Lesson the First: Identify and Acknowledge Your Inner Romance Hero

Examining the shelves of the bookstore’s Romance section could give a normal guy an inferiority complex. Billionaire businessmen, Navy SEALs, kilt-wearing, sword-wielding Scottish warriors, and century-old vampires abound. Even demons from Hades seem to have a leg up on their human counterparts in the romantic race. So what’s an Average Joe to do?

Never fear, the handbook is here! Regardless of nationality, socio-economic class, or even species, the characteristics that make a hero irresistible are always the same. Is your hair too thin or your belly too fat? Are your shoulders narrower than a pundit’s mind? No matter what you look like on the outside, on the inside is a Romance Hero just waiting to be born. You just need to find him and set him free.

But how?

Imagine you are that most famous of all Romance Heroes, Fabio. You walk into a famous restaurant. People stare. They whisper. Some even point surreptitiously. But do you care? No, you do not. You are Fabio and admiration is your due. Those who snicker are merely jealous of your success.

Now, shrug off your Fabio skin, but hold the grand and glorious feeling in your heart. Do you recognize it? It’s self-confidence, and it grows out of knowing who you are and how much value you have.

Not so easy, you say? Then we’d better get started!

First, we need to discover which kind of Romance Hero you have inside.

For each of the following historical eras, put an A next to the position you would most like to have held. Then, go back through put a B next to the professions you feel best suit your talents and personality.


Ancient Greece and Rome


Medieval Times
Viking warrior
Scottish laird/warrior
Arthurian knight/courtier


Renaissance Era


17th-19th Centuries
Frontiersman in the New World
English nobleman


Modern World
Computer expert
Special Forces operative
Social activist


Look at your answers. The better your desires correspond with your talents, the easier it will be to achieve your goals and unleash the hero within. If the two are always widely different, you can still get there, but the road will be longer.


What does this questionnaire tell you about your inner romance hero? Let’s take a look at your choices. Do your answers lean toward warriors, pirates and commandos? You probably have a great deal in common with romance’s more physical “Alpha” heroes. Politicians, noblemen and CEOs? You’re ambitious and driven, apt to be sophisticated and well-groomed. Explorers, inventors and computer experts have insatiable curiosity. Like poets, playwrights, philosophers and social activists, they’re apt to fall into the more easily approachable “Beta” hero category. These men are some of women’s favorites!

Why all the focus on history? After all, you’re a modern guy and chances are you don’t sit in the House of Lords, roam the Highlands in a kilt, or sail the seas under a flag adorned with a skull and crossbones. But the truth is, even the most modern women like a bit of old-fashioned courtesy in their lives. You don’t have to throw your coat down over a puddle, but you should become accustomed to holding doors, walking on the outside of the sidewalk[1], and seeing your date all the way to her door even when you don’t expect a kiss goodnight.

If you want your heroine to believe the expression of your inner hero and not suspect you of cynical self-interest, your heroism must be real and true, not a costume you put on to impress. In other words, you have to respect not only your heroine, but yourself.

Self-respect may be something you’re not used to. After all, most of us are used to basing our self-image on our jobs and your employment may well be less than impressive. The vast majority of us are worker bees rather than queens and we have a tendency to think this makes us less important. But the fact is, without the worker bee, the human race would die out. Queens give orders, but workers are the ones who pollinate massive fields of grain, meadows of flowers and orchards of fruit. This is the reason biologists are terrified about the fact that bee colonies are dying out.

So imagine, for a moment, that no one was willing to do your job. What would happen to the world? Take the consequences as far as you possibly can and you will see how important your work really is.

For example, let’s say people decided to refuse take jobs in department stores. No retail workers would mean that all clothes would have to be sold online and shipped–often each item individually–to people who would not have a chance to try them on. Every piece that didn’t fit would then be sent back. Manufacturers, foreseeing how many times they’d be paying for two-way shipping on each item, would have to charge more, so lots of people wouldn’t be able to afford the same level of quality goods. Plus, the constant trucking and flying of items across country or around the globe would be incredibly destructive to the environment. Retail workers are saving for the planet!

You also have to remember that even Fabio himself didn’t start out as an international romantic hero and multi-millionaire. Nor did he have the chest, shoulders and hair he has become so famous for. What he did have was potential, ambition, and a willingness to work, and if you have those things then you, too, can become a Romance Hero.

