traditional biblical relationship the man is considered the head of the family. But, and its a big but…his duty and privilege is to put his family’s needs above his own. Something somewhere in that book says you must leave your mother and father to cling to your spouse. Of course anybody can find anything in the bible to support their position no matter what that position is…interpretation is..lol…subjective. That must be my word of the day. 🙂

    In my first marriage when we (fiance and I) were talking to the chaplain (military preacher) I balked at the whole obey your wishes stuff in the vows from the bible. I wasn’t a Christian at the time although I certainly accepted and celebrated Christmas and Easter and knew generally speaking that they were the birth and death of Jesus. The chaplain only agreed to leave out that part of the ceremony after spending a whole hour trying to make me understand the meaning behind those words AND my future husband agreeing to leave it out. I almost put a stop to everything and went the notary route….the marriage was short lived…3 years. Should have known with that kind of start it wasn’t going anywhere. 🙂

    In thinking about it before I finally agreed to get married again after living together for nearly 3 years first…I realized my issues with the obey part were because I didn’t trust my husband to make the right decisions and to honor me (that honor part is in the vows as well…before the obey part). Trust is a key component.

    Would you say a submissive is weak because she or he chooses to submit to their Dom? Not at all…it takes trust and it appears to me a great deal of courage. I can’t imagine doing it. I don’t’ think I trust anyone on earth that much.

    In the end I think the best way to think of a good marriage is how in so many of the Were stories I read…the whole finding your mate and needing to do whatever it takes to make your mate happy… If both are equally honoring their partners that way then the obeying part is easy because nothing will be asked of you that you aren’t capable of or willing to do. That is a big if…I know. This to my understanding is exactly what the vows from the bible are trying to get across…both partners have to make the vow.

    I am blessed that my husband is someone I can trust to put the family first. Our children are always his first thought and since according to him..they need me more than him he has to keep me happy. lol Of course, I am a realist and know I am not capable of making the kind of money he can with his skills and that money does indeed make the world go round. Not to mention the fact that he is an amazing dad.

    As for my needs? One of my needs is to be the one everybody calls mom…..I got my first mom from a child not my own today! lol I’m so happy! Now, all I need is to see a live hockey game and do a little fantasizing and all will be right in my world. 😉

    Reply

    • Congratulations on your anniversary. 🙂

      Quoting the Bible is always dangerous — anyone smart enough can find a quote that will support just about anything, even the sinful acts we’re warned against. A friend of mine noted that most (or a lot of) Christians practice “Paulianity.” That is, they base a lot of things on the letters of St. Paul, which of course are believed to be divinely inspired, as opposed to just the words of Jesus. That’s a whole argument I’m not equipped to have, but it is in one of Paul’s epistles where you find that “wives obey your husbands” line that causes so many people grief, and which I did not use at my own wedding.

      I think what gets me is that in many books, at least the ones I read, it is the woman who gives up whatever. The man is almost always willing to, but it’s the woman that changes, or that gives up something. Yes, hopefully, whatever she gives up is made up for in what she receives.

      As for the dom/sub issue, that’s a tough one. I can’t imagine, either, giving control of myself to someone else. In fact, I can’t really imagine wanting to. Nor do I find much logic in the idea that giving oneself totally over is finding freedom. Yes, trust is involved, on both sides, but still — it doesn’t sit right with me. I wouldn’t judge anyone who has decided it is what works for them, but nor would I completely understand.

      Interesting that you bring up weres, because this issue pops up there, too. Almost always in the stories I’ve read, the man is the were and the woman is human (maybe a witch, but human I’d say 75% of the time or better), and again the woman is the one who usually has to give up her former, human life.

      It occurred to me, reading your comment, that I’ve avoided this a lot. In my tiger series, it’s not until the third book (All Too Human) that a were mates with a human, and in that case the woman is the were. There’s an unspoken rule that the man will keep the secret, but he does not have to give up his human life. I find I prefer to write stories where the humans and weres mix. In “The Hunted Key,” two women do mate with two male werewolves and become weres themselves, but they do not have to suddenly disappear and give up their lives. I guess I just don’t like that idea, be it weres or humans.

