Well, here we are. A drippy, chilly, dark February Friday just like any other -- except that we have to watch our coworkers sniff at ponderous towers of roses and baby's breath that were delivered to their desks throughout the day, and every 30 seconds one of them shoves a gigantic box of chocolates under our noses while begging us to "take as many as you want, he just can't resist sending them but I really have to lose three pounds before the wedding next month." Okay, my coworkers aren't that bad, but I've seen plenty of romantic comedies about loveless career women, so I know the script.
As a veteran of some 22 single Valentine's Days (yes, I'm counting the one where I was 10 months old), I'm not ashamed to say I spent many a Valentine's Day with only a good book to keep me company. Most dates that were on offer (admittedly few) couldn't hold a candle to the rollicking good times I had with my favorite literary heroes. Mr. Darcy, Gilbert Blythe, Benedick -- these men set a high bar, what with their clever quips, swoon-inducing compliments, and limitless good looks. Plus, sorting through the various archetypes offered by the novels and plays I pored through allowed me to piece together the sort of guy with whom I might be happy on some dreamy, rose-tinted Valentine's Day far in the future. It was like a mental Pinterest of relationship planning -- read all the books, then hit up OkCupid for the perfect composite of all your favorites! (In real life he'll belong to a lot more fantasy sports leagues and spend somewhat less time roaming the open moors, but compromise is an essential part of relationships too.)
Many of us think of romantic heroes as being somewhat cookie-cutter in nature, but the world of fiction actually offers a dazzling variety of leading men from whom to choose. While certain figures, like the oft-mentioned Mr. Darcy, seem to have the market on literary crushdom cornered, there are a lot of desirable men filling the pages of classic literature -- and they all have something different to offer. Over the years, I've giggled with friends over various fictional studs, but, just as in real life, we often disagreed as to which romantic figure reigned supreme. In high school, I was Miss Sarcastic, and Mr. Darcy did seem like the ultimate -- a handsome foil for my sharp comments who would be won over by my spirit and sass. Other friends prized dark, brooding men, like Mr. Rochester, whose melancholy seemed to promise sensitivity, an artistic nature, or a painful secret (in this case the last, unfortunately, but they can't all be winners). Some women preferred carefree rogues who represented freedom and fun. And more often than not, our tastes in fictional men seemed to say far more about our true natures than we realized.
There's no accounting for taste, so I can hardly hope to cover all the possible options here -- but here are some telltale crushes that might reveal who you really are.
1. Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables: A sense of humor is important to you, and you want a partner who makes you feel as comfortable as your favorite old t-shirt does. When Anne was mooning over a dark, melancholy type, you were silently screaming at her for overlooking charming, companionable Gil, who always got her jokes. In your fantasy, you'll fall in love with your best friend, who also happens to be incredibly handsome, roguish, and wild about you, and the rest of your relationship will be smooth sailing. How could it not be?
2. Laurie from Little Women: You can't resist a healthy dose of charm, even if it means you have to compromise elsewhere. You're a good-time sorta girl and need a cute, charismatic guy at your side on the party circuit. He may not be the most hardworking or morally conscious dude in the world, but he's not a bad guy. And really, you're not too focused on saving the world or advancing your career either. Gotta save that energy for happy hours and club crawls.
3. Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird: Your strong sense of social justice and duty makes Atticus irresistible -- a lawyer with a heart of gold, a caring single father, and an advocate for civil rights? Bingo! You're not one to be scared away by a guy with a little baggage; in fact, you value family so highly that you love the idea of a man who's already happily tied down. You're no-flash, no-drama, and all about helping others.
4. Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice: You're sarcastic and take pride in your cutting quips. To you, courtship means a battle of wits. If you get along with a guy right away, he's immediately relegated to the so-called "friend zone" -- a spunky chick like you needs a challenge. You often find yourself hung up on assholes just because the frisson you feel after arguing with them every time you talk convinces you that he's one exchange of barbs away from turning into a lovelorn suitor.
5. Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing: Your friends have almost given up on getting you to be nice to guys who hit on you at parties. Not only do you think flirting should mean matching wits -- it should mean an all-out war. Your cynical persona precludes you from seeming to care about mushy stuff like love, but deep down, you kinda like the idea of it. You're too proud to admit you're vulnerable to falling in love, but it wouldn't be so bad if, say, you were PUSHED into a relationship. And if you were, only a man as caustic and clever as you would do. Contrasting your relationship with the dull, traditionally romantic courtship of Hero and Claudio gives you a rush of superiority. No boring protestations of passion for you and your man!
6. Four from the Divergent series: Defining your self-worth through physical strength and dominance in combat isn't only for guys. You're a scrappy girl who can more than hold your own in the world of men, and you want them to treat you with the respect and acceptance that you deserve. Being underestimated for your gender frustrates you, and meeting men who want to treat you like a delicate damsel infuriates you. You're badass and independent, so what you really need is a worthy partner, not a protector -- someone who just might be able to keep up with you.
7. Mr. Knightley from Emma: Secretly you've always had a big crush on your older brother's friend, or the guy who's three years ahead of you at school. Knightley has the distinguished air of an older man, while still seeming like a companionable old friend. His few extra years give him the maturity you scornfully claim boys your age lack -- you know a girl of your precocity and strong personality needs a guy with a little more experience.
8. Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights: You're drawn to troubled, even dangerous men -- maybe it's just your fear of boredom, maybe it's a secret desire to be the woman he would reform himself for, but probably it's a little bit of both. But whether he reforms or not, you'd rather risk his unpredictable moods than trudge through a dull routine with a more stable guy. Anyway, what's more romantic than a man's love for you driving him half insane?
