Saturday, January 3, 2009

Swim Boys

10:00 am, the first Saturday of the month, so the mournful wail of the tornado sirens drifts over town. Dogs lift their heads to howl along. In the summer I'd be already outside in the garden. Instead, the January cold keeps us in. Wind gusting along the eaves. Only a test.

They were having a swim meet at the Rec Center this morning. Always a bad omen: yellow school buses in the parking lot. They cheerfully list the counties across Wyoming. Sweetwater. Fremont. Campbell. Former Governor Mike Sullivan called Wyoming a small town with very long streets. To have a sporting event, schools must compete against schools from across the state, not from across the city. Only a couple of towns have more than one high school. School buses in the parking lot mean kids swarming the weight machines, the walking/running track, traveling in packs to look cool on a visit to the "big city."

On Saturdays, the Rec Center opens at 8:00 am. We sleep in and head over there around eight o'clock. Saturdays is our treadmill workout. David and I like the side-by-side treadmills that overlook the pool through tall glass windows. During my twenty minute run, I watched the families assemble, settle into the bleachers and the steamy warmth. Not a bad place to be on a sere winter day.

Bleachers are the natural habitat of teenagers. While the adults perch uneasily on the hard plastic benches, the young men -- this meet seemed to be all young men -- sprawled. The accepted pose required at least three tiers: Feet on one, butt on the middle and elbows on the highest. An elegant laid-back pose, especially well adapted to being shirtless, which they all were. Little kings, they surveyed their territory with cocky athleticism, reclining so that all might admire them.

But I felt no admiration. I've never quite gotten the stories of the older woman and the teenage lover. These high school boys are no more attractive to me now than they were when I was in school myself. I think that for me it’s because attraction to a person is all about the personality and character, which are not yet formed in most of these guys. Sure we can talk about a man with nice hands or strong shoulders or intense eyes. But in the end, it’s about his presence. His manliness.

The romance authors talk about the alpha male. As the genre dabbles in other areas, growing and drifting into science fiction, mystery, thriller, even mainstream fiction, those who work in the field struggle to define the genre. One particular I see most often is there must be an alpha male. That and an “emotionally satisfying ending.” The Happily Ever After (HEA) is no longer a prerequisite. But the alpha male: a must.

Which is interesting because, biologically speaking, alpha males are the exception, not the rule. There is only one alpha male wolf in the pack. There is only one alpha stag in the herd. As females, is that our biological imperative – to seek out the alpha male and ignore all of the secondary bachelor males? Is that what romance is about, the animal drive and nothing else?

Perhaps there’s something else to look for in the man of our romantic dreams: someone between the unformed boy and the elusive alpha male. After all, in nature, the alpha leads for only a short time before he’s taken down by the young males waiting restlessly in the wings for their turn at the females.


  1. Happy Saturday, Jeffe. Nice post if I do say so myself, particularly your description of that ever-present species, the Jock-o-saurus.

    As a life-long fan of the younger man I can however, see your point. From my perspective it is not always about the bod, either, but about the youthful enthusiasm, energy, and perhaps the sunnier outlook that grows more - well, cynical is the word I'd use, I guess, but also more knowledgeable - that life is and can often be hard. BUT as for alpha males, there are actually a nice cross-section of Beta male characters around, too, including the Vicki Lewis Thompson Nerd series. But I believe that, just as romance is an escapist form of entertainment (and I mean that in the very best way possible, believe me!)so is the alpha male. The man who is utterly reliable, will always be there to aid you whether physically or emtoionally, and can be strong enough to protect you - because in this real world even when you are part of a great, wonderful team, don't you ever just have the fantasy that it would be nice to be utterly protected and cared for once in a while? I'm a feminist from way back, bra burnt and all, but I take complete care of myself and it is a wonderful daydream - and escape that I get from reading romance novels - that I can be cared for, for just that little while, in a perfect world.

  2. Hi Jeffe--I too am a Wyoming writer and blogger. It never would have crossed my mind to post a blog, but the Western Folklife Center invited my husband and me to blog about life on our ranch. We have been at it for more than two years, and I find it a great way to bear witness. Good luck with this. It feels odd at first, since you have to visualize your reader, who might be very different.


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