"There's only one problem with going to an Ivy League school," a (male) friend of mine once said as we made our way, bleary-eyed, into our college dining hall one post-exam morning. "The women here don't make any effort to look good. See, they're all hanging out in ratty sweats and mangy t-shirts, no makeup, no dresses. Some of them haven't even washed their hair. Girls here care more about their grades than they care about their looks," he concluded, shaking his head in chagrin.
But James? He's not so sure. Over dinner one night, after the two have been dating (and shagging) for three months, Sophie thinks James might on the verge of proposing. But instead, his declaration turns out to be embarrassingly insulting: "I'm worried.... you're not my normal type.... physically..... I know I'm no Adonis, but..." "BUT WHAT?" Sophie thinks to herself. "You're rich and male so it doesn't matter?" (1137) But Sophie keeps her outrage inside, not challenging James about the sexism that has him feeling that he's somehow less than a man if he doesn't have a trophy woman on his arm.
Sophie realizes that James' worry doesn't actually have "anything to do with me not being his type. It's either his ego's need for a trophy, or his fear of commitment. Whatever the problem is, I reckon it's about his head, not my body" (Loc 1167). Later, she tells him straight out what she thinks of his worry:
Whatever your 'type' is, that 'type' clearly hasn't been working out for you so well. Some men have a turning point in their lives where they realise what long-term relationships are all about. Love isn't all about crazy hot sex in a glass lift. It's about finding someone you fancy and like and respect and who you can be yourself with. Find that and you're very, very luck. The reason I'm calling you back is because I don't think you're a total idiot; I think you might be smart enough to grow up and realise that. (1126)
Yet even though she's both furious and crushed by James' unfeeling revelation, Sophie can't stop herself from longing for him, both emotionally and physically, and ends up taking James back, even though he never openly acknowledges the truth of her interpretation of his fears, or even apologizes for his obnoxious comments. He asks her to move in, and even proposes.
|James certainly thinks of himself as a nice guy, and thus, of course,|
deserving of a trophy girlfriend
His thoughts about Sophie's friend, who is suffering from postpartum depression: "He's supposed to be eternally grateful that she's a lard arse? A wife should make an effort for her husband. She should get down the gym, get on the high heels and suspenders, that'll sort out their marriage better than some stupid therapy" (2013)
Sophie's impression of his thoughts when he introduces her to his business associates: "When he says 'this is my girlfriend, Sophie,' the word 'girlfriend' sits heavily on his tongue like an ulcer" (2137)
" 'One of your eyes is bigger than the other,' he says. I have noticed this only recently myself.... It is truly a microscopic difference, but he has spotted it and seen fit to comment on it. Not in a 'your flaws make you unique/beautiful to me' way. Just in a 'you are not perfect' way" (2300).
Sophie watching James fixate on a model: "James is staring at her in a way that I have never, ever seen him look at me. It is the way he sometimes looks when he is driving his car too fast" (2162).
James' only half-way joking comment when Sophie rolls on top of him to admire his good looks: "Get off me, you big lump" (2284).
After a lot of determined avoidance on Sophie's part, and a lot of wiggly, passive-aggressive behavior on James', James finally admits that he just can't overcome his worries. The two part ways, and in the second half of the book, Sophie goes into, and climbs her way back out of, a major emotional trough, chronicled with equal parts humor and pain. Sophie's well aware of what went wrong:
The truth is I am furious: furious that I took him back, furious that I didn't pick him up on all the comments about my weight, furious that I didn't assert myself more, furiuos that I shagged him in the car when he was almost definitely seeing Noushka (the model), furious that I put his value above mine, furious that I believed his version of me. (3818)
But its not so easy for her feelings to catch up with her brain. Especially because she, like many white middle class women, has been "conditioned to think of anger as ugly, ugly, ugly" (4681).
Sophie does end up with a different, far better man by book's end. But the climax of the story is less about her new romance, and more about her acceptance, not only of her own strengths, but also of James' limitations:
I know what my life would be like with James. If I stayed slim and well maintained and aloof and played a constant game and kept him on his toes all the time, he'd eat out of my hand, for a while. If I never had a bad day, never showed weakness, never put on weight, never needed reassurance, never gold old, I'd be just fine..... And while I want him to fight for me, and tell me he's realised he's making a mistake, and that he wants me, fat, think or in the middle, the truth is, he really isn't built that way. And for the first time I actually start to feel sorry for him. (4255; 4274)
I wonder if someone could write a romance with a hero who starts off with the same entitled attitude as James, but who gives it up/moves beyond it? And not because he falls in love (changed by the love of a good woman trope), but because he comes to understand how limiting it is, both for women and for himself?
Beauty double standard: Good Men Project
Entitled to a girlfriend: The Lion's Roar
ebook by Bookouture, 2014