The first fictional character I loved.
Well, this is going to be a bit of a nerd girl cliche, really, but when I was around nine, I fell in love with Aragorn. Most teen or preteen girls are getting those first all-consuming crushes on an actor, or maybe an animated character, someone whose face you can actually see. But not me. I crushed on a man whose face I would never see, a man who was nothing more than ink on paper.
It would never have worked out. We just came from two different worlds, and besides, there was the whole Arwen thing.
I’m not sure if it’s common for young women to fall for written characters or not. I do know it’s common for young girls to crush on ‘safe’ options though, their teachers, actors and musicians, so this is perhaps an extension. After all, what could be a more safe object for those first overwhelming feelings of romantic love than someone who doesn’t actually exist? Regardless of how common it was or not, I did it a fuck of a lot. Aragorn, Harry Potter, George from Tamara Pierces books about Alanna the female knight. I loved them with all the loyalty and fierceness I was capable of at that age. And the thing is, I could rely on them! They wouldn’t call me names, like real boys did, they were heroic, and handsome, and kind and good.
In terms of the development of my sexuality, I was pretty advan – I knew I was bisexual by around 12, though I was certain of it at 15 – but in terms of romantic ability and the ability to flirt and connect with actual, real people, I was kind of behind. I had boyfriends, most famously the older man I met at fifteen and stayed with for a year. He lived miles away from me, and in a way he was also a safe way for my utterly bewildered brain to play at being in love. Of course, it didn’t stop my heart shattering when he dumped me. But though I had boyfriends, I had no idea how relationships worked. I had no idea what was involved. This was an area books weren’t actually helping in, and I was lost. My diet of hyper-dramatic fantasy didn’t prepare me for what love, long term love, actually was.
I just didn’t know how to do it. I wish I could tell you there was some miracle that trained me into it, that I found a book that made it all clear, but in reality all it took was growing up a bit. Sadly for my husband, he was boyfriend during the two years I spent doing that, and he had a hell of a time dealing with my fiction-fed dramatic ideas of love.
So books can sometimes hurt, in some areas, but I think if someone is bright and self-aware they can (slowly) reject any bad lessons they’ve been taught by accident, and learn from experience. And in some, ways, expereince is better than fiction. You don’t see many happy, long-term relationships in fiction, because they’re dull.
A positive note for books in this ramble about romantic love though: They sure as hell taught me not to settle.