These leading men aren't bad boys, like these guys:
They aren't an image or a stereotype. Instead, they're more of a surprise. When you first meet them, you judge them, quickly disapproving. But then they do something so sweet or they seem so vulnerable, that you're forced to reevaluate them. Bad boys are trying to the wrong thing, while trying to break all the right rules. These new guys are just trying to do what feels right or seems right to them in that moment, even when they have no idea what that is. They panic, they screw up left and right. But it isn't intentional. It's a flaw, a flaw that contributes to a fully realized, real, human character that you relate to, that you root, a character that you eventually learn to love with all your heart.
The first one I met was Adam on Girls, portrayed by the actor Adam Driver.
In the first few episodes of Girls, I thought Adam was so gross. His sex scenes with Hannah (Lena Dunham) were horrible. Us viewers had to watch Adam demean Hannah over and over, use her, and abuse her feelings time and time again. After his first scene, I'd written him off as the decoy boyfriend. He was lecherous, so creepy, and so disgusting; there was simply no way Hannah could ever stay with such a horrible person. I thought Adam was there to develop Hannah's character, to show us how she learned to stand up for herself, and learned to respect herself enough to end such a damaging relationship.
But I was wrong. Adam Sackler was no decoy boyfriend. No, he was here to stay, flaws and all. Slowly, as the episodes went on, and I got to see more and more sides of Adam, I realized that he wasn't this one-dimensional point on Hannah's journey; no Adam was a real person and a permanent character that I had to learn to accept, flaws and all.
I'm not one to change my opinion quickly. In fact, for a while, I felt almost tricked by the show. I wanted to hate this guy, but now they'd made me like him! It was wrong!
No it wasn't wrong. It was good storytelling. It was excellent character development. And the reason it felt so wrong was because it was so foreign to me to see such an imperfect person play such a desirable, romantic role. I was used to the perfect guys. I didn't know what to make of a guy with flaws.
Adam sat in the back of my brain for a long time after the season ended, only to return to my consciousness recently when I was watching the MTV show Awkward. That was where I met my second imperfect man (or, in this case, teenaged boy): Matty McKibben (Beau Mirchoff).
Early in the series, we learn that Matty is ashamed of his relationship with our main character, Jenna Hamilton (Ashley Rickards). The pair is constantly hooking up in private, but never act like a couple in public. Matty makes Jenna into a shameful secret, and, as a viewer, you have to hate him for that.
So, just like I did with Adam, I wrote Matty off as a decoy boyfriend. Just like I expected Adam to be a "character moment" for Hannah, I thought Matty would become a "growing point" for Jenna. But then, slowly, I started to see the charms of Matty McKibben. I started to understand how sweet he was to Jenna in private, and, more importantly, how confused he was about his a possible relationship with her in public. I learned that Matty really liked Jenna, he just didn't know how to express it exactly. I learned that Matty McKibben was a real, confused, teenage boy who had some serious growing up to do.
After a season a piece, I feel in love with Adam Sackler and Matty McKibben. And I realized that my love for their characters was greater than my love for your bad boy Chuck Basses or your perfect Pacey Whitters. With characters like Chuck or Pacey, I could tell you, vaguely, that they had flaws. With characters with Adam and Matty, I know what those flaws are, and I've learned to love them. I've learned to love all of who they are, not just their images or their perfections. Most of all, I've gotten to experience the joy of a well developed character arc, with real mistakes, and fulfilling moments of redemption. According to Joseph Campbell, a hero isn't a hero without some sort of great journey and great moment of redemption. Adam and Matty have taught me that this shouldn't only apply to our heroes and heroines, but also our leading men. Every character deserves to be more than a name or an image. They deserve flaws; they deserve real, meaningful, clearly defined character growth. They deserve to be human, just like every one of us watching and admiring them. Just like us viewers deserve to find more relatable leading men just like them.
With that, I salute you, Adam Sackler and Matty McKibben, and I hope I get to know (and love) many more (fictional. Or possibly real.) men like you.