      Reply

      • Posted by Lady Falcon on October 25, 2011 at 4:08 pm

        On the Were issue….yes, most of the stories I read the male is the Were or “other” whatever, non-human…but, I tend to favorite the ones that don’t have to give up there whole human life to make things work. Sure they have to change their species but ya know whats a few genes when its love. lol…

        The most recent of my reads is the author JazCullen from lit…I found her accidentally on purpose and was obsessed for a couple weeks while I read everything she wrote in the order she submitted….now, I’m waiting impatiently for the next chapter. All that to say, her female heroines are exceedingly strong as are her men….she does an excellent job of working out the dynamics…some of her non-humans are male and some are female. Not all her couples have a human in the mix but the species are mixed…Were and Vampire for instance.

      • Posted by LL on October 25, 2011 at 4:17 pm

        I’m thinking that it is assumed that stories with weres are mostly being read by women. So by having the woman in the story be human, it might be easier for the women readers to identify with her and imagine themselves in the same situation. Maybe not giving the readers much credit for ability to empathize with a female were.

      • LL said: “Maybe not giving the readers much credit for ability to empathize with a female were.”

        Again, a good point. Which I find kind of funny because in my first three were stories, the women, aside from a couple of witches, were all weres. Humans didn’t figure in too much. My werewolf story, “The Hunted Key,” had a female protagonist, but that was because I was writing it sort of “in response” to a story I’d seen online with a female protagonist. I wanted mine to be human, but different than the one I’d read. I never thought about whether women could or couldn’t relate to a female were. Hmmm.

      • Posted by LL on October 25, 2011 at 6:08 pm

        I got the impression you were trying to write a good story, and figured that if it was good people would want to read it. Rather than write a cookie-cutter story just to sell books.

      • Posted by Lady Falcon on October 27, 2011 at 6:43 pm

        LL, I wrote that we made a conscious decision for me to be a stay at home mom during our daughter’s formative years. It was Eve that said her and her hubby’s were in part by default. But, even then, strong women as all of us writing in this blog are…well, we all have paid our dues in one way or another.

        But, I still like the way you word things. 🙂

      • Why, thanks. 🙂 That’s pretty much what I try to do all the time: write a story that people will enjoy. I rarely give much thought as to how any one person or gender will react to any one thing in my stories.

  7. Eve: “As for the dom/sub issue, that’s a tough one. I can’t imagine, either, giving control of myself to someone else. In fact, I can’t really imagine wanting to. Nor do I find much logic in the idea that giving oneself totally over is finding freedom. Yes, trust is involved, on both sides, but still — it doesn’t sit right with me. I wouldn’t judge anyone who has decided it is what works for them, but nor would I completely understand.”

    I think it is either wired into you or it’s not. And even if it is wired into you, the conditions still have to be right for it to express itself. If the stars never aligned right, you wouldn’t know if it was in you at all.

    ———-

    Back to the original discussion…

    I think that in the past relationships followed a prescribed set of roles. There was a strict division of labor, for the most part. So men and women were interdependent on each other. Ideally, each party would appreciate and value the contribution of the other party. And each would feel that their own role was important.

    Then things changed in our culture. It became ok to deviate from that particular division of labor. It became ok to negotiate a different set of roles between the 2 of you. However, there is room for a lot of confusion. We all have our own expectations, and can get disappointed or even resentful if the other person doesn’t meet them. And I think some people long for the simpler days when they knew exactly what they should be doing and what to expect their partner to do.

    My husband and I agreed to a more traditional set of roles. It does make things simpler. It is understood that doing the dishes is my job, for instance. So we don’t have issues like either of us trying to avoid doing them, or either of us resenting the other for not doing them. It’s my job, I do it, it’s done. He has his jobs that he does and they are done. No room for negative feelings. If for some reason I can’t do the dishes and ask him for help, he will do them, but it is understood that he helped me to do my work as a favor to me because it needed to be done. The same happens if he needs me to do one of his tasks.

