A Boy, a Girl, and a Bottle of Vodka

bar 2

Common wisdom says, if you’re looking for true love, don’t look in a bar.

You won’t find your future spouse in a watering hole. They’re for hook-ups, not good catches. People go to bars for looking for instant gratification, not happily ever after.

However.

My husband and I met at a bar. (Well, it was more of a pop-up soju tent in a vacant lot, but that’s another story for another time.)

And we’re not alone. The more couples I talk to, the more I realize how common our story is. Whether it was a college pub night or after-work cocktails, many of the couples I know first exchanged witty banter (or drunken compliments) in the womb-like atmosphere of a bar.

If you haven’t met your spouse yet, here’s why you should give up online dating and park yourself at your local pub:

Well, Aren’t You Looking Fine?

It’s a fact: Everyone looks better in a bar. No, it’s not about beer goggles. It’s about lighting. Low lighting creates an intimate atmosphere, but it also blurs those minor imperfections. In the dim, flickering cave-like atmosphere of a pub, Average Joe can start to look a lot more like Prince Charming. And if you give him a chance, he might sound like him, too.

Come a Little Closer

Bars are loud. If you want to have a conversation with someone, you have two options. A) Yell at the top of your lungs or B) move in close. Closer. So close your lips are almost touching his ear. And you probably have to lean up against him or put your hand of his shoulder. Now isn’t that cozy?

Let the Good Times Roll

Sure, some people head to a bar to drown their sorrows, but not most. After all, if oblivion is your aim, a liquor store will give you more bang for your buck. Most people go to a bar to socialize. They’re there to talk. Laugh. Have fun. They’re feeling positive and open to possibilities, ready to take a chance on something – or someone – new.

In a Word, Alcohol

Granted, the inhibition-lowering effects of excess consumption of alcohol have led to many a regretted one-night-stand. But having just a drink or two can make you relax and open up. Talk to a stranger. Laugh at his bad jokes. Tell a few of your own. Share things you usually don’t. Skip the small talk and get familiar, fast.

Who knows? You might discover your soulmate, like me. Or like Sherry and Alexi, the protagonists of my romantic suspense, Dance with Me. Their story starts with verbal sparring over a bottle of icy vodka and leads to so much more.

Yes, common wisdom says you won’t find love at a bar. But sometimes common wisdom is just plain stupid.

 

 

Sex: Two Very Different Positions

How’s that title for click bait? No, this is not an uber-abridged Kama Sutra. This is discussion of two different views of a tricky topic: Women seeking sexual satisfaction outside of marriage.

Shamelessly Hilarious

shameless

Shameless: How I Ditched the Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure and Somehow Got Home in Time to Cook Dinner, by Pamela Madsen, describes how the author – a married mom and fertility activist – experiences her sexual coming-of-age well into middle age.

Funny, using humor that often verges on slapstick, the author shares her journey to sexual fulfillment, from a sensual massage delivered with all the finesse of a meat tenderizer to eventual satisfaction at the hands of a gay sexual healer.

Fast Girls Finish Last

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In Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running from Madness, former Olympic runner Suzy Favor Hamilton reveals how a sexual adventure with her husband (with a lot of help from undiagnosed bipolar disorder) leads to her living a double life as a Vegas call girl.

An honest and dramatic memoir, Fast Girl details Suzy’s slide from All American people-pleasing good girl to the woman who all but abandons her husband and young daughter to lead a life of unrestrained hedonism.

Both books cover the same territory – women who transgress the norms of society and, with their husbands’ knowledge if not full approval, explore their sexuality outside of their marriage.

Both Pamela and Suzy – at least at first – are rewarded for their deviance.

Both women find freedom and release in their extra-marital explorations. They describe a feeling of finally being their true selves, of shucking off the shell of the expectations placed on them by others and revelling in pleasure. Sex empowers them.

And, naturally, both women are eventually punished.

