Valentine’s Day is only a few days away, and I’m sure you’ve already made plans, especially if you read last year’s letter. Wonderful! I’m sure you’re going to have a lovely evening and probably a lovely weekend after that. I’m happy for you.
Some of you guys are just discovering or are about to discover that you’re dating erotic romance writers. You’re trying to figure out what to do with this information. You want to be good dates, and maybe good boyfriends, because you’re good men. You don’t want to be like the obnoxious jackasses your date’s probably already gone out with. This letter is for you guys.
Some of you are the obnoxious jackasses. This letter is for you, too.
The truth is that dating an erotic romance writer is just like dating anyone else. But there are five things you should keep in mind.
Bear in mind that your date may have a secret identity. I dream of a world where erotic romance writers needn’t worry about losing their jobs, bringing the wrong sort of attention to their families, or damaging their personal reputations or those of their loved ones. We don’t live in that world today, so many of us use pen names. People we trust know what those names are. Many of my colleagues have kept their pen names secret from their families for years and years. Those of us who need a separate identity may decide not to share it with you right away. Please do the decent thing and don’t push us to tell you a secret that protects the things and people we hold dear. If we’re okay with you knowing, we will volunteer to tell you when it’s time. Don’t ask what that name is. Don’t ask if it’s time yet, either.
Let her be the one to bring up That Book. I understand why you want to mention Fifty Shades of Grey. Your date writes erotic romance, and you want to have an intelligent conversation with her. You might think of Fifty Shades as an erotic romance (that’s not your fault; a lot of people think that), and you want to demonstrate that you have a working knowledge of the genre. She’s cool and smart and an awesome writer in an exciting field, and you want to pay her a compliment by comparing her work to something that’s a household word. But there’s a risk you take when you mention it. There are a handful of erotic romance writers who have read and enjoyed and admired Fifty Shades as a work of erotica or erotic romance. I know exactly one such person. A lot more of us are just a bit put out that strangers to our genre define our work in comparison to a poorly written Twilight knockoff, something that reads like a parody of a romance novel written by someone who has never read either a parody or a romance novel. A lot of us hate Fifty Shades, and we feel very, very strongly about it. So if you ask if we wish we’d written it, or if we actually did write something even remotely like it, or what we think of it, some of us might have a strong negative reaction from which you are unlikely to recover. Why take chances? Those people who don’t mind Fifty Shades won’t mind bringing it up first. Let them do it.
Let her be the one to mention research. Here’s the thing about research. I spent a long time researching neuroscience, pharmaceutical development and hormones to write my book, Illicit Impulse (plug plug plug). I could have used help to research that. My work in progress takes place in Jamaica, and I could have used a bit of research help when I was writing about resorts there. You probably do have some specialized expertise that could come in handy for your date’s research needs, and as you get to know each other, you will learn how, if at all, you’re going to fit in to her research plans. She’ll ask you when you get there. You need to accept that your date probably does not need to research sex. Chances are she’s had sex before. She knows what it feels like. She’s using her imagination to write the rest. She doesn’t need to personally experience the things she’s writing about in order to write about them, so for you to suggest that you can … heh heh … help her with the sexual part isn’t just vulgar. It’s kind of offensive to her as a writer. No one’s asked Shonda Rhimes if she needed to have an intense sexual affair with a sitting president to bring us Scandal, right?
If she does need sexual research, for some reason, she’s not going to ask you for it. She’s going to have that professional, impersonal conversation with someone she isn’t dating. I know that some of you think, for whatever reason, that (a) you are capable of providing your date with some transcendent sexual experience that will inform her writing for the rest of her career and (b) she is going to ask you for that transcendent experience across the dinner table immediately upon meeting you. There’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to blurt it out: Your penis, while I’m sure it is unique in its own way, is simply not that powerful. You’re on a date. You’re not in a porno.
Don’t ask if you’re going to be in the book. Your date works with a legion of purely imaginary people in her head, each of whom is headed for at least one book. She doesn’t need to put real people in the book. She does mention some real folks in the dedication and acknowledgments, sure, but that’s not the sort of thing we typically do for guys right away. The book will be around forever. Personally, I’d need to be at least that certain of you before I put you in the dedication or the acknowledgments. If I wanted to punish you for some misdeed or a shortcoming (see what I did there?), I wouldn’t respond by immortalizing you in print, but you should know that others are not so high-minded. Just be careful.
Excise the phrase “but you write erotica” from your vocabulary. I’m often surprised by the level of casual sexual vulgarity to which I and other single erotica writers are exposed. Sadly, some of you seem to believe that dating an erotica writer gives you carte blanche to unzip yourselves and skip dinner for the one-night stand. Somewhere along the way, you’ve gotten the idea that we are ready and willing to engage in whatever conduct you think we write about in lieu of dating. (I say “conduct you think we write about” because so few guys with this mindset have actually read erotic romance.) Your excuse for treating your date like a prostitute instead of the vibrant, talented lady she is? “But you write erotica.”
I need to be blunt with you again. It is possible for us to write erotica all day long and still refuse to meet you at a strip club, drive to your house for a videotaped threesome with another woman, or regale you with specifics from our sexual past. One thing has nothing to do with the others. You’re on a date. You’re not in a porno.
I know it’s hard to navigate through this minefield of negatives for possible conversation topics. It’s hard enough holding up a conversation with someone you really like, right? But this doesn’t have to be terribly difficult. If you must discuss the writing, do it in a way that keeps things impersonal and inoffensive.
Ask about the publishing business, for instance, instead of asking whether we make a lot of money doing this. Ask about genre trends, not whether we wish we’d written That Book. (Seriously, if you ask me whether I wish I’d written That Book, the date is over, my friend. Your date’s mileage may vary, but then again, it may not.) Ask when we started writing, not whether we’re writing about ourselves.
If you feel like you’re walking on eggshells, feel free to say so. Tell your awesome date that you’re afraid of offending her by saying or doing the wrong thing. Tell her you’d like to see her again and don’t want to jeopardize that with your carelessness. She’ll appreciate your honesty.
After all, erotic romance writers know a thing or two about romance.
Enjoy your dates, gentlemen. Happy Valentine’s Day!
All the best,