Eye of the Beholder by Lee Rowan

Lee Rowan is well known to readers of gay historical romance particularly for her Royal Navy series, and the last book, Home is the Sailor has just been released to much acclaim.   

When I asked Lee to write a blog post I had no idea what she would talk about and, as usual, she surprised me with her topic.  


Awhile back—I can’t say exactly when or how long ago—I ran across a review in which the reader was complaining about unrealistic heroes in gay romance.  Everyone was gorgeous, he said, and every guy’s apparatus was above average.   Totally unrealistic!    

 He had a point… and he missed the point.  

 I was thinking about this tonight.   My wife had a department function to attend, a charity fundraiser at the university where she works, and she asked if I’d go along.  Normally, it takes a wedding or a funeral to get me into a skirt, but last summer my sweetie—who is at heart a cat person—made the ultimate concession by agreeing to adopt a Shepherd-mix puppy to fill the gap left by the death of my best dog ever.  We had already adopted an adult dog, but those of you who’ve lost a beloved pooch may understand why the only remedy for my malaise was a pup.  He’s a great little guy, obedience classes are going well, the older dog housebroke him incredibly fast with minimal assistance from me… but Watson is a big, rowdy boy, and he’s teething, and he’s barky.   

And my wife puts up with him, because he makes me happy.   

 How could I not agree to something as insignificant as dinner-dance, even with my two left feet and dislike of crowds?  The event would be four hours, tops, whereas the puppy will, if I’m lucky, be with us for at least a decade.   How could I say that was too much trouble, after her kindness?  

So I dug out the pretty outfit that has been hanging in the closet for a couple of years, found the pantyhose and uncomfortable pointy girly shoes… and became a dressed-up fifty-something woman who could stand to lose at least twenty pounds.  (I’m presentable, but I’m a realist.  No one will ever murder me for my beauty.)  

Well, my wife, who is ordinarily an acute and critical observer, looked at me as though I was Elizabeth Taylor playing Cleopatra.  Who she apparently saw was not what I really look like.  But then again… she’s a middle-aged, chubby, average-looking woman, too.  Nevertheless, to me, she’s the most gorgeous creature on the planet.  

Love is a kind of magic.  You can fall in love with a beautiful face—or you can fall in love with a beautiful soul, and suddenly realize that the one you love was beautiful all along.  

Lady Emma

That disgruntled reader probably forgot that he was reading a romance – and one of the characteristics of romance is that the limerance of love turns an ordinary person into a beauty.  

 “To be in love is merely to be in a state of perpetual anesthesia:
To mistake an ordinary young man for a Greek god or an ordinary young woman for a goddess.” 
Well, of course H.L. Mencken would put it that way – he was a professional curmudgeon.  But in a sense, he was exactly right.  

Take a look at old-time paintings, or early photographs of famous historical figures.   Most of the people hailed as handsome or beautiful were ordinary at best.  The real Cleopatra, if we believe the profile on Greek coins, was hatchet-faced, but she captivated both Julius Cesar and Marcus Antonius.   Lady 

Horatio Nelson

 Emma Hamilton, whose affair with Admiral Horatio Nelson scandalized England, was only moderately attractive, but on his deathbed his last thoughts were 

 of her.   

For that matter, Nelson himself was a bit of a pipsqueak, with a longish nose and an apparently endless string of bad hair days, nothing like the ripped heroes on any random romance cover, but he was the rock star of his age…  

Lady Hamilton might not have been respectable, but she was only one of thousands of British women who were at least a little bit in love with the dashing Lord Nelson.    

When Dan Savage, the advice columnist who started the marvelous It.Gets.Better project, wrote “The Commitment” about his marriage to his longtime partner, he made Terry sound like the most gorgeous man who ever found the love of his life in a gay bar.  When I saw their video, I thought, “Well, yeah, he’s very nice-looking, but…”    

But – I’m not the one in love with him.   Dan is.  

In my books, I don’t really expect a reader to believe that my heroes are the finest specimens of manhood that ever walked the planet.  Hell, in the 19th century, anybody with a full set of teeth would have an advantage in the looks department.   People didn’t have the exaggerated expectations of our 

Rudolph_Valentino, silent films sex god

nipped-and-tucked, botoxed, photoshopped image-factory society.   Even the hottest of the hot in early 20th-century films were more ordinary looking than the packaged pretties of today.  

 But when one of my heroes looks at his lover, he doesn’t see a windburned, sun-bleached sailor with a dozen small scars and maybe a couple of big ones, who only gets a thorough wash when it rains because on a ship fresh water is reserved for cooking—he sees the man who holds his heart, without whom life is insupportable.   If I’ve done my job right, the reader will see through my hero’s eyes—the eyes of love.


The ordinary is beautiful, seen through the eyes of love.   I hope that is one thing that will never change.  

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery


  • Chiming in late here, but this is a lovely essay, Lee, just beautiful. I got a little teary too, reading about you and your wife, partly because it’s so sweet and partly because I know just what you mean. This is going to sound incredibly stupid to anyone who hasn’t felt it, but when I met my husband for the first time, I KNEW he was going to be the one. I mean, it wasn’t love at first sight, I didn’t LOVE him right away, but something about him just called to me. I don’t know. His gorgeous eyes (they are!) and his sharp intelligence and his twisted sense of humor (just like mine *g*). I just knew. And that made him like Adonis to me, even though he’s not, really. Well, okay, he has great legs. And a totally bitable ass. Heh.

