You’re a Pro! 9 Utterly Irresistible Competence Kinks
Originally published in Heroes and Heartbreakers on May 2023
Recently, I learned the term “competence kink.” For those of you who are also over thirty, not living in NYC or LA, and often totally unaware of things everybody else seems to know, I shall define it now: a competence kink is a profound attraction to people who are really, really good at something.
My first competence kink ever was not a hot man. (I will get to hot men in a moment.) It was a horse.
I was nine when I fell in love with the Black Stallion. He was exotic and powerful, an Arabian stallion of royal bloodlines. He was indomitably wild: only one boy could ride him, the boy to whom he gave his trust as well as his hero’s heart when shipwrecked on a desert island. He was huge and gorgeous: hands taller than any other racehorse, with a glossy black coat and ungovernable mane and tail. And he won all the time. All the time. To give other horses a chance at even coming close to him, racetrack officials would stuff lead into his saddle to weigh him down, and he’d still win. I adored this horse. He excelled at everything: beauty, strength, speed, friendship, courage, nobility of spirit, love. He was the first hero I ever worshipped.
But he didn’t remain alone in my affections for long.
Here’s my list of nine irresistible competence kinks. I’m sticking to men here because the hero of my new novel, The Rogue, master swordsman “Saint” Sterling, inspired this piece.
1. Athletes: Tom Brady, Thierry Henri, Michael Phelps… Their bodies are perfectly honed to win, and they win and win and win. Their drive and determination and mastery of sport are flat-out delicious. Take Stephen Curry, former UNC point guard who’s on his way to changing basketball forever. Only one year in the pros and he already has a huge fan club.
2. Actors: An actor who can make me forget he’s him gets my Oscar vote. If he’s hot and can make me believe he’s not, bonus! Will Smith is handsome, hilarious, and bigger than life, yet while watching Concussion I completely forgot it was him. He’s that good. The same goes for George Clooney in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Ryan Gosling in anything, because he’s so adorably boy-next-door I start looking out my front door to see if he’s walking by.
3. Dancers: Channing Tatum dancing in Magic Mike is astonishing. Every muscle, every move, everything is perfection — and that’s with all of his clothes on. Dirty Dancing made Patrick Swayze a megastar. Gene Kelly’s smile made you forget he was doing astonishing things with his athlete’s body. Fred Astaire was actually a funny looking guy but nevertheless a heartthrob because of his ballroom moves. I could go on and on and on about Mikhail Baryshnikov.
4. Musicians: Succeeding as a musician takes enormous talent, hard work, and charisma. It makes even ordinary looking men sexy as all-get-out. Bruce Springsteen, Lenny Kravitz, Chris Martin, Jay Z, the Beatles, Elvis…
5. Men in Uniform: They put themselves in actual danger for our safety. Two words: Navy SEALs. Another two words: Top Gun. For a searingly perfect portrait of the competence kink adulation of New York firefighters after 9/11, Damon Suede’s Hot Head is amazing.
6. Leaders: Men who can lead without becoming evil caricatures of men make my knees weak, for instance, Justin Trudeau, the young, hot, and deeply smart Prime Minister of Canada. Ricken Patel of Avaaz is changing the world for the better, which makes my toes curl. I’m not even a royal family groupie and I adore Prince William of England.
7. James Bond. While we’re on people with huge influence over — you know —entire nations, I’m just going to go ahead and give James Bond a category of his own. He does everything perfectly: shoots, drives, spies, seduces, and always gets the bad guy.
8. Not-Quite-Human: Edward Cullen (Rob Pattinson), Angel (David Boreanaz), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Vlad the Impaler aka Dracula (Luke Evans). They use their monster strength and power to save fragile mortals. Spider-Man even does it while cracking jokes. #bestillmyheart
9. Warriors: Recently I binge-watched two shows in which the heroes are experts at what they do. And what they do is defend the innocent. I fell head over ears in love with martial arts master Matt Murdock aka “Daredevil.” Blind since childhood, he uses his body and all his other senses to become a weapon in service to the oppressed. My other TV competence crush: Oliver Queen aka “the Arrow.” These men are tortured heroes, living with secret identities and using their lethal skills to do good for the people of their communities. What do I love so much about these men? It’s all them — intimately only them. Oliver Queen says it perfectly in one episode: “When I’m out in the field, my bows, my arrows, those are just tools. I’m the weapon.” This is why I wrote a warrior hero. Manipulated into teaching swordsmanship to an heiress, in their first lesson Saint tells her, “When you fight with a sword you feel your opponent’s strength and skill in your own body. You experience him not only with your eyes and ears, but also in your flesh.” A warrior’s body and intelligence are his greatest strengths, and his extraordinary competence keeps him alive for the sole purpose of keeping everybody else safe. This is my favorite sort of competence, the sort that’s all about breathtaking prowess in service to others. That’s my favorite kind of hero.