I was surprised to see a romantic vignette this morning on Japanese TV.
A cute young salaryman was getting coffee, when a rich woman spilled a cup of latte all over him. I came in just at the point when she said, “You have some time. Let me buy you a suit.”
The young man was shocked, but persuaded to go to the suit shop. She picked several for him to try on, and like a Ken doll, he dressed and submitted himself for review. “This is fine,” he said about the first one, not caring. She sent him back to the dressing room.
“I’m a little embarrassed; this is a bit flashy,” he said. He came out in a subtly striped suit with a definitely striped dress shirt and patterned tie combination – it worked, but was not conservative. “Next,” said the woman.
Then he came out in a beautiful navy suit combo that worked really well. A smile on his face, he asked, “What do you think?” She said, “Yes, let’s buy it!”
Flash forward to about a week later. He’s gotten the big contract. “It’s the suit, isn’t it?” the woman teases (we never see her face – only his). “Nah!” he says quickly. “But . . . thank you.”
“What did you say?” the woman asked intently. “Nothing, nothing,” he said, embarrassed to have thanked her. (This works in Japanese; I’m not sure it works in an American setting.)
Flash forward a few more weeks. He’s driving a flashy red car (I think it’s hers). Oddly, he takes his hands off the steering wheel and shows that the car is driving itself (while there’s a caption on the screen that advises against taking your hands off the steering wheel while in the car). They are talking about his work as a designer, and . . . my Japanese wasn’t good enough to catch everything. Like any good writer, the writers were telegraphing the telling, and mostly showing.
Suddenly, male co-workers are gossiping about him. He quits his job, and is showing his own work in an exhibition. Omedetashi, omedetashi (congratulations, congratulations – but also ends a story like “happily ever after” does in English).
And then there’s a commercial of three or four older women taking a drive in that fancy red car. The driver lifts her hands and shows how she can drive herself, and there’s a cruise control and other fancy gadgets. (And again, that disclaimer saying you don’t take your hands off the wheel on the highway.)
It was all a five-minute commercial, apparently!
But still, a lot of fun. Romance is often a fantasy of relationships.
Lots of people enjoy the fantasy of friction-free partnership – this is the most common pattern in the romances I read and enjoy. Sometimes the two have completely different skill sets that complete each other (see Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels, where Dain can provide the money and legal status for Jessica to pursue her goals, and Jessica provides the emotional intelligence to free Dain from his past shame that restricts him from loving people). Sometimes the two have the same skill sets and work together as partners to solve a crime, or defeat a developer. (I’m thinking of Lord Peter Wimsy and Harriet Vane, who are nearly dopplegangers in their pain regarding other people, and their quick wit and knowledge of human nature.)
Then there’s this pattern – the strong one sweeps in to rescue the viewpoint character and fix everything. Usually, I’ve seen it as a strong hero/weak heroine. But you also see flipped, when a middle-aged lady viewpoint character picks up a young man and helps him out. The best example of this that I’ve read is How Stella Got Her Groove Back by Terry McMillan.
Part of the fun is that it’s pure fantasy. The young man is not a pain in the butt. He’s grateful for the help, and makes her feel very womanly and nurturing and helpful and sexy and all the good feelings.
In the Japanese vignette I described above, there was no whiff of sex. No kissing or even hand-holding. So, it’s up to the viewer to decide if this is a romantic relationship, or a platonic patron sort of relationship. The young man does not display much agency, but he does wind up doing something he always wanted to do (become an independent artist) because of this chance encounter. Maybe it was her encouragement, maybe it was the suit that boosted his confidence, or maybe it was love.
I much prefer to write partnership stories, where both people are bringing important things to the table and work together to defeat something – the bad guy, the necromancer, or societal prejudice. But, this little vignette has me thinking about how much fun it would be to write a story about being helpful and getting rewarded for your good deeds. The guilty pleasure of asking for cookies when you’ve done something right. I might try it this week.