Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Cowboys Are My Weakness,” like many of the tales in Houston’s short-story collection of the same name, concerns the problems many women face in finding and sustaining relationships and the tendency of some women to be attracted consistently to unsuitable men. The narrator, as the author was at the time of the story’s publication, is a single woman living in the West. Since moving from her east coast home ten years earlier, the narrator has had several boyfriends, many tall and bearded like the man in her fantasy painting. Like many single women in the late twentieth century, the narrator is conflicted about her goals: She says she wants to settle down and be a rancher’s wife, but she has remained involved with the clearly unavailable Homer for more than a year. She becomes immediately infatuated with the ranchhand Monte, even though she realizes that she and he have virtually nothing in common. In David, she recognizes a man who embodies the values she claims to be seeking, but she keeps him at a distance emotionally, although it is clear that he would reciprocate any interest she showed.

The story’s narrator, typical of most of Houston’s heroines, is both an independent woman of the 1990’s and a vulnerable, needy person. The story is an excellent and well-known representation of the genre of stories told by and about single women who want to have it all but end up getting none of the things they say they want, except their freedom. Houston’s stories differ from most such stories in that her locale is the rural West, rather than the more common urban environment, and her narrator is an active, adventurous, outdoor woman, unconcerned with style and glamour.

The picture in her mind that opens the story is referred to several times throughout the story. Other references indicate that the narrator is more interested in fantasizing about a solid relationship than working to create one. At one point, she says that despite her years of education, she has a “made-for-TV mentality” that she cannot get past in her relationships.