Why Wealthy Heroes?

By Poison Ivy,

A male friend who aspires to write romance complains that most romance heroes, including our heroes at MyRomanceStory.com, are rich. And it is true; the majority of our heroes are business owners, or have high-powered careers, or come from inherited wealth. Sometimes our heroes have fortunes that they themselves built. Other times they manage the money or the business that their family owns. Some of our heroes are talents: they are chefs, singers, TV personalities, and the like. A number have professional careers such as lawyer or architect. Even our heroes who have fairly low-paying jobs such as a park ranger or a conservationist often have another financial ace in the hole like real estate profits or family money. But why?

One reason to make a hero rich is to show that he is ambitious or successful. Most of our heroes are comers, not slackers. They are men who have identified what they want to do in life and are doing it. Nothing describes a comer better or more succinctly than assets. The hero owns a business; that’s an asset. The hero has a successful career in television; that’s an asset. The hero has a track record of achievements; that’s an asset. Money simply is the easiest asset of all to describe.

The second and most compelling reason to make a hero rich is that women want rich men, again, because having money is a major definition of success. When little girls dream of a handsome prince coming to find Cinderella and marry her, they do not think about a prince whose castle needs repair or whose carriage is old and beat up. They are not looking for a loser. They think of a man who will give the heroine a better life than she already has. As a female friend just said, “Take me away from all this!” is the fantasy of the romance reader, and the purpose of the romance hero. A rich man can successfully rescue a heroine. Cinderella is rescued from a life of drudgery as an unpaid servant by her prince. The factory worker in the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman” is rescued from life in a small town with no prospects by her officer. Even Lady Diana Spencer was rescued from a life as an obscure member of the nobility by Prince Charles of England.

However, if you have noticed, lately there have been some media articles, including one in the New York Times entitled “Putting Money on the Table” citing a new situation in our country: Young women often out earning young men. A lot of young women have gotten good educations and advanced degrees and training, and are taking the world by storm. Many own their own businesses, and some even started them while they were teenagers, so they aren’t wet-behind-the-ears neophytes. These are competent women, confident women. They are achievers.

For a hero to be a match for this kind of woman, he has to be successful himself, sure of himself, ambitious himself. Otherwise, the situation is uncomfortable on both sides. Today’s young women want to throw their newfound money around, but their modest-income boyfriends either can’t match that style of spending or can’t handle the idea of a girlfriend who is richer than they are. So that’s a third reason to make our romance heroes rich. To avoid the awkward moment when it’s time to pay the restaurant check. Because awkward does not make for romance.

Given this situation, aren’t women and men changing their fantasies? No. They’re being raised the same as always. A young girl I know grew up wearing Disney princess outfits. A young boy I know plays video games every waking moment. Compare the two role players: Disney princesses tend to get rescued rather than be the rescuer. In video games, boys assume the hero’s role and try to kill vast numbers of bad guys, or they go on a quest to avenge the death of their father and save a helpless princess, and so on. So girls are being raised to dress in pink frilly outfits and wear pretend crowns, pretty much as they always have been. And wait for a rescuer. And boys are being raised on power fantasies, again as they always have been. And be the rescuer.

Despite all this gender role typing, a predictable percentage of adult young men want to become creative artists, or low-paid school teachers, or even unglamorous dentists. And an increasing number of women start major careers of their own. Yet, regardless of women’s level of ambition or achievement, role models on which they are brought up hold sway with them. Women don’t want to dream about the geeky high school guy who might someday become a rock star; they want to dream about the rock star who has arrived.

My male friend is not rich and suspects he never will be. He doesn’t really relate to all these rich guy heroes. He complains that successful career women place a heavy burden on men to be even richer. Given how we are raised, he could be right. And since fiction mirrors life’s truths, we ought to see some evidence of this change in how romances are crafted. And we do. We see stronger women, women who are their own bosses, or who are earning a living via a unique talent, or who in some way control their career destiny. And then we see men who are immensely wealthy, who control empires; in other words, who are bigger than ever. This isn’t the only paradigm, but it’s very popular.

Still, most of the time, keeping score is not necessary. Once a person has enough money to fund life’s ordinary costs and some extras, it doesn’t have to be a competition or an awkward scene. We at MyRomanceStory.com try to avoid cliché rich guys, men who are all about their money and nothing else. (Although occasionally a hero may wonder if the heroine is interested in him because of his money, we also try to avoid that cliché line of thinking.) Our heroes and heroines generally meet on a plane of financial ease. Even when a hero suffers a business change, as in “30-Day Guarantee,” it is the loss of his status as a success that threatens him emotionally; he still has plenty of money. The hero of “Gone Batty” does low-paid charity work but comes from a wealthy family. The chef hero of “Master of Fusion” is already a local celebrity and has a big career ahead of him, possibly including cookbooks and TV shows; the sky’s the limit. And that’s another ingredient of the wealthy hero concept: hope. The wealth of the hero in a romance is meant to give the reader (and the heroine) hope for a happy, comfortable future. It’s a fantasy, after all. It might as well include unlimited money!