Love lessons from contemporary romance heroes

This is cross-posted at  The Season.

I’ve celebrated one Valentine’s Day in my entire life. One.

It was in 2003, and my boyfriend (now husband) and I had been together for three months. He hated the idea of a manufactured day of love, and tried to explain that he didn’t think love was about exchanging flowers and chocolates once a year.

But I was so excited to finally have a boyfriend on Valentine’s Day that I insisted we celebrate it. What a mistake.

We were living in Prague, in the Czech Republic, and since my husband is English I decided to get him some nice loose-leaf tea and a teapot. He’d been teaching me how to make the perfect cup of tea and had often mentioned that loose leaf was far better than the bagged stuff we could afford.

Finding loose-leaf tea was no problem. There are dozens of tea shops in Prague. Finding masculine teapots, on the other hand…impossible. I spent weeks scouring every tea shop I could find, only to see hundreds of ceramics decorated with pink polka-dots or kittens. My husband is 6’3. At the time, he was playing rugby for a Czech team. I couldn’t picture him pouring tea from a kitty pot.

I showed up at my favorite café (a concession he had made for me, since he would’ve much rather been in a pub) and handed over the gifts I’d gotten him: two small bags of tea leaves with nothing to brew them in. I’ve never seen a man look so confused.

Then he gave me my gift, and my heart sank. It was awesome: a hardcover book of black-and-white photos of Prague, so I’d always remember the city we fell in love in.

Since that Valentine’s Day when I was so significantly out-classed by my husband, I’ve come around to his way of thinking. We celebrate dates and occasions that mean something to us as a couple and ignore Valentine’s Day.

I often hear guys say they don’t understand the point of the day. They don’t know what women want from them. I started doing a bit of research for this post, skimming through my favorite contemporary romance novels to find examples of heroes who made a big romantic gesture that was perfect for their heroine. What I found instead were men who are more like my husband—displaying their love and devotion through actions that mean so much more than a one-off gesture.

Here are some of the most romantic moves a man can make.

1. He takes responsibility and removes some of the burden from his partner.

*sigh* Is there any romantic hero who can beat Jack Travis, Lisa Kleypas’s Smooth Talking Stranger? When Ella Varner shows up at his office holding her sister’s baby and insists he take a paternity test, he knows he can’t be the father. Even though he’s not little Luke’s dad, though, he helps Ella when she’s exhausted from taking care of the baby. He gives them a place to stay, builds a crib, buys toys, and even wakes up in the early morning to feed and play with Luke so Ella can sleep in. All this after Ella’s boyfriend practically breaks up with her because he doesn’t want to take responsibility for another man’s child.

2. He lets her set the pace if she needs to take things slowly.

Not all women want a relationship. For some of us (see my last post about my near-nervous-breakdown) there’s nothing more terrifying than discovering someone returns your feelings.

Autumn Adams, the heroine of Susan Donovan’s Knock Me Off My Feet, is one such woman. Her hero, Stacey Quinn, figures out early on that Audie’s the woman for him, but he also realizes that her parents set an awful example of marriage. Quinn’s patient and honest with Audie, and it’s only when she stubbornly persists in believing she’s unable to love anyone that he calls her bluff and gives her the space she needs in order to discover how much she loves him.

3. He respects her culture and beliefs, even if they make life a little more difficult for him.

Gabe Rossiter, from Naked Edge by Pamela Clare, is probably the most over-sexed hero I’ve ever read about. Rock climbing and casual sex are his two biggest hobbies. So when he meets Kat James, a Navajo woman who’s waiting to find her life-partner before having sex, he fights his attraction for her. As a mystery throws them together and Kat begins to explore her sexual side, Gabe expresses his deepening feelings for her in the biggest way he can—by respecting her boundaries. By the end of the novel, he makes an incredible sacrifice, and it has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with love and devotion.

4. He stands up for her, even if she doesn’t really need him to.

Minerva Dobbs is a smart, confident woman. She’s more than capable of standing up for herself. But when Cal Morrisey, the hero of Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me, goes to Min’s parents’ house for dinner one night, he watches her mother make comment after comment about Min’s weight. In one of the most awesome scenes ever written, Cal puts Min’s entire family in their place and lets them know she’s perfect.

If you’re with a man who doesn’t like celebrating Valentine’s Day, what are other ways he shows his love? Do you have a favorite Valentine’s Day story? Or do you prefer to ignore the day?

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