P.S. It’s still sexy.
After the wonderfully enthusiastic responses to my Fantasy Hive article on romance (read it here), I decided to dig a bit and see what else was out there to support science influencing a genre we love to love. My examples here are mainly romance specific, but it would be easy to spot them when romance comes up in any genre.
If, on the most rational level, we crave romance because of the chemicals it releases, are there more specific elements that influence our reading material? The accusation has been made for decades that romance is formulaic, and part of that is genre expectations, RWA standards that help guarantee the reader experience, and the three-act structure that fiction generally follows. Could there be more to the formula?
Dr. Monica Moore, a psychologist at Webster University in St. Louis, conducted extensive research on flirting techniques (2001;2002). The key discovery, and in our current society maybe the most surprising, was that attractiveness came far down the list of what made flirtation successful. If you’re blaming a lousy Tinder response on your pic, it may be time to point at least one finger at your bio.
Participants in the study who indicated their availability and confidence through basic flirting techniques like eye contact and smiles were the most successful, regardless of how others had rated their looks. Just signaling your interest in someone gets you halfway there – and this holds true equally for men and women. You can see how this might influence the abundance of ‘alpha’ heroes in romance. Before a single description of our hero/heroine hits the page, we like that they’re sure of winning.
But the most successful participants, among the ladies, were those who played hard to get – at least a little. Men responded to women who took their certainty of winning and stomped on it. Sound familiar? You probably don’t need to bust out a single book to think of an example.
For our gentleman, flirting was most effective when they directed frequent glances at their partner, and when they displayed physical social dominance. A chase, a duel or sword fight; a pummeling of the antagonist – again, anyone who’s cracked a cover or two will recognize this one. Even if the fight isn’t about our heroine, on some level it’s for her (or him, depending on your preferred themes).
So guys, now you have to work a little harder. Is it working at all? Dr. Moore says if your lady speaks smoothly and quickly in response to your banter, you’re likely in the door. Flip to any post-action, post-high stakes scene where our pair come back together. Read through the dialog in the following pages, heroine in particular. Witty, clever, challenging, or flirtatious, it’s probably also rapid-fire.
Okay, thanks for the test tubes and Rorschachs, but what about the Lizzies & Darcys of Romancelandia? Yep, they’re in her study, too. Signal Amplification Bias is what happens when we think our romantic overtures are loud and clear but we’re really the T-Mobile guy wandering around, circa 2002 with ‘Can you hear me now?’ These potential partners have to try harder, for longer, to get their point across.
Don’t let the small man behind the curtain ruin the Wizard of Romance for you. Knowing that there might be a sound, scientific reason for how romance works and why we love it makes it more genuine, and it puts us one step closer to eliminating hang-ups from in and out of the genre.
The science of falling in love is still falling in love.