I had a totally assed-up day. I either ate something bad or I am coming down with a case of the stomach flu. Either way, my gut feels like it wants to purge but its not close enough for me to force the issue, so I am stuck in that miserable between-place, where I can’t get the toxin out of my body but have to suffer.
So, naturally, I started thinking about love.
The last few days I have been undergoing a little separation anxiety from Mrs. Axe. For those who haven’t read or don’t recall, my work is keeping me in midwest for a bit while she is at our ranch in the southwest. It’s hard – no, strike that, it sucks … but I have reached a peace with it, because it won’t last forever and it will ensure our financial security when I am able to retire. So it is worth it. I am going to visit her in a few weeks and it can’t come fast enough.
Anyway, I’m really missing her, ’cause – well, golly shucks and gee whiz – I love her. People toss that word around a lot but this is the kind of love where it aches to be away from the other person, where you just want to see their smile, touch their arm, feel their shiver of delight as you kiss their neck, feel their breath on your chest when they are sleeping snuggled next to you, and laugh at their goofy jokes because they are trying to make you happy, and you are, just because they try.
I’m not lonely; I see all the people I want at the office, and plenty that I don’t (I have 3-4 dudes of a building of 700 people I hang out with outside work). I’m not bored; I write, read, play some computer games, do x-word puzzles galore, and work out – all of them alone, and I am happy to do it that way. It’s her that I miss.
So enough of my personal life, ’cause I am sure no one else cares. But because my mind is a swampy mess of misdirections and random currents, I drifted from those thoughts to love in spec fiction. In a classic sense, it is always the "finding your true love" that seems to be the goal of the protagonists. Think about stories like Sleeping Beauty: if you read between the lines, the story says anyone’s true love is right there waiting for them, with no looking and no effort (though in the Robot Chicken version, when the prince kissed Sleeping Beauty, the little bird yelled, "Date rape!" – see it here). It’s not so much that I object the concept.
No, what bugs me is that so many books make it look so easy. Which, is bullshit. Think about this:
1) Opposites don’t always attract – not even often. How often do we see this? Reluctant, moody man and street-smart tough-girl? Mistborn. Humble farm-boy and spoiled noblewoman? The Belgariad. Brooding warrior and naive, shrinking violet? Uh, anything. It is true that some differing facets of personality can be complimentary, such as one who is a talker and one who is a listener. But if there isn’t some good foundation of similar thoughts, then it’s over. If they completely different concepts of child-rearing, how would that affect the relationship? Short of the toxic he-beats-the-shit-out-of-her-and-raises-his-kid-with-an-iron-fist variety, I never see this addressed. If they weren’t compatible here, wouldn’t the stress add some dynamics to the story?
2) Love isn’t inevitable. But it sure seems like it, if you believe the stories. Two kids, thrown together, in the worst of circumstances – yeah, you smell it coming a mile away. Even the Evil Overlord list references it: "If an attractive young couple enters my realm, I will carefully monitor their activities. If I find they are happy and affectionate, I will ignore them. However if circumstance have forced them together against their will and they spend all their time bickering and criticizing each other except during the intermittent occasions when they are saving each others’ lives at which point there are hints of sexual tension, I will immediately order their execution." Well, yeah, ’cause that’s the genre savvy thing to do. If two people have no reason to love each other beyond a platonic level, why force it? I don’t believe stress-spawned relationships outlive the stress.
3) Perfect love is unrealistic. Nobody agrees with anyone 100% of the time. Even the best of couples argue. Yet I see fantasy couples who – by the end of the story-arc, are essentially living (and hinted to have) a trouble-free future ahead of them. Uh, no. The only way this can work is if one of the characters is a total doormat with their love interest. Kahlan in the Sword of Truth series is often accused of this; despite being a vibrant, active character, once she falls in love with Richard Rahl, she is deliriously happy – because she does everything he tells her to do. I don’t know many people who are happy when in that circumstance; they usually feel trapped and miserable.
In reality, this part of a larger problem; bad romantic writing involves bad characterization, because it forces characters to act in ways contrary to how they would – likely – otherwise behave.
I am extremely blessed. Of the billions of sentient beings on the planet, my wife and I found each other. We are well-matched and it hurts to be apart. It hasn’t been rainbows and unicorns every step along the way; we’re both Type A personalities, so we have our trials.
But we work it out. I’d like to see more fantasy romances work it out, too.