Pamela Madsen is asked to leave the infertility foundation she created when her coworkers discover the pseudonymous blog she keeps detailing her adventures. And when a journalist reveals that high-ranking Vegas escort Kelly Lund and squeaky-clean motivational speaker/real estate entrepreneur Suzy Favor are one and the same, her carefully separated worlds collide in scandal and shame.

However the tone and the message of the two books couldn’t be more different.

Shameless is a comedy, both in the modern sense, as in, it’s laugh-out-loud funny, and in the Shakespearean sense, in that everyone lives happily ever after.

Shameless is also blatantly sex-positive. Madsen believes that despite her old life and career being shattered, her sexual explorations have led to both personal empowerment and a new purpose in life, that of a sexual activist. She wants to share what she’s learned with other women and encourage them to pursue pleasure without shame.

Fast Girl is a different story. While not a tragedy, it is definitely a drama, and a story of renunciation and redemption.

While Favor makes it clear that she has no problem with prostitution, she also states that the behavior she engaged in as a working girl was not her, but her disease. She, like Madsen, is an activist, but her focus is on the mental health issues that led her to pursue sex work, specifically bipolar disorder. Sex isn’t on the agenda.

Reading these very different, yet somehow similar books has left me with a lot of questions. Here are just a few:

Can consensual sexual exploration outside marriage ever be a good thing?

Why does society judge women’s sexual transgressions so much more harshly than men’s?

Does the sex industry benefit society in any way, and if so, why are women almost exclusively “product” rather than “consumer”?

And finally, which woman is “right”?

Is it Favor, who has rejected her life of sexual excess and become the (slightly tarnished) Good Girl again? Or is it Madsen, who has embraced her awakened sexuality without shame?

I would like the answer to be “both”. If the author of The Sex Myth is to be believed, however, it’s “neither”.

But that’s a story for another post. Watch this space!

 

Ditch the Bitch? Romance Is No Place for a Man’s Woman

Snow White and Rose Red

Question: Do romance writers have the responsibility to portray positive interactions and relationships between women in their books?

There are two reasons I’ve been thinking about this.

The first is a discussion the Goodreads Unapologetic Romance Readers have been having about the soccer romance novel, Kulti by Mariana Zapata. In the book, the female protagonist’s relationships with women seem to be superficial or openly antagonistic.

I don’t have a problem with this. I view it as in keeping with the character’s personality and history. Some of the other members disagree.

The second is the upcoming release of Dance with Me, my contemporary erotic romantic suspense (Whew! That’s a mouthful).

After I finished the first draft and, like a good little writer, let it sit for a month, I went back and reread. When I got to the end, I realized something. My protagonist, ambitious reporter Sherry Wilson-Wong, had no female friends. Not only that, but most of her interactions with other women were uncomfortable and/or hostile.

Huh, I thought. Do I need to change that?

I considered rewriting her friend and colleague, Peter, as a woman. I thought about rewriting her rival at work as a man, or changing her curmudgeonly but supportive boss to a woman. I even briefly toyed with the idea of shifting her difficult relationship with her mother onto the shoulders of her father.

In the end, I did none of these things.

Why not?

Because they didn’t feel authentic to the story or to who Sherry was as a character.

If I changed the dynamic of those relationships, I would have to change who Sherry was. And if I changed the personality of my heroine, I would have to change the choices she made. And if I changed her choices, well, I would have a completely different book.

When I write, my characters come to me fully formed, with insecurities and complicated histories intact. Do I, as their creator, have the ability to change them? Of course. But that is not the question I’m interested in. What I want to know is, should I?

As a writer and a feminist, is it my job to be pushing that feminist agenda when I create my characters?

Should I be writing about women who have healthy friendships with other women, who mentor and support, who don’t slut-shame or compete, who aren’t jealous and don’t sleep with other women’s husbands?

Or should I write about the characters who spring from my subconscious mind, flawed and conflicted and maybe just a little bit like someone you know?

What do you think?