    The only wrench in the works is that we have small children. That means for a few years, my job is way too much. But in the future, my job will be much much much less demanding. For him, his tasks remain roughly the same regardless. But at this time of life I have to ask him for help with my tasks more. In fact, some days my job is more than the 2 of us can handle, even both of us working our best.

    Reply

    • Well I think there’s no question that gender roles were pretty rigidly defined until recently, and by recently I mean within the last 50-100 years. And to some degree, that will always be there. Women bear children, and they are able to nurse — that’s just biology and aside from sci-fi books, I imagine those roles will stay in place for quite a while.

      Perhaps stories like this — the woman giving things up to stay with the guy — is what women want, or more specifically, what the writers and publishers *think* women want. Although I suppose really it’s a no-win situation. Have the woman “give up” for the man, and they get whapped for being too traditional; have it the other way and you get upbraided for being too feminist, too modern, too something, or the men for being too wimpy.

      In the particular story by Debby Mayne, the heroine’s decision is made much easier because two of her friends (also relatives of the hero) take jobs at her store and of course they immediately both grow the business and show their worth, enabling her to leave the business in their hands, albeit with some nervousness at first. Let’s face it, that’s about as fantastical as anything else in a romance, perhaps even more so than happily-ever-after (and I like my HEAs).

      Maybe I just wanted a little more realism. Not everyone will have that. Most likely, the the heroine would have had to either spend a lot more time finding people to run her business, or she would have had to sell it outright. And let’s not get into how it takes 3-5 years for a small business to turn a profit in normal times, let alone now (I don’t need *that* much realism).

      Reply

    • Posted by Lady Falcon on October 25, 2011 at 4:19 pm

      Great points and well said.

      My husband and I also choose the more traditional roles. I made a conscious decision upon agreeing to move in with him and then later marry. This is what I wanted and he, fortunately is able to earn enough money to support this choice. I know its not common and I feel very blessed to have this ability to be the mommy I envisioned myself being.

      Reply

      • We are also in the fairly traditional roles, although in part by default. My husband took a job, and so we moved. I intended to get another FT job after that but I a) got pregnant and b) the economy tanked. We’ve been very lucky that we can go without me working, although I do earn a little bit via telecommuting for my old office, and the e-book sales. I think this traditional arrangement is a bit more common than perhaps we’ve been led to believe. I see a lot of it in my neighborhood, but perhaps it’s just my neighborhood.

      • Posted by LL on October 25, 2011 at 6:06 pm

        Eve, I meet a ton of women who stay home with kids. Some of them do something for extra money, like sew or take in an extra child during the day.

      • Posted by LL on October 25, 2011 at 6:05 pm

        Lady Falcon, I like to take more credit for it, rather than chalking it up to luck. We made choices to get ourselves to a place where I could stay home. We make do with less money than we would have if I worked. Nobody waved a magic want and gave me this nice life. I paid my dues to get here.

  8. Posted by Lady Falcon on October 27, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    Eve said…”my first three were stories, the women, aside from a couple of witches, were all weres. Humans didn’t figure in too much. My werewolf story, “The Hunted Key,” had a female protagonist, but that was because I was writing it sort of “in response” to a story I’d seen online with a female protagonist. I wanted mine to be human, but different than the one I’d read.”

    These aren’t listed at Lit…are they in an e-book of yours? That I can buy? I don’t remember them if they were ever posted at Lit. But, if they were and I read them then I will remember as soon as I read the first sentence. 🙂

    Reply

  9. Lady Falcon — All Too Human is the third in the “Exiled” series, and was never posted online. The second book, Young Blood, was also not posted online. The Hunted Key was a separate book (and I hope a series but haven’t had time to work on it), and was posted but is now available, like the others, as an e-book via Republica Press, but also at Amazon and a few other places.

    Reply

  10. I have to agree with you. Why does the woman have to make a sacrifice at all? Why not have your business and your man too? Why does one negate the other?

    Reply

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