Melissa asked me to talk a little bit about a favorite romantic relationship I’d read lately because, well, she knows me and understands my love of all things romance. Her suggestion got me thinking though, and instead of talking about a specific romantic couple, I thought I’d talk about a particular type of romantic character. I am always in favor of a bad boy. Who isn’t? But bad boys, while often beautifully complex and unique in their own ways, are a dime a dozen in young adult, new adult, and urban fantasy/romance. The men I want to talk about today are far more elusive; rare personalities who openly defy label and convention and then take their rebellion one step further by laughing in the face of any who dare try to pigeonhole them. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to refer to them as Romantic Outliers (though they would threaten bodily harm for calling them such).
Upon first glance, one might mistakenly try to assign the Bad Boy label to a Romantic Outlier. It’s a common error as they are both often dark and brooding characters; their thoughts and motivations kept close to their chests as the air of power emanating from them ensures they cut an easy swath through those clamoring to be around them. There are several important key differences that mark a man as a Romantic Outlier rather than just a Bad Boy, however. Where Bad Boys are dangerous, Romantic Outliers are downright lethal. Where Bad Boys aim to wound emotionally or physically, Romantic Outliers aim to scar permanently, and whether that scar is left on someone close to them or the enemy is entirely irrelevant. Bad Boys are memorable, but Romantic Outliers erase the memory of every other person who came before them so they alone exist, unable to accept anything less than the totality of being the one and only.
Bad Boys often push our capacity for forgiveness to its very limit, using cruel words to keep those who would accept the risk of an emotional beating by trying to navigate their rocky shores away, but deep in the heart of their blackness lies vulnerability and a willingness (however small) to stray from the path they’re on if given a good enough reason. Over the course of a Bad Boy’s story, we often see them change; our innate desire to be the one person who knocks a Bad Boy off his axis and acts as a balm to soothe his damaged soul fully realized, if vicariously, through the character who steals his heart.
With a Romantic Outlier, it’s we who do the changing. They remain immovable, completely unapologetic and absolutely uncaring what we think of them because it frankly makes no difference in the grand scheme of their lives. They force us to alter our perception of them–to dig deeper and see what’s there, not simply what we want or hope to see in them–rather than rising to meet our lofty expectations, and we can practically feel their smugness as we struggle with the challenge. We read their stories with a magnifying glass attached to our faces, looking closely for even the barest of hint that they are the men we so desperately want them to be, and when they prove to us again and again that our romantic ideals have no business trying to adhere themselves to their person, we can’t help but find ourselves equal parts dismayed and perversely pleased that they’ve burst our bubble once more.
The Romantic Outlier might not sound romantic in the least for some; after all, who wants to love someone who for the most part couldn’t care less whether or not they have our love? But therein lies the attraction. We all want what we can’t have. Hope is a force to be reckoned with and can be a cruel mistress, keeping us flipping pages out of the sheer desire to prove that these men are more than what we’ve uncovered so far; that if we just keep digging we’ll find the evidence that our hope has not been grossly misplaced. It’s part of the fun. There’s an undoubtedly dark appeal in wondering if it’s the next chapter that will see them do the irredeemable; to cross a line that can’t be uncrossed. Or can it? Our ability to rationalize their actions–to excuse what they say or do in a way we might never have before them–can be startling yet oh-so fascinating, a testament to how much they’ve changed us, and just maybe, how much we craved change and simply needed a Romantic Outlier to show us the way.
If you’re curious about the Romantic Outlier, check out the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning and The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon. Barrons, Ryodan (Fever series) and Warden (The Bone Season) are all such stunning emotional and romantic challenges, and I can guarantee that love them or hate them, you will remember them forever.