What I learned about relationships from interviewing my characters
Who knew two of my main characters were savvy about this dating and relationship thing? Sunny Chanel (Middle Ageish) and Dana Narvana (Eat Your Heart Out) proved, in this post, that I have a few things to learn.
Besides, I have a secret.
Too often, my inner voice is my characters from my novels arguing with me while I’m writing. This past week they schooled me about what makes relationships work.
Dating in your fifties or sixties isn’t easy, said Sunny.
It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, said Dana.
If you mess up in life, you’ll mess up in your books, Sunny said, wagging a finger at me.
So I agreed the three of us would guest post. In truth, I was afraid to say no.
Sunny and Dana pointed out four basic bloopers I made again and again.
1. Not giving a guy a chance
How soon do you know he’s the guy for you? they challenged. Or not?
“You know right away,” I said. “All it takes is one meeting.”
It’s not that simple, Sunny and Dana, my characters, yelled at me.
Dismissing a man because he’s balding or talks too much or doesn’t talk enough because he’s nervous? You could miss out on someone worth knowing, they moaned. Give a guy a chance.
I get it. Beta guys get overlooked. Guys who’ve made a mistake deserve a second change. Good relationships take time to grow.
I don’t want to give anything away in Eat Your Heart Out, my new book, by mentioning a specific event. Dorothy (not her real name in the book) almost overlooks her pal because she’s too close to him. It takes a few reminders from her good friend to open her eyes.
2. Twisted ideas about online dating
My characters pop up even when I’m having serious conversations with my friends.
“I don’t have the nerve to start online dating,” a friend complained while we were having lunch on Zoom the other day.
We’ll help,” my characters said inside my head, jumping on their toes eagerly.
“I’ll help,” I said. I must have had a smirk on my face because my friend asked what credentials I carried for giving dating advice.
Together, we have about 300 years of dating experience, Sunny and Dana boasted.
“Once I met six guys in one week.” I blinked, daring my friend to challenge this statement. (It was true.)
Overbooking isn’t a good idea, said Sunny.
I agree. Dana nudged Sunny with her elbow. Shirley forced you to meet four guys one weekend, didn’t she?
I ignored the bickering in my head and told my friend about the dating contest between two of my characters in Middle Ageish. How they encouraged each other by repeating “Never give up.”
“Contest? Your characters?” She took a bite of her sandwich and chewed with her mouth open, sprouts landing on her desk like fairy dust. “Like that’s real life?”
You forced us to do all that dating, Sunny and Dana piped up in their own defense.
That’s insulting, said Sunny. Our lives are real. Realish.
She has her nerve, your friend, said Dana, pouting.
“Yes, a contest to encourage each other,” I explained with my sister voice. “See who dated twenty-five guys first.”
My friend was curious. “What were the rules?”
We had to spend forty minutes with the guy for it to count, Sunny reminded me. I repeated this out loud so my friend would understand this was not a fly-by-night competition.
“That’s it?” She leaned closer to the camera and her eyes brightened. “So it’s a numbers game. I get it.”
“Yes,” I said. “Unfortunately it is.”
Tell her the loser takes the winner to Pepe’s for pizza, prompted Sunny. New Haven has the best pizza.
“Yeah.” I had a feeling my friend was getting into this contest thing. Inside my head Sunny and Dana were arguing and I almost missed what my friend said next.
“My profile could use a spiffing up.”
Was this a hint?
My friend stood and adjusted the camera. “I’ll email my profile and you’ll pass it on to your characters? I need some clever, pithy remarks. To get hot guys to write me back.”
Oh, I think your friend is winning this one. And we’re coming to Pepe’s with you, Sunny and Dana whispered in my ear.
I love Pepe’s, said Dana.
Me too, crooned Sunny.
3. That old chemistry thing
Mistaking chemistry for the real thing is always a mistake, chided Dana one day when I was walking on the treadmill minding my own business and listening to Diana Krall on my iPod.
In Eat Your Heart Out, she fell hard for a guy I’ll call Freddy. (Not his real name.)
Yeah, said Dana. I kept filling in the blanks, hoping he was into me. She muttered something to Sunny I didn’t catch.
“What did you say?” I asked.
No spoilers, Sunny said.
Tell them how you came up with this Freddy character, Dana said.
Freddy was based on a man I nicknamed Toxic Man. We dated sporadically, and when I say sporadically, I mean there were months-long gaps between dates. But Freddy was a back burner man, meaning he kept me on the back burner, with phone calls and texts to boost his ego. Lucky for me I gradually weaned myself off Freddy.
Since Dana didn’t want to make the same mistakes I made, she outfatuated herself and stopped answering her phone.
My birthday is important, she whispered to me, her eyes bright with a hurt defiance. He didn’t want to do anything special on my birthday. Because I wasn’t special to him.
Sunny gave Dana a hug, and so did I. In my head.
4. Know what you want in a man
That dating contest with Dana helped me figure out what I wanted in a man, said Sunny.
“You mean like if a man doesn’t go out of his way for you early in the relationship?” I said.
Sure, said Dana. He’s showing his real self and that rarely changes.
It takes a lot of time to get to know someone, said Sunny. I pay attention to the little things.
Tell the people about the lawyer you went on two dates with, Dana urged me.
Can I tell the story? asked Sunny.
“Sure, go ahead.” I love egging my characters on.
Shirley went out with a real estate lawyer who loved opera. The second date was dinner at an upscale restaurant.
“He actually said he was trying to impress me,” I said.
I was coming to that, Sunny pouted. No interrupting.
On the drive home he had the opera station going on Sirius radio. Shirley asked if he could find the Elvis station. Knowing Shirley, she craved a little after-dinner rock and roll. But Lawyer Man said he preferred opera and wouldn’t change it.
Sometimes it’s the smallest thing that makes you realize the man you’re trying on for the evening is not for you.
What everyone wants
As a writer, I read books from a different angle than most non-writers. I’m analyzing and overthinking as I read.
You’re a big analyzer, said Sunny.
Yeah, you are. Dana and Sunny looked at each other and bobbled their heads in agreement.
In the end, though, when it comes to relationships I’m like everyone else. I want to spend my time with my special person, the guy who thinks––and shows––I’m special.