I've been thinking, as I often do, about bad boys. I've read a few books in the recent past (I won't name them) that feature heroes of the type that generally make me swoon - the kind who are just shy of being villains. They're my favorites. But these unnamed books didn't work for me, and while it would have easy to blame the heroes for having leaned a little too far toward "villain" and not enough toward "hero," I came to a different conclusion. I think it was the heroines.
It takes a certain sort of heroine to make a really dubious, morally ambiguous hero appealing. A heroine who's not up to the challenge makes everyone look bad.
Think about it from another point of view. You know how sometimes you read a romance and end up thinking, "Man, any woman would be lucky to end up with this man - he is a keeper." I'm trying to think of a good example; maybe William Doyle in Joanna Bourne's The Forbidden Rose? He's just so solid and trustworthy and reliable and good. James in Judith Ivory's Sleeping Beauty? Harry Dresden?
You run across them in books and in life, too - good men who are just programmed, somehow, to do right by women. They're like the Type O-negative universal donor, one-size-fits-all hero. No matter who you pair them up with, they're awesome.
Bad boys are the exact opposite. They're more like the AB+, last size left on the sale rack because nobody fits it hero. Pretty much by definition, they have a history of treating women horribly. And we know (we do know this, right?) that it's not because all those other women were inferior or undeserving.
Bad boys can't just match up with anyone. They need their one perfect fit. Is it possible that's why they're so romantic?
One of the reasons why I loved Jennifer Ashley's The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie so much is because while I totally, totally fell for Lord Ian, I also knew that I would have been a horrible match for him. He needs the heroine, Beth Ackerley, who can put up with him at his worst and bring out his best qualities.
Or Karen Marie Moning's Fever books. If Barrons and Mac had hooked up at the beginning of the series, it would have been a disaster. He'd have chewed her up and spat her out. No romance to speak of. By the end of the series, however, they're an amazing couple. It's the transformation from the first books, where I rooted for Mac to keep a distance from Barrons, to the later books, when I was dying for them to hook up, that's amazing.
I think that's as far as I've come with this line of argument. The next step would be to start generalizing about the heroines, but I'm not sure if that's possible - if the idea is that bad boys require that "one perfect fit", then each heroine would have to defy generalization. In any case, I don't have any conclusions yet.
Maybe I just watched Red Sonja too many times as a child.