9. Dean Moriarty from On the Road: You're unconventional. You're laid-back. You're "just one of the guys." And you'd gladly trade stability and commitment for the excitement of accompanying a glamorous, somewhat unattainable man as he hops from town to town, adventure to adventure. It's not always clear whether you want to be Dean or be with him, but either seems like a pretty fantastic alternative to your boring desk job and OkCupid dates.
10. Rochester from Jane Eyre: Only a melodrama is thrilling enough to tempt you. If you end up dating a nice, pleasant boy, you'll inevitably look over at him as you watch The Biggest Loser together over takeout pizza and think, "Boooooring." A real romance involves a dark, brooding man with a tragic secret. Secrets, after all, are a useful source of drama you can talk over with your girlfriends at drinks, as are his emotional volatility and inability to reassure you about where you stand with him. With a Rochester for a boyfriend, you will never fail to be the center of attention at girls' night. And every time he tells you he's just too broken to really be with anyone right now, you love him even more.
11. Levin from Anna Karenina: You're probably quiet and often overlooked yourself, so you look at kind, un-thrilling Levin and feel a rush of sympathy. Unlike Levin's recalcitrant beloved Kitty, you know you wouldn't need any convincing to appreciate his good character and simple lifestyle. You have no wild visions of passion and romance -- you just want to settle down with a nice, thoughtful man and enjoy the end of your days of dating.
12. Patrick Bateman from American Psycho: Let's just be blunt about this one: You probably need therapy, because something about your man-chooser is kinda broken. Or, you're also a sociopath, in which case you might as well follow your cold non-heart, and best of luck to you.
13. Edmond Dantes from The Count of Monte Cristo: When that great guy you were dating for nine months ghosts out on you, you don't drown your sorrows in vodka sodas and try to make out with someone at a bar. You don't even reactivate your Match.com account. In your mind, romance is measured by longevity, and the ability to remain faithfully in love long after the beloved has vanished is your ideal. Instead of moving on, you spend your time catching up on your DVR backlog and waiting for a text from your dear ex explaining everything -- he was lost at sea, he was in a coma, he was wrongfully imprisoned -- so you can proudly reveal you never lost faith in your epic love.
14. Uncas from The Last of the Mohicans: Honor and self-sacrifice matter to you above all else. You sniff at more obvious heroes like Natty Bumppo, as well as more delicate, citified men -- the real question is whether a man would put his life on the line for you. There's a part of you that just really wants a strong, macho dude to pledge his life to keeping you safe and happy, and you don't care if that sounds a little retrograde.
15. Rhett Butler from Gone With the Wind: You dream of a bad boy, but not because you're so bad yourself. Something in you craves the challenge of "fixing" a seemingly incurable rake. Hypermasculinity and reckless risk-taking fascinate you, but also terrify you; you want a macho man who's willing to be tamed into domesticity by you and your irresistible charms. Then you can appreciate his wild deeds of old and his rugged, mustachioed good looks over tea and muffins in your well-decorated breakfast nook.
16. Will Ladislaw from Middlemarch: You think love is about a meeting of two like minds. You're artistic and thoughtful and need someone with the same sensitive, soulful nature. You could pass hours discussing the works of Michelangelo or the nature of humanity, so you need someone who has his opinions on those -- and who desperately wants to hear yours.
17. Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings: You're kind of a nerd, but you're also kind of old school. You want a love and a life that's otherworldly and unconventional, but it wouldn't kill you if this other world had pretty conventional gender roles... there's just something about a lean, sinewy warrior with a massive sword that really does it for you, and all you want is to be the ethereal star that guides him through life's battles.
18. John the Savage from Brave New World: Modern life often seems empty and flavorless to you. You look down your nose at reality TV, social media, sexting and the other opiates of the masses, and turn to other forms of entertainment -- communing with nature, meditation, reading poetry -- in the hopes of finding a more meaningful path in life. You resist settling down to a "job" in favor of borrowing rent money from your parents and trying to support yourself writing erudite art reviews for local alt-weeklies. No one understands you. But someone like John the Savage might.
19. Edward Cullen from the Twilight series: You tend to blend into the background, and you're tired of feeling plain and unexceptional. What could prove your true inner specialness more than the hottest guy in school singling you out for romantic attentions and -- ultimately -- a lifetime of unquenchable passion? You know you could fill your solitary time with new hobbies or by trying to branch out socially, but secretly you want to keep your life wide open so you can save it for the all-consuming love of a man who really appreciates you and proves it by monopolizing your time. Plus...sparkles.
20. Caspar Goodwood from Portrait of a Lady: Your greatest fear is losing your independence, and you know getting into a serious relationship is a surefire way to do so. How can you travel to a distant country on a whim if you have a partner at home? How can you quit your job to spend a year immersing yourself in really learning how to meditate if your boyfriend is counting on you to bring home a check for half the rent every month? Finding someone who just wants to watch you follow your heart -- and even help you do so -- might be the best chance you have for reconciling your thirst for freedom with your thirst for love. Even if it didn't work out (even supportive dudes might need rent checks sometimes), you'd have to be drawn to a guy who really appreciates your free spirit.
21. Jaime Lannister from the A Song of Ice and Fire series: This seems even more self destructive than Patrick Bateman. Really, guys? Is it the incest or the cold-blooded murdering? Sure he reforms a little. And you're probably the sort of girl who's willing to look past the massive mistakes (is "mistakes" the right word for "crimes against humanity"?) in this dude's past thanks to his stunning good looks, his passionate nature, and über-masculine warrior skills -- and if all you're looking for is a hot guy and minimal commitment, that may not be a bad thing. I guess. Still...be careful out there.