Pity the poor boys in my life from 1996 on, few as they may have been. That was the adolescent year I first started reading novels by Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters, and even though at the time I had precious little real-world boyfriend experience, I still knew deep down that an actual teenaged male couldn’t hold a candle to the slow burn of Mr. Darcy, the smoldering heat of Mr. Rochester, and the roaring inferno of Heathcliff.
Uh…is it hot in here? Ahem-hem.
So damn you, fictional men! You ruined me for real men! And at such an innocent, tender age! I would hate you, you hunky unattainable dreamboats of literature—if you weren’t so perfect and passionate and devoted, and didn’t look exactly how I want you to look in my mind!
Even worse, modern fictional boyfriends continue to ruin me! I’m convinced Edward Cullen would sit patiently on a bench for hours while I tried on shoes at the mall. And I’ll bet Augustus Waters would never dream of taking me to Wendy’s on my birthday. Their only flaw is existing only in books—and I’m sure someday technology will remedy that. It’s just got to.
In the meantime, to tide us all over, here’s a list of swoon-worthy fictional men who have ruined things for everyone.
Fitzwilliam Darcy (Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen)
Because he matches Elizabeth so perfectly, wit for wit, and learns from his mistakes and owns up to them, and also you just know he looks like Colin Firth meets a young Laurence Olivier meets Captain America, with a chin cleft for days.
Tyrion Lannister (A Song of Ice and Fire series, by George R. R. Martin)
Sure, he’s not your standard cookie-cutter hottie, but Tyrion’s got smarts, he’s got wit, he’s got style—plus he’s brave, and loyal, and he really loves the ladies. What’s not to like?
Edward Cullen (The Twilight saga, by Stephanie Meyer)
Ever since the arrival of handsome, refined, passionate Edward, being watched while you sleep never seemed so borderline acceptable.
Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë,)
Before reading this novel, if you’d asked me whether I would want any of my exes to dig up my grave years after my death and passionately embrace my moldering bones, I might have hesitated. But not anymore.
Gilbert Blythe (Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery)
I’ve hated on Gilbert in the past, but I have to admit, there was always something about him that drew me in. His quiet confidence, his gentle adoration of Anne, and the way he was always there for her. Plus, I’m a sucker for a good childhood-adversary-turned-admirer story.
Augustus Waters (The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green)
Oh, Augustus. So beautiful, so loving, so fearless. So perfect! I know you must exist in real life—and that someday, I will meet someone like you, and it will be incredibly awkward, due to our 20-year age difference. But still—I’m sure we’ll enjoy some witty banter as I volunteer tutor you or lecture your Boy Scout troop or something. And no, I won’t buy you and your friends alcohol, but nice try, you adorable little scamp. Call me when you’re 25.
Ned Nickerson (The Nancy Drew Series, by Carolyn Keene)
Dear Ned; I’ve historically mocked you as well—but now that I’m older and wiser, I realize that in some ways, you were Nancy’s rock. She didn’t have a lot of time for you, what with her incessant sleuthing, but still you were always there, waiting patiently on the sidelines, being supportive and reminding her to wear galoshes and bring a flashlight to the Haunted Swamp and whatnot. You bland, handsome wet blanket, you.
Rhett Butler (Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell)
Rhett was such a smooth-talking, arrogant, self-serving scoundrel; no wonder I was head over heels for him. Still, I’d imagine that a real life Rhett Butler would manage to deftly steal both my heart and my inheritance during the first five minutes of a speed-dating session, so it’s probably just as well that he remain fictional.
Odysseus (The Odyssey, by Homer)
It took him ten years, but after a long, difficult separation and an arduous struggle, Odysseus made the journey back to his faithful wife. Now that’s the kind of love and devotion you rarely see in real life these days. I’ll bet he and Penelope never had a screaming match in a video store, either.
Mr. Rochester (Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë)
Oh, Mr. Rochester, you I love the most. You knew that Jane was just a plain, poor governess, but you saw through to her inner beauty and you prized her wit, her intelligence, and her gentle humanity. Just like if we had met when I was in tenth grade, you would have looked past my terrible glasses, my braces, and my obsession with the The X-Files, to see the sensitive, misunderstood poet hiding within. And then you would have taken me to prom on horseback, through a fragrant field of lilies…What? Are y’all still there? Talk amongst yourselves, guys. I’m busy.
What fictional heartthrob ruined you for real live romance?