HOW I STOPPED HATING ROMANCE AND EMBRACED KILT SEX WITH OUTLANDER
Confession: I used to be a hater. In my twenties, I got hung up on being the “cool girl” who could hang with the guys all night crushing PBR tall boys, stuffing every variety of bacon-flavored food down my face-hole while watching sports, and rolling my eyes at chick stuff like Grey’s Anatomy. I was ‘above’ anything I considered overtly girly or “chick lit,” priding myself on being unsentimental. I hate-watched The Notebook and basically did my own Mystery Science Theater 3000 routine throughout the movie, mocking anyone who loved it. When it came to movies, television, and fiction, I eschewed romance for dark comedy, sci-fi, and action. In college, I used to say that the most romantic movie ever made was Sid & Nancy because EVERYONE LOOK AT HOW EDGY I AM.
Jump cut to fifteen years later, and I am OBSESSED with a romance series. If you are not familiar with Outlander (it’s on Starz, I get it, it’s the premium cable channel you’re least likely to pay for), it’s the story of a British Army nurse, Claire Randall, who inadvertently travels back in time from 1945 to 1743, where she falls in love with a Scottish Highlander named Jamie Fraser. The TV show and the collection of books upon which it’s based are a genre mash-up of romance, historical fiction, and a dash of fantasy. I picked up the first book a few years ago while looking for something to read while on vacation. I knew a little about the reputation of the books and the show--sex scenes! lots and lots of sex scenes!--which sounded like it would make for a fun page-turner. Additionally, I enjoy historical fiction and time travel and since my vacation consisted of two weeks of camping in the backcountry, a book set in 1700’s Scotland sounded like it make for good story/scenery synergy.
Within hours, I became engrossed in Claire’s story. Separated during World War II while working as a nurse and an officer, Claire and her husband Frank are reunited after years apart, and take a second honeymoon to Inverness. Claire is walking through the ancient stones of Craigh Na Dun when she’s suddenly transported back in time to 18th century Scotland and is taken in by a fierce group of Highlanders. Circumstances force her to marry a near stranger, a young clansmen named Jamie, for her own safety. At first, Claire is horrified over being forced to commit century-crossing bigamy, but as she and Jamie get to know each other, they fall deeply in love despite their different backgrounds. True to the reputation preceding the book, hot kilt sex ensues. I loved the attention to detail--the descriptions of the castles, the clothing, the horses, the sweeping misty green vistas. But mostly, to my surprise, I loved the love story. I haven’t read a ton of romance, and unless you count the years in junior high when I devoured V.C. Andrews’s full oeuvre, I will throw any book with too many adverbs and colorful dialogue tags into the figurative trash pile, she blustered forcefully. But Outlander was different. The saga’s male lead is Jamie Fraser, a dashing, loyal, red-headed hero who could bench press a half dozen Jon Snows without breaking a sweat. Don’t get me wrong--I love my husband with every fiber of my being. But show me a loophole in which it’s OK to have a guilt-free affair with a hot Scottish warrior as long as you travel back in time two centuries to do it, and you’ve got my attention. I mean, is it even cheating if your partner hasn’t been born into existence yet?
I finished the paperback by the end of my vacation, which tells you how much I was into it because that bad boy is 700 pages long. Not long after, I dove into the next two books and caught up on the TV adaptation which is currently in its third season. Outlander can be surprisingly subversive; I don’t want to give away too many plot points to anyone interested in starting it up, but Claire is not boxed into a damsel-in-distress type of role. Sure, there are times when Jamie swoops in to save the day, but she rescues him from just as many near-disastrous scenarios, usually with her quick thinking and tenacity. The show also delves into dealing with trauma in a way you don’t see on most fantasy shows. Because Claire is from the future and believes in such new-fangled concepts as “basic hygiene” and “the female orgasm,” the locals attempt to kill her, beat her, or burn her at the stake.
Can we go back to Jamie for a second? Because, can I speak for the other grown-ass women in the world when I say FINALLY? You can keep your sparkly vampire pretty boys, your suave ad agency double-life-leading chisel-jawed anti-heroes, your aunt-banging man-bunned noble-born prophecies--Jamie Fraser is the hero we want and the hero we DESERVE. He’s fully devoted to Claire, not just in love with her body but with her mind. He can barely stand to live without her. He CRIES at the thought of losing her. He listens to her, respects her, and takes her feelings and opinions into consideration and HE LIVES IN THE G-D 18TH CENTURY SO GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER, 2017. The show is aware of who its audience is and what moves us to pony up that monthly add-on fee for Starz, so it pulls no punches when it comes to reveling in the female gaze. The camera will linger on each curve of a rippling ab, a butt bathed in firelight, a muscular thigh exposed by a tousled kilt. Take a seat, Game of Thrones, because Outlander has nailed it with the equal opportunity ogling.
Early-Twenties Me would be aghast that Late-Thirties Me is this geeked out over a romance saga. “Come on! You used to be cool,” I can see Early-Twenties Me saying to my current self, dressed in overalls with my pager tucked into the bib pocket, “You lost your edge!” Current Me shouts back, “I was never cool! I had a Rachel haircut in high school!” If there’s a lesson I could teach my early-twenties self (besides throwing those overalls into a bonfire and NEVER getting a Rachel), it would be: don’t shit on things that other people love. Grey’s Anatomy or The Notebook might not be my favorites, but they bring people joy (and break boundaries in racial diversity presented on network TV, and give us the gift that is Ryan Gosling). It’s FUN to lose ourselves in fictional worlds, to fantasize about enchanted places and a love that transcends time or doin’ it in a haystack. And not all great love stories have to end with someone stabbing their partner to death while strung out on heroin; in fact, let’s hope most of them don’t end like that. But if you’re still rolling your eyes at the idea of the existence of romance, it’s cool. We can all still agree on a big “yes” to equal opportunity nudity.