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eablevins
11-13-2018, 06:34 PM
Okay, requesting advice time. I'm writing a story and sharing it as I go. Two of my readers pointed out that the trope of “I’m not worthy of you” was triggered in the last chapter, and they’re not fans of that trope and neither am I. Like, I've read books that ended on that trope and I felt that it kind of emasculated the man and was a cheap way to get the man and woman on the same page. One reader said it "rings hollow," and the other made an eloquent argument for why:


...his internal monologue on not being good enough / not being what she deserved struck me as, well, wrong, because I’ve never viewed love as a matter of deserve/worth. Trying out of a desire to reach an unattainable standard of “good enough” always struck me as a dead end, as opposed to trying out of a belief one is worthy and loved, even if they are imperfect. This is probably me rambling against the Romantic Trope grain, because I know I’m Not Worthy of Her is a very popular trope for a very good reason.

I wasn't thinking too much about that trope other than that's how my male protagonist felt in the moment, and I don't want to go into a deep philosophical dive to work through it (the whole story is a deep philosophical dive and I have 2 chapters left).

I'm considering whether I need any philosophical dive at all or if it will work if I show him in a different place in the epilogue (which will be set a few years later). And I'm considering how detailed I need to be to do that, or if simply showing him as having higher self-esteem and being in a happier mindset will translate to a healthier mindset.

So I guess the question is -- have you seen this trope resolved in other stories? How did they do it? What do you feel is the most effective component?

veinglory
11-13-2018, 07:22 PM
One of the biggest tropes of romance is that a relationship is part of learning not to think dead end and self-defeating thoughts and generally becoming more self-actualized. So as long as that is where things end up, I don't see the problem.

KBooks
11-13-2018, 09:11 PM
Is this a romance?

If so, I don't see it as a problem as long as A. it's ultimately resolved into a HEA and B. it's involving characters getting happier/healthier/more personally fulfilled because that's right for them... i.e. "I believe I can't be with you because I had a terrible upbringing and I have a flawed personal belief that I am incapable of being with someone without hurting them..." reads very differently to me from "I'm not worthy of you because you're a billionaire and I work at Starbucks."

Another thing to consider is that you mention this critique is coming in the last chapter. Is it possible beta readers are wondering if this is late in the game for character to still be mired in self-doubt and unworthiness? What reads one way in the first 25% of the book where romance characters are still in the "why this can't possibly work" phase may come across very differently in that last 5% where usually problems have been worked out and we're reaping the rewards of watching characters having struggled.

Cobalt Jade
11-13-2018, 09:18 PM
I don't have a problem with this trope, as it's expected that she will teach him by giving him her love that there are other sides to him and that what he believes is not the only way of looking at himself. YMMV.

On the other hand, if the story is set in the Age of Chivalry, it was expected for the male lover to think that way towards his love interest.

Curlz
11-13-2018, 09:34 PM
It will ring hollow and be a pure trope if it's one of those "I'm too poor and unworthy for a rich person like you." It's done to death and it's boring, and shallow. But if you have a situation where one of the people in the relationship thinks they've done something bad and that's what makes them unworthy for the other person, who is all nicey-nice, then maybe that could ring true. Because it's natural for somebody to feel less self-worth for some reasons (as an author, you should try to give them a believable reason). Basically, make the reason for unworthiness something that's not such a cliche like the rich-poor situation. Maybe that character is in temporary low mood, maybe it's an accident that they were involved in and feel guilty for it, maybe it's a prank that went wrong. Those don't make a person unworthy in any way but they can make somebody feel bad about it. Maybe their faux pas would have a negative effect on the other person's career and they don't want that to happen, thinking that pursuing a relationship is not worth risking that career. Unworthy doesn't have to be something cringy.

ElaineA
11-14-2018, 05:22 AM
I'm wondering if it's more of a "how it's coming across" issue than a trope issue. The fact that it's coming up this late in the story makes me curious.

As others have said, it's such a ubiquitous trope (although we don't know what's triggering it in this case) that there has to be something else going on. Is the MC's "feeling" coming out of the blue? Or, do they think it had been resolved, and now he's falling back on it as a "black moment" setback that doesn't feel quite in line with where the story had been heading? Something's not quite pinging for me.

