Here’s where I admit that I look down on the kind of hero who stays away from a heroine “for her own good”. As far as I’m concerned, the species of human love that romance novels deal with is a selfish beast. I find it much more romantic if a hero knows he should stay away, and comes closer anyway.
This is a personal preference – and in no way “how romantic love is”. But it’s a rather strongly held preference.
It comes partly from the experience of dating a budding Buddhist (ha!) in my early 20s. He was attempting to let strong emotions wash by without attaching to them, and I was attempting to grab onto passion with both hands. His goal was to love everyone on earth equally, and I wanted to be loved the most, reason be damned.
Needless to say, we did not last. My vague annoyance with Eastern religions lasted, though, as did my less vague sense that it is not a good or selfless thing to say, “You. Above everyone else, you”, but it was the only kind of love I was going to settle for.
And I don’t think it was only a histrionic, vain kind of a wish. Because there are days when knowing that I matter the most to this one person gives me something to hold on to. It makes me necessary. It enforces meaning onto what can sometimes seem painfully arbitrary.
So. That’s my take on romantic love, and I have no time for heroes who stay away.
Now to qualify that statement, though, because I’m not a maniac. Heroes who stay away because of some condescending belief that they know what’s best: No. But of course there are good reasons to stay away.
If the heroine is in actual physical danger because of her association with the hero, staying away seems reasonable. And I like the more nuanced approach of a hero who hasn’t yet made up his mind what he’s prepared to give up for the heroine, or what he’s prepared to take on. This is a variation of selfish love. It’s more like, “I stay away for my own good. For now.”
At the end of my novel my heroine stays away from my hero, but only because she’s building certain assets for herself so that when they meet again she’ll be able to fully claim him. She knows she’ll do more harm than good if she claims him too early, so in a sense it’s for his own good – but she’s busy making up the difference. She’s not off somewhere wallowing in how bad for him she is.
The eternally moving last paragraph of The Thorn Birds says all this better than I can. I’m literally going to quote the last paragraph of the book, and it’s the best ending I’ve ever read, so if you haven’t yet read the book DO NOT READ ON! (And if you haven’t yet read the book, get cracking.)
The bird with the thorn in its breast, it follows an immutable law; it is driven by it knows not what to impale itself, and die singing. At the very instant the thorn enters there is no awareness in it of the dying to come; it simply sings and sings until there is not the life left to utter another note. But we, when we put the thorns in our breasts, we know. We understand. And still we do it. Still we do it.