The Tale of the Friendless Heroine

who are you jane - picture[1] (2) Drop Dead Diva is a new series on Lifetime which follows the life of an aspiring model called Deb who is killed in an accident but comes back in the body of a successful lawyer called Jane. In episode 1, Jane is shot and is close to death. The audience knows that Jane did actually pass away in the end and Deb has taken her place but the people in the show’s reality do not. That said, this past Sunday marked the show’s 10th episode, and we have yet to see Jane receive a visit from any close friend or family. It appears Jane was a workaholic with no friends and not much of a life.

Though I really love this show, I have a serious problem with Jane’s characterisation. Who were her friends? What did she do on the weekends? Does she have siblings? Parents? Cousins? Who was she? For the purposes of Drop Dead Diva, it was probably easier for the outgoing Deb to enter into the body of someone shy and retiring so that the character juxtaposition could be as heightened as possible but during every episode, I grieve for this life-less Jane, and I think of her romantic counterpart: the Friendless Heroine (the FH).

I don’t notice as much when the FH shows up in a historical because I can swallow a sheltered existence in Regency or Victorian England. But when the FH appears in contemporaries I get really annoyed. I don’t always realize I’m reading about an FH until mid-way through a book when I say, for example, “Ms. Heroine, you’re wondering whether to get bitten and be turned into a vampire so you can live with your lovah forever and ever but you don’t spare any thought as to what your friends might think about this. Hold up wait-a-min…you don’t have any friends…”

FH, why don’t you have any friends? Not even one? Is there something wrong with you? I cannot believe in a romantic Happily Ever After when the FH has yet to be fully formed as a character with her own friends and family (or a plausible reason for not having these friends or family). It sets an uneven base for any relationship from the outset because the Hero becomes this FH’s entire life and what happens in such a situation is that the Hero becomes the Savior.

Oh, Hero, FH warbles, you saved me from those werewolves/told me how beautiful I was/bared your teeth at another man in jealousy/allowed me to practice my skills by us sparring wittily all the time/propositioned me when no-one has before! In short, Hero provides the FH with some human interaction and usually because these heroes are Alpha – or just plain aggressive – the FH, coming from a friend-less, family-less life, is wowed by a surfeit of human interaction.

When we meet FH, she may be home cooking for one or leaving her office at night or has just been dumped by a loser. She is usually at an emotional low, even if she herself doesn’t know it. And then, in comes Hero (Savior) to force her to cook for two, trail her when she leaves the office or show her by a flexing of bicep just how much of a loser that loser was. At this point, much of the FH’s self-affirmations are tied into the Hero. She’s not pathetic and boring, he loves her! She’s not annoying like her evil mother said, he loves her! She’s not ugly like her pretty sister would have others believe, he loves her! She’s not an outsider because here they are in a circle for two because, he loves her!

In a 21st century setting, this is depressing.

I’m not saying that the heroine needs to be a social butterfly but I do need to feel that a somewhat independently fulfilled woman is going to meet and fall in love with a great man. I’ve never found especially romantic those Damsel in Distress plotlines and what is the FH but a form of distressed damsel? You don’t have a friend? I’ll be your friend. You don’t have someone to talk to? You can talk to me.

Maybe it’s all the Lifetime I watch, but relationships like that are usually featured with movie titles like Her Everything, Her Murderer or She Screamed, He Listened. Yes, romance novels have great guys who seek to uplift their women not take advantage of them. But the Friendless Heroine in a contemporary (be it fantasy or not) yanks me out of the story and forces me to really give this woman a critical character analysis. She never comes up smelling sweet.

-Abi Bishop

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12 Responses to “The Tale of the Friendless Heroine”

  1. Katie Mack says:

    LOL, great article Abi! I too don’t care for the Friendless Heroine, for exactly the reasons you talk about. The FH never seems like a well-rounded person.

    I don’t mind an FH who in the beginning is extremely shy, but who develops friendships with people other than the hero over the course of the book. But I don’t like it when the heroines are friendless the entire book and the hero is her entire world.

  2. mingqi says:

    the friendless heroine is definitely one of the things that really bug me in romances- especially contemporaries. So the heroine has no one to talk to except for her hero? What if they have an argument sometime in the future? A heroine with friends would vent out to her friends and after having blown off some steam, would think rationally about the argument. A heroine without friends would just have it bottled up inside and then exacerbate the argument. How would she teach her kids about friendship?
    What if the hero dies at age 78? Would the heroine- still healthy for a 70 year old- die soon after from loneliness?

    I know there are some women out there who don’t get along with other women. Her friend doesn’t HAVE to be a woman. It could be a guy, too.