And here we reveal another secret of the romance hero: he is ambitious. He always has a goal in mind. His actions and decisions are informed by his desire to achieve his goals. The key for you, however, is to discover your inner hero’s definition of accomplishment, for every person has a different idea of how success will look.

In Mary Balogh’s historical Slightly Sinful [Dell, 2004], the hero expresses exactly what is so important about ambition and passion.

Even if a man had enough personal wealth to carry him comfortably through life without any exertion on his part, as he did, there ought to be something that fired his blood and elevated his soul.

The hero of Jill Shalvis’s contemporary The Sweetest Thing [Hachette Forever, 2011] also has to challenge and change his lack of drive before he can get the girl:

The next morning, Ford woke up in a rare, foul mood. Tara was right about him. He was easy come, easy go, and he didn’t like what that said about him.


This is a vital difference between men and women, and one you must understand should you wish to become a romance hero: men consider only success itself ultimately important; women consider the struggle to succeed equally vital. You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to aim high.

The third and final quality of all romance heroes, along with respect and ambition, is care for the less fortunate among us. In this aspect, the romance hero is no different from any hero from Superman to the man on the street who prevents a mugger from stealing a woman’s purse. Your inner romance hero will have his own set of altruistic priorities and you need to discover and nurture them.

Even if you are having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day[2], never forget that others are worse off, nor that you have a responsibility (as a human being as well as a Romance Hero) to look out for them. Indeed, if you take the time to look beyond yourself, you may find your own burdens lightened (especially if your heroine happens to notice your actions).

A perfect example of this selflessness is Rowland Manning, the illegitimate, desperate, and near-destitute hero of Sophia Nash’s Secrets of a Scandalous Bride [HarperCollins, 2010]. Deeply in debt, with the complete ruination of his business at hand, he worries more about his employees than himself.

He searched desperately for a solution. These men and so many others faced certain destitution. With the flood of soldiers now returning from the battlefields of France and Spain, positions in great houses were scarce. If his enterprise collapsed, where would they all go?


How different from the CEOs making headlines today, with their golden parachutes and less-than-sterling ethics. Never forget that as a romance hero, what you have is far less important than what you do.

Let’s take a minute to check out your priorities.

  1. You are an English lord and, as such, you should be riding a fine stallion rather than the nag you currently ride. However, you only have enough money at the moment to either purchase said stallion or fix up your stable with suitable accommodations. Within the next two years, you will be able to afford both. Which do you spend your cash on first, or do you wait and buy the horse when you can begin to build the stable?[3]
  2. You have a little money in the bank that you’ve been saving to buy a new computer. Your old one works just fine, but it’s getting on and the new ones are sleeker and faster. A friend wants to borrow that same amount of money for a downpayment on a new car. Should you lend it to him?[4]


In the following lessons, you will learn how to let your inner Romance Hero shine through despite any external complications. But for the moment, just remember the three defining characteristics you’ve attributed to him:

  1. Respect for yourself and others
  2. Ambition (list your goals here if you think you might forget them!)
  3. Care for those in situations more dire than your own (take a moment to reflect on who that is and what you might do to help)

Got it? Then let’s move along to the second lesson where we find out how to begin to unleash your inner hero upon the women in your world!


[1] This bit of gentlemanly behavior is to prevent muddy water from splashing up from the gutter onto a lady’s dress. Even if your girlfriend is a Goth mistress of the night who wears spikes and studs, you should treat her with care and respect.


[2] Don’t know what this phrase refers to? You should. It’s the title of a children’s book, and the good romance hero relates well to children even if he doesn’t want any of his own. Get to know your nieces and nephews, the children of your friends and family. Women are suspicious of men who are too uncomfortable around little ones.


[3] This is a question of forethought. If you cannot care for the horse, you shouldn’t buy it. Begin building the stable immediately so that by the time you can afford the stallion you will have an appropriate home for it. This is practical as well as ethical; when making decisions, the romance hero always thinks in terms of consequences to others.


[4] You are under no moral or ethical obligation to lend him the money and, indeed, financial dealings have ended many a friendship. That said, you should consider two things before making this decision: first, is his need for a new car critical? Is his old one not up to getting him back and forth from work? And second, if he has to borrow the money for the downpayment, chances are you won’t get it back; how will you feel about that? Will you be able to let him simply take the money without it sticking in your craw every time you see him? The answers to those two questions will tell you how you should answer his request.