You’ve all seen this trope before, in historicals and contemporaries and all subgenres in between. Our hero finally gets the heroine into bed—specifically, into his bed. It’s always a lovely room, whether it’s sleek and modern with floor-to-ceiling windows or a lushly furnished Victorian man-cave with fireplace and silk bed hangings. After the sex, or sometimes before, the heroine has an attack of the jealous, imagining all the other women whom he’s made monkeybacks with in the course of his journey from virgin youth to über-manly sexpert. And to soothe her jealousy he says, “You’re the first woman I’ve ever had in this bed.”
Am I the only one who finds this a little bit creepy?
I know what the trope is designed to do.
It’s supposed to mean: I, the hero, may have been around the block and down the street and even in the sewers a couple of times, sexually speaking, but this romance with you is Speshul, because you are a Speshul Snowflake Lady.
But here’s what it says to me, whenever I see it: I, the hero, have taken a Sharpie and drawn a big black line between my history of sexytimes and my emotions about women. You, the heroine, are not like those dozens and dozens and sometimes hundreds of other women, who were forgettable trollops not worthy of knowing the Real Me As Epitomized By My Fancy Bed. And now I am hoping to commit to you for the rest of my life, when I’ve never been in a grown-up emotional relationship before. I’m sure it will be easy because we love each other so much!
Hero, I do not trust you.
Yes, we want the hero and heroine’s relationship to be unique and powerful, because romances are about lifelong love on an epic scale. Here is Paul Simon, saying the same thing in a song lyric:
I know I’ve been in love before
and once or twice I’ve been on the floor
but I never loved no one the way that I love you.
See how easy that was? How sweet and romantic? He’s had sexytimes but he’s used his feeling-muscles too. This romance is more overwhelming than before, but we’re not precisely in terra incognita.
And I’ll give this trope a bit of a pass in historicals, since chances are that the hero’s been keeping his mistress in a different house, far away from his family, for reasons of gentlemanly hypocrisy. But really—a contemporary hero who hasn’t let a woman into his bedroom? Unless he’s a virgin hero, I’m not buying it. (Related note: let’s see more virgin heroes!)
But on the whole I am suspicious of heroes who take the line that all earlier women have been bitches or playthings—until you, honey! You’re my snookums!
It gives me the reader side-eye, and I secretly start whispering to the hero that she should get out of Dodge at the first opportunity.