Tell me you want me. Love me. Need me. Mean it. But not too soon, or too easily.
That’s part of what makes a romance work. The struggle to connect. In “Why Isn’t Free Will Sexy” I wrote about a current trend in paranormal romance that I’d noticed, the physical compulsion of the protagonists to come together, a biological need so great that one or both of their lives hang in the balance. I had a problem with authors creating what I felt was a false choice to love. If the object of your desire is desired because of extreme chemistry, and will die if you don’t commit to him or her, is it really a freely made choice?
Posed like that, the answer has to be no. But I’ve since read more in this sub-sub-genre and I’ve come to the conclusion that the characters in these books have as much freedom of choice as most real people do. They resist the urgent demands of their bodies, pulling back from the almost drugging influence of the partner’s presence and wait to make the commitment that will change their lives. Of course, this delay, this URST (unresolved sexual tension) is what drives traditional (not erotic) romance and makes the culmination, the consummation, so satisfying. It’s no secret that the pattern of traditional romance mirrors the pattern of female sexual arousal.
There’s more to this pattern than sexual arousal, however. The life and death need for the right partner is a literal representation of a basic tenet of the romance genre, that love heals and transforms the beloved, and that giving love is transformative as well. The alchemy of freely giving and receiving love makes us whole, and that love is as essential to life as air and water.
Central to these stories is the inevitability of love. We know going in there will be a Happily Ever After. (We are talking about romances after all.) No matter how you try to avoid it, once you step in it, there’s no getting it off your shoe. This trope wouldn’t be so satisfying if we didn’t have a deep cultural belief that when you find the One, you’ll know. No matter how you struggle, resistance is futile.
Does that undercut free will? I don’t think so. Freedom of choice really only applies to what actions a person or a character takes. No matter what they feel, the characters still choose how and when to act. (Or at least the author chooses. :-))
Some neuroscientists believe free will is an illusion created by our brains. Society needs us to believe in free will and the consequences of choice, however, so we pretty much have to go with it. But fiction has to make more sense than real life.That’s why we tell ourselves stories: to reinforce the big Truths.
Love makes us stronger. If we let it.