tam’s guest post: pretty woman syndrome


A fairly common theme in m/m is the hooker with a heart of gold (or damaged psyche) who is “rescued” by his knight in shining armour and they head off into the sunset and live happily ever after. I’ll admit, I like this theme, it works for me on a romantic level but inside I have this niggling voice that says the first time there is a real fight or he looks at some guy wrong the knight is going to toss the “You’re a whore!” line out there and it will be all downhill from there. Can it work long term? Can you ever forget that your true love used to have sex with total strangers for money?

You hear stories of high class hookers who marry their rich clients and live HEA, but really? I don’t know any personally. LOL. But I’m wondering if it’s truly possible. Could I ever get past knowing that? I’m not sure if true love can indeed conquer all, especially human insecurities. So does this theme work for you? Is there another theme that while appearing totally romantic also sends a nudge to the back of your brain that says no way this would ever work in real life?

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About Kris

Reads, rants, randoms & R+s. You've been warned. BTW, don't follow me if you're a GLBTQQphobic wanker. It won't end well. For you.
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23 Responses to tam’s guest post: pretty woman syndrome

  1. Kris says:

    now have Roy Orbison singing “Pretty Woman” in my head.

    This theme appeals to the romantic in me too, but there's also a strong part of me yelling 'as if' the whole while I'm reading about sugarplums and rainbows.

    When it works for me is when the issue/s of why he got into prostitution, the insecurity and jealously re: his previous life, perhaps even health problems, etc, etc are dealt with in meaningful ways.

    The meatier the story is what it takes for me to believe that the relationship is more likely to work for the long haul.

  2. Tam says:

    I know we're not alone in liking this theme. The m/m romance group at good reads (if you – the collective you here – are not in the group find it and join – somewhere in my profile it should be if you can't find it) did a poll on what character type you like best and rent boy tied with cowboy with vampire coming in third. (I suggested someone write a story about a former cowboy who's now a rent boy vampire, hit all the high points.) So people love the poor hapless rent boys.

    Maybe its the idea that someone would love you EVEN if you have a crappy past and slept with people for money. Everyone wants unconditional acceptance. If prostitutes can find true love then why not government bureaucrats? Although people seem to like prostitutes better. 😦

    I know romance is not real life and that's why I like it. I don't want to know that 2 years later the insecurity flared up and they split. I just don't think about it. The book's done, they are happy – suspended animation. Captured forever in clear acrylic smiling happily for me. 🙂

    The only other theme that sometimes causes a niggle for me is the extreme age scenario. I don't find it squicky. I mean hey, 25 and 49, go for it if it makes you happy. but I sometimes find myself doing the math and thinking. When you are 50, he's going to be 74. That's oooooold. But again, I put them into suspended animation and try not to think about it too much. But the reality is there and hard to ignore sometimes.

  3. JenB says:

    It works for me in most m/m stories, but I'll be honest and say it doesn't work for me in m/f, at least not contemporary. That's probably hypocritical, but it's just the way I feel.

    I think most of it is because men in general are expected to be promiscuous, gay men in particular. (My gay male friends are the one's who've drilled that sentiment into my brain, so I'm not just agreeing with stereotypes here.) They're always telling me how slutty they are and how slutty all their friends are, so I've gotten the impression that none of it bothers them. So why should it bother me?

    Still doesn't give me much hope for long-term HEAs though. I always interpret it as HFN.

  4. It would take a lot of acceptance on the part of the other person who is willing to let the past stay in the past.

    If the former escort was surrounded by beautiful people who threw money around, then there maybe a problem with self esteem. If the person was a prostitute on the street and went through some harsh times, there would be a need to therapy I think. But in romance with a HEA, I can suspend my belief ala Pretty Woman.

  5. Tam says:

    Good point Jen. Men do have different perspectives on that kind of thing. Not just gay men, I think straight guys would not look down on another man who slept around or even got paid for it. He'd probably be thinking “You go boy, get paid for the pleasure”. LOL For me as long as the book ENDS happily, I'm good. What they get up to after I close the file is none of my business. 🙂

    Katie: I agree, real life and romance are two different things. But it makes for a good romantic story.

  6. Merwan says:

    This theme doesn't particularly appeal to me. I've seen it done in books that I've enjoyed, but I enjoyed them *despite* that theme, not *because* of it.

    One of the reasons I don't like this theme is the whole rescue-thing, the fact that the prostitute is always in a vulnerable position and needs help (more often than not from the other guy who is, of course, loaded) to get out of the trade. I also don't like the client-turned-lover plot.

    So for these stories to work for me, they have to deal differently with these things I mentioned. The ones I've enjoyed have had the other guy be just a regular guy (no super-rich hunk), the prostitute not feel/act like an uke-like victim 24/7 but sharp, assertive and independent, the lover be a friend or something (anything but a client, really–maybe a friend of a client, that would be nice), etc. Lastly, as Kris said, I want some real good angst/concern/jealousy…

    Another theme that makes me wonder about how it would work in real life is jail-romance…

  7. Tam says:

    Merwan: Many of the stories in the Sindustry anthologies that dealt with rent boys were not the rich/poor context. Rescuing yes, sometimes a client, sometimes not, but often the rescuer was just a regular joe. At least I think I remember that. LOL

    I've never read a jail/romance although it seems many women are hooked on trying to get it to work in real life. Statistically? I think they are screwed and not in a good way.

