The Pining Male

It's a common conceit in fiction, whether movies, songs, books, even opera:

The pining male.

The plot, in broad strokes: A man falls madly in love. The object of his affection doesn't return it or they are somehow torn asunder. Unable to move on psychologically, he lives a melancholy life, either leaving all the lights on in his house in case she comes home, rebuilding a mansion as a beacon, or somehow trashing his life, desperate for her to return his affection—or just return.

In some instances—often the tales with a romantic-comedy spin—he dresses in costume to be near her without her knowing, hides outside her house to watch her from afar, and sends emissaries to spy on her and gets inside information from mutual friends.

In reality, people would consider the man depressed, obsessed, and potentially a stalker—none of which society deems romantic. (Fortunately, the pining male is more often archetype than reality.)

Yet when encountered in fiction, women swoon. In these stories, the man's entire being is subsumed for love of a woman. Other than his desire for her, he is featureless and interchangeable. For women, being wanted is clearly an ideal. The finer details of who wants them is less important.

Flip it:

Rarely do female characters spend their lives pining for a male. Yes, they may have a few moments of depression at the end of an affair and may embarrass themselves once or twice in trying to get a man back, but the turning point always comes (sometimes with the help of a couple feisty friends): She's a powerful woman standing on her own two feet who needs no one but herself to keep her happy. Typically, this is the point at which the male realizes that his life pales without her, returning us to the classic pining-male conceit.

If a female character pined her entire life away for a man, women would be offended and likely horrified. How dare they portray women in such a fashion? It wouldn’t sell songs, or novels, or theater tickets.

Fictional tales are often wish fulfillments and role reversals, and, yep, such is the case with the pining-male archetype. Although taken to extremes in these fantasies, women historically have more often subsumed their lives for males in one fashion or another. Seeing men take their places in fiction is fulfilling and satisfying. And so it sells.

As depressing as it may be.