I will say I don't think wrapping it up in the epilogue sounds satisfactory. As a reader I'd want to see the resolution, not be told about it "a year later." But we have very little info, so heavy doses of salt go along with that opinion.

eablevins
11-14-2018, 11:45 AM
:) Lots of good thoughts. And yes, it's a romance.

Definitely not a rich/poor thing. They have a history at this point of hurting each other (she pushed him too hard and too fast, and his response was hurtful). When he considers himself unworthy, he's finally apologizing for his side of it and is swept away by regret for the things that could have been handled better if he'd been in a better place emotionally and psychologically. (He was legit a mess. They're both deeply flawed.)

I think how I'm going to handle it is to have my female character stew on it and tell him in the next chapter that love isn't about being worthy. I think that should handle it in a way that satisfies my "don't let the idea sit there without challenging it" proclivities. I asked my reader if I could use some of her phrasing and she told me it was cool.

Velvet27
11-19-2018, 01:44 AM
I think how I'm going to handle it is to have my female character stew on it and tell him in the next chapter that love isn't about being worthy. I think that should handle it in a way that satisfies my "don't let the idea sit there without challenging it" proclivities. I asked my reader if I could use some of her phrasing and she told me it was cool.

But isn't the point that he has the realization? If this is a flaw / issue that he needs to overcome to become his best self?

morngnstar
11-25-2018, 09:50 AM
Never really been aware of this as a trope. It is definitely a real experience for some people, and I think the way to resolve it is to show (and have him come to see) that he's wrong about it: he really is worthy.

morngnstar
11-25-2018, 09:54 AM
I think how I'm going to handle it is to have my female character stew on it and tell him in the next chapter that love isn't about being worthy.

Show, don't tell!

Jeneral
11-25-2018, 05:59 PM
But isn't the point that he has the realization? If this is a flaw / issue that he needs to overcome to become his best self?

I agree with this. It sounds like it's something that needs to be part of his character arc, not just something that someone tells him.

Spicyqueso
01-03-2019, 02:53 AM
I think one way to get out of this trope is that the character finds self worth within themselves instead of getting it validated by someone else. I think this trope begins to become exhausting because there's this whole you can fix anything through love. But healthy relationships are not trying to fix each other. I don't see this as an issue per say but just offering a suggestion for a possible interpretation or change in the trope. Plenty of heroines realize their strength through challenges and not a man, I'm wondering if the same could be done with the male character?

L.C. Blackwell
01-06-2019, 06:12 AM
I think one way to get out of this trope is that the character finds self worth within themselves instead of getting it validated by someone else. I think this trope begins to become exhausting because there's this whole you can fix anything through love. But healthy relationships are not trying to fix each other. I don't see this as an issue per say but just offering a suggestion for a possible interpretation or change in the trope. Plenty of heroines realize their strength through challenges and not a man, I'm wondering if the same could be done with the male character?

I want to clap for this, and say yes, and amen! Even though the original post deals with someone needing to make restitution/find self-forgiveness and acceptance, it's a terribly problematic idea to feel you can fix another person by telling them "the truth" about themselves.

The reason for this is that a person who has a negative concept of themselves has most often learned it through experience. Verbal/written/stated interactions will never make the impact on the brain that experience makes. You can support, praise and uphold; you can encourage new experiences to counter the old ones, but you will never make someone feel worthy by telling them they are.

I've had to fight with this issue all through the formation of my current novel: the conclusion, for me, was that the worst thing I could do for the plot was to have my heroine "fix" my hero. As a man who was abused as a child, and rejected for his learning disability, he needs to stand up and get some agency for himself. At that point, he can approach her as triumphant--not as someone to be lifted off his knees, or scolded into self-sufficiency. He needs to be victorious, not rescued.

Back to the original question, however: when it's not a matter of internalized self-concept at stake, but an issue of personal guilt, sometimes talking it out can lead both parties to a better conclusion. At this point, however, I would look for a way to use events to point out to him that they need each other--otherwise the power balance is going to feel very one-sided if he's down, and she's the superior one insisting on forgiveness. He needs to have some way to feel valuable to the relationship again--to make it a matter of mutuality and have something to give.