  3. Vorkosigrrl says:

    Kudos for a thoughtful, well-written piece. Not only is the FH disturbing in the ways you describe, but also probably lacking in self-esteem, and therefore ripe for domestic abuse by those overly-aggressive, controlling alphas. Just sayin’.

  4. Anon says:

    Just another reason I appreciate Lynsay Sands’ vampire novels. Because her characters DO have family and friends and DO agonize over the potential loss of contact with them. The heroines love their men, but they know that their lives have changed or will change irrevocably.

    I think she handles this topic in a very adult (by that I mean grown-up) way. I admire that. (I am one of those readers who can’t turn off my brain/common sense when reading romances.)

  5. Nana says:

    Now that I think about it, if I read something on the back cover that told me it was about a female with strong friendships, I would assume that the book wasn’t a romance. If it has a rural or suburban setting, I would assume it was women’s fiction (a la Ya Ya Sisterhood or Fried Green Tomatoes). If it had an urban setting, I’d assume it was chick lit (a la Sex and the City).

    Very interesting!

  6. Maria F says:

    How many friends does it take to make a well-rounded person? :) There are people who seem to do fine with no more than one or two close friends. I sometimes think that characters who can’t get through a day without checking in constantly with a circle of friends may lack basic self-esteem and adult independence (is she really incapable of picking a dress or going to a movie alone?). While the hero shouldn’t be the heroine’s whole world, I think different people are comfortable with or require different numbers of friends and different levels of intimacy with them. That said, I do enjoy reading about good friendships and families (e.g. recent Kleypas). Besides laughs and warm fuzzies, they often provide more character depth for the heroine, as someone mentioned above (and the hero: see Nora Roberts, for example). (BTW, how about heroes? Often the heroine turns out to be the only one they can talk to or have a close relationship with, especially if he’s a Tortured Hero…)

  7. Abi says:

    Hey Maria,

    I don’t think there’s a quantity minimum or maximum on friends but I do think if an otherwise ‘average’ adult has NO friends or family that acts as friends (and when I say friend, I mean someone that they can, if they so wish, confide in, or go out to lunch with for examples) this person is living a restricted life and I have to wonder why it is that they are so removed from others.

    It makes me focus on things other than that person’s romance.

    Wrt heroes, I actually read quite a lot of them who are really chummy and go around giving themselves group names – even the tortured ones often have best friends who gently rib them for their torturous…ness.

    But I think the same holds true for a friendless hero. How annoying would he be to a heroine looking for a little me-time?!

    Thanks for responding everybody!

  8. Lynn Spencer says:

    >>Maybe it’s all the Lifetime I watch..

    Ah yes, watching a ton of Lifetime got me through law school. Between that and the Law and Order reruns (which I justified as reinforcing crim law), I had quite the TV habit back then. Still remember some of the movie titles – “15 and Pregnant”, “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?” and so on.

  9. Maria F says:

    Abi,
    you have a point that NO friends or friendly family in a contemporary IS a little odd–usually the author needs to work hard to show why for it to be plausible (isolated by abuse, caregiving, constant moving from town to town as a child, dire illness, etc.).
    In historicals, I wonder if it is an influence from a Jane Eyre/gothic strain. Part of the triumph of the heroine is that even without the resources of money, family, or friends, she is strong enough in herself to take on the alpha male. (But if not well-written, the situation can devolve into the unhealthy dynamic you mention.)
    BTW, the hero in Heyer’s A Civil Contract notices the heroine’s isolation (in her case because she has little family and because her Cit father is trying to push her into aristocratic circles). He compares her with his family, which as aristos are related to half the landed nobles in England–there’s always a cousin or someone to go to (and in fact the heroine comes to rely on some of his female relatives for friendship and advice). It marks a moment of his seeing her as a person in her own right with her own challenges, IIRC.

  10. [...] Abi did some interesting posts last year, connecting this show to heavy heroes and heroines and friendless heroines over at AAR’s News [...]

  11. Laila says:

    Hi guys.
    It seems everyone here hates the idea of a friendless heroine. Perhaps because they cant relate to not having friends esp in this day and age.

    However, you would be surprised that friendless heroines do exist in real life perhaps very rarely but they are there. I myself am an example of a completely friendless heroine who has had love stories with very few friends and currently no friends. Although i do have family.

    I am not even sure why I am so friendless. Im good looking, even did some advertising, im intelligent, did a masters in biochemistry with distinction. Im not sure if these two factors get in my way of friendship or whether Im just wierd. I do crave for friends and sometimes it feels that theres only 1 person in my world my bf, which is difficult in real life as u do have to bottle up all your anger to urself coz u have no1 to share it with (u cant tell certain things to family members)

    However, I do like to hear about FHs because I feel I can relate to them! Unfortunately theres so few people like me out there that FHs are the only thing that makes me feel Im not abnormal.

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