    Anyway, I’m off to the EDJ, but just wanted to pop in and throw my 5 cents in. I’d have more cents but I’m already running late. Yikes…

  • I know exactly what you mean, Lee– my husband and I call it our ‘Love Goggles’. He tells me I’m beautiful, and I say, “That’s because you have your love goggles on!” And our love goggles make us look at our own actions differently too. I pulled a blog post tonight because it might have had some difficult repercussions–I did it because he asked me to. If I’d done it on my own, I would have said it was an act of cowardice, but with my love goggles on, it was a gift for the guy who thinks I’m beautiful, and who wanted me to have a little peace.

  • Lee, your description of how you and your wife view each other brought tears to my eyes, and I hope one day to find the one that can see past my flaws.

    I’ve always been told that looks fade over time; it’s more important to have someone you can talk to. Sometimes I do want to read about the perfect hot guys, but I’m reading it as fantasy and romance, not as something that can happen in real life. For realism I turn to books with more average characters. There’s room for both on my bookshelf. Okay, the darn thing’s overflowing already, with books stacked on either side, but you get what I mean.

    Fabulous post.

  • Really good post, Lee. I agree with nearly everything you’ve said; romance is often between the two most unusual characters, at least from the outside, but once they really get to know each other, love blossoms and it’s beautiful.

    I do agree with TJ, though, that I’m one that is sometimes irked by the perfection we see. Your points are totally valid, but it seems most writers depict their characters as beautiful and studly from the second they appear.

    I would rather see them become beautiful/attractive/studly as the story progresses, moving from an average, maybe somewhat attractive man, to a really hot, passionate, and romantic lover that entrances both the main character as well as the audience. While I enjoy the other, commonly written type, I would love to see more of the “growing attraction” style as well. Maybe even draw some attention to it through some shallow friends, or something… 😀

    • I lose patience with the ripped six-packs myself, and I try to insert a little realism by having the characters be modest guys–Will Marshall is forever wondering what Davy sees in him, while Davy–if a reader pays attention to his actual description–is on the short and stocky side, attractive mostly because he’s got beautiful eyes and a great smile. I’ve mostly done love-at-first-sight, but growing attraction is probably a good thing to try in the future. Thanks!

    • Lee
      Great post. I agree with a lot of what you said in the post about characters being viewed through the eyes of his or her beloved as perfect. However like Brett, Mark and to some extent TJ, I’m a bit tired of authors writing perfect characters. Maybe like the gentleman you wrote about, I missed the point too.

      One of the reasons I love Josh Lanyon’s characters is that they are not perfect people, they are flawed. I know that romances are fantasies and an escape from real life, but I’m told all the time by authors that their characterizations are based on real people. I can’t relate to perfect people or characters who have absolutely no flaws.

      It’s a bit disheartening to always read about excessively beautiful, perfect people who everyone loves who are also the most gifted people in the whole wide world. I reviewed a series where one of the protags was exactly like that and I didn’t love it.

      As a reader I need balance, and characters must have believability even if the stories are fantasies. I can’t read about the same old, same old characters all the time and not be bored. Maybe it’s just me.

      As for the excessively endowed gentlemen in romance – well the authors who write these dimensions need to view a few real men and undergo a paradigm shift. Maybe they should send those well endowed guys to my house for a workout. lol

      I don’t mean to sound as if I hate beautiful people in books, because I don’t, but everything in moderation. I just want the characters to be well developed, interesting, three dimensional people with not as much emphasis on their appearance. Can we have some intelligence? Some of the best and most intelligent men I know are not 6 ft hunks with 8 – 10 inch apparatus, although occasionally one of those would be a gift. lol

      BTW I have never used “limerance” although I read it somewhere, but you’ll be sure to see it in one of my upcoming reviews. lol

      Just thought I would give my two cents Lee. 🙂

      • I don’t much care for excessively endowed gentlemen myself–I think ten inches could be a health hazard. I will admit that in Tangled Web, Brendan was ENORMOUSLY impressed with Philip’s equipment, but he’s a back-door virgin and he’s only been acquainted with one other set of wedding tackle besides his own… his first lover would not have won any gold medals.

        Now you’ve got me thinking I need to write something about a couple who meet at a diet-watcher’s meeting…

        • Lee

          Now you’ve got me thinking I need to write something about a couple who meet at a diet-watcher’s meeting<<

          That could be a great plot because so many people are battling the bulge today. I hope you do write such a story – I, for one, would love to read it. 🙂

  • Absolutely! It’s very hard to write about a lover falling in love with his beloved without allowing the reader to see the beauty that the lover sees. Maybe everyone is beautiful when seen through the eyes of love.

  • What a beautiful post Lee – and so true. I think this is even true for non romantic relationships. I find that once I get to know someone and care for them, I always think them attractive. A great sense of humor goes a long way for me!

    I readily admit to being one of those men that gets a little tired of reading about beautiful and well endowed characters, but it’s not that I don’t enjoy the fantasy, because I really do as much as the next reader. Sometimes there’s nothing better than a sweet romance with two beautiful men having a great time and getting their HEA.

    No, It’s more along the lines of familiarity breeding contempt. I read just too many books with characters that seem the same. But this goes for many other frequently used characterizations as well.

    Thanks for putting a smile on my face this morning!


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I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports - especially baseball
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