  8. Lily says:

    I like reading the rent boy theme but I don't see how it could work in real life. But that's what I love about books, it's not real, any problem can be overcome on the pages of a book and when I'm finished reading I'm happy the rent boy and his rescuer are going to be living a happy life together.

    I loved Pretty Woman and thought at the time if I could be rescued by a super hot millionaire maybe hooking would be an interesting career. ;D

    *It was just a thought tho, I never actually did it*

  9. Tam says:

    Lily: Mmhmm. Suuuure. 😉

    I enjoy the theme even though a part of my brain says “no way”. But then there's the part of my brain that says werewolves don't really exist either, but I still enjoy them.

  10. Wren says:

    Hey, can't Kris use her considerable influence to get someone to write a cowboy-who's-now-a-rent-boy-vampire story? I'd read it!

    Romantic at heart here. For whatever reason, I like the hooker trope. I've read a few of the stories in Sindustry and have liked them, am completely able to suspend my disbelief.

    Maybe the gist of it is that I don't like my fiction to be too reality based. Huh. Never looked at it that way before.

    You just never know what you're going to discover here!

  11. Tam says:

    I don't like my fiction to be too reality based.

    Wren, that's it exactly. You summed it up perfectly. I don't want something so out there as to be completely unbelievable but I enjoy escaping reality for a while.

  12. Tracy says:

    It works for me too – love it. But I really do have a hard time seeing it happen in real life. Maybe the men are different but it's hard to believe that they'd be completely accepting. But that's me. 🙂

  13. Ingrid says:

    I am the same as the others here. I don't mind that it is not real.

    If I would want to read about real life I would read non-fiction

  14. Kris says:

    Tam: I'm just about to write a post about the extreme age scenario story. Why do I get the feeling we may have read the same book? LOL.

  15. Jenre says:

    I have to admit I like the rent boy/client romance. Partly its appeal I think is the whole 'he's really experienced and a great lay but never really feels like he's had fantastic sex until he meets the hero'. I know, pure fantasy, but it gets me every time.

    I also like it when the rent boy is world weary and meeting the hero brings him out of that – makes him feel good about himself for once. The hero doesn't necessarily have to be a client, they can just meet and then it's discovered that he gets paid for sex later – although that can lead to an unfortunate 'Big Misunderstanding'.

    This is possibly why I liked so many of the stories in the Sindustry anthology – they were onto a winner with that one for sure! Also many of those stories began with the rent boy/hooker being taken advantage of by the client but by the power of twu wuv the tables were reversed at the end and they were left either with an equal amount of status or a little more.

  16. Tam says:

    Tracy and Ingrid: Seems we are all willing to suspend a bit of reality for our reading pleasure.

    Jen: “twu wuv” can truly conquer all. 🙂

  17. Tam says:

    Kris: It was the fact I said he was 49 that gave it away wasn't it? I should have said 50. LOL I'll save my comments for your post.

  18. Anonymous says:

    The hooker aspect doesn't really bother me, but the “rescuing” and the stereotypes annoy me.

  19. K. Z. Snow says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. K. Z. Snow says:

    I decided to bring up the “once a whore, always a whore” issue in Utopia-X, Book 4 (still have to tweak it a little for Loose Id), since it's a spectre that can easily be raised by the slightest argument or misunderstanding. I doubt most couples, in which one partner was once a professional prostitute, could forever breezily ignore that aspect of their unshared pasts.

  21. Tam says:

    KZ: I think you're right. In my brain I know its not likely something you can ever forget or ignore, but in my little pitter pattering romantic heart I'd like to believe you could. 🙂

    Anon: I was thinking about the “rescuing” thing and I'd say in the book I posted the cover of, Hunger by Amanda Young that doesn't happen. After they get together the guy continues for a short time to work and its his choice, he's going to school, saving money and that happens to be his job. Whether a boyfriend could really give his live-in a kiss and send him off to work I'm not sure I believe and when he quits the biz its because he got a better opportunity, not because true love saved him from a life of sin and debauchery. However the ramifications of his choices aren't really mentioned. But like Wren said, I wasn't interested in too much reality in my fiction when I read that. Rainbows and puppies. 🙂

  22. jitterbug says:

    I'm torn (and late too 😛 ): on one hand I don't want stark reality, I love romances because they _always_ have a HEA/HFN (the stronger the better), but on the other hand I don't enjoy improbable books either *sigh*. “Pretty Woman”'s plots make me a little uneasy – I like this theme if it's well done, when, as many of you have mentioned before, there is a depth to the story, and issues related to being a prostitute and being with a prostitute are touched and developed. I don't like it when the rent boy doesn't stop hustling even if he could, motivating his decision with “it's my job” (it seems I won't read Amanda Young's latest book then ;). This is obviously a personal thing – I can't understand why someone would choose to be used by strangers for money when there is an alternative, but hey, I'm a girl and picky to boot 😉 I'm sure some authors can pull it off, but I would need to read some serious discussions between the two heroes about it.

  23. Kris says:

    I'm like you, Sara. It's very hard for me to separate prositution as a job and having sex with other people = infidelity. I think I would probably end up getting really angry even if there is a HFN or HEA in sight.

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