By Bridget Keenan
Weird fiction tropes include, but are not limited to, dark and mysterious men. They are everywhere in teen and romantic fiction. These unconventional men are popular because they combine socially desirable aspects of a partner with socially undesirable ones.
Some prominent examples of dark and mysterious men include Edward Cullen from “Twilight” and J.D. from “Heathers.” These men are usually conventionally attractive, although they always ruin the life of the main character by seducing them and changing their will. Dark mysterious men mirror Incubi in this sense.
Surprisingly, dark and mysterious men are not portrayed as villains, but typical people. They go to high school, have regular jobs and have fulfilling but un-exciting sex lives. Many of these men, such as J.D. from “Heathers,” start out as likable characters or love interests, and only after digger deeper into their personalities do we start siding against them.
This most likely exists as an escapist alternative to traditional female love interest. For personal and social reasons, it is reasonable to assume that many women are sick of being told to lust after the same vanilla men. The dark and mysterious man provides a more interesting and more relatable alternative to his humdrum.
Dark and mysterious men have traits that are socially forbidden and associated with the margins. The stereotypical dark man is quiet, gloomy and dangerous. These traits are heavily present in both J.D. and Edward. Stereotypically, little to no back-story will be given on them before the female role takes interest in them; the implication being that it is too much for the protagonist to bear.
Although this is never directly presented, the most salient characteristic of dark mysterious men is that interaction with them is forbidden, often for reasons of safety. The protagonist is encouraged to stay away, either by social restriction or direct word of mouth. The ideology of lifestyle of the dark mysterious man often clashes with that of the protagonist.
Reasons for condemnation vary from story to story, and often from interpretation to interpretation. Not all dark and mysterious protagonists rely on racial discrimination and coding to make their point. Although not strictly necessary, the dark and mysterious man is usually the darkest white-coded character.
Dark mysterious men exist as a flip to the traditional conservative male love interest. They are cheerless, uncaring and unabashedly successful characteristics rarely typical of a hero. The female gaze in these stories focuses on men who promise social success and security, not men who automatically rule out the possibility of either.
Who exactly this appeals to is unclear. However, the strongest evidence points to the theory that dark and mysterious men represent a less altruistic side of love. Whether sanctioned by the author or not, relationship abuse is almost a guaranteed element. Love is usually such a desirable thing that having an undesirable love interest is enough to completely shake up the usual tropes.
I do not know why this is considered a mainstream female fantasy when it ties romantic love so closely with danger. However, the entire point of this troupe is to provide a break from more traditional romance plots, with or without breaks to common social norms.