Monday, April 28, 2008

Mated by fate

Why the idea of soulmates/heartmates/lifemates doesn’t work for me

I’ve read this in published paranormal romances and a few writers’ works-in-progress. Basically, the setup is this : Powerful immortal man discovers that feisty mortal woman is destined to be the one person who completes him and makes him happy.

This plays to both the thrill of capturing the alpha male and the feeling that love is so powerful and special that it was meant to be, written in the stars, planned by fate. It also removes uncertainty. If a tattoo on your palm glows blue when you meet someone (much like Bilbo’s sword when orcs are around) to tell you that the person is your soulmate, well then, no problems. You’ll never marry or fall in love with the wrong person. You’ll never spend time wondering if your soulmate is right for you. You are given 100% assurance that this is the person you have to marry in order to be happy, and then it’s on to wedding plans. I'd like to read this kind of story if it didn't have the following flaws.

1. The soulmate has no choice.

Too often in a soulmate romance, the woman isn’t given any choice other than being with the hero. He may prevent any other man from getting close to her, for instance. Even if he isn’t actively monitoring her, she doesn’t fall in love with anyone else – a neighbor, a friend, a co-worker, whoever. It’s as though she’s read the story and knows what is expected of her when she meets the hero – token resistance followed by ecstatic surrender, as opposed to a reasoned explanation of why she can’t just leave her job, her family, her home or her boyfriend to be with the new guy. Sometimes she doesn’t have such an option because the hero is so powerful compared to her, so they meet on his terms, rather than hammering out a common ground or compromise.

Calling a lack of free will fate or destiny doesn’t make it any less a lack of free will.

2. The hero has no choice either

Sometimes, the story ups the stakes by threatening the hero with lifelong misery or insanity if he doesn’t find the heroine. I’d want a man to be with me because he loved me and enjoyed spending time with me, not because he knew the universe would put a gun to his head if he didn’t.

3. The soulmate has no flaws

Since the realization that someone is a soulmate occurs instantly, the hero and heroine rarely work through any significant incompatibilities or problems of personality before they fall in love or get married. And since that might cause issues later on down the line, the author makes it easier for them by not giving them any such problems in the first place. They get along together well, don’t disagree on major issues like how many children they’re going to have, and so on. Their problems tend to be external, rather than internal.

Plus, the heroine is nearly always beautiful and sexy. It would be really interesting to read about a hero whose Soulmate Ring grew warm when he was around a plain unattractive woman. He’d refuse to believe this, since all his brothers have lovely soulmates, and they’d laugh at him if they saw him with such a dog. The woman tells him he’ll need to be a little less shallow if he wants her to acknowledge his existence, much less marry him. That would definitely subvert the cliché.

Though my take on it starts with the soulmate trope bringing the characters together so they can work on their relationship, and most books treat the soulmate trope as the backbone of the relationship.

4. The relationship can be too paternalistic

Relationships in books (as in life) are often unequal, but no real-life relationship has the man using his powers to watch over the woman from the moment of her birth, which I’ve seen twice now. I find that creepy, to be frank – there have to be some private moments in my life. If the hero secretly watches the heroine, he can come off as a voyeur or stalker.

In Gone with the Wind, when Rhett and Scarlett first meet, he admires her spirit. Since she’s sixteen at the time, and he’s about twice her age, it wouldn’t be romantic if he commented on how physically attractive she was. Instead, he compliments her on her bluntness and guts in approaching the man with whom she’s infatuated. He only kisses her years later, after she’s been married and had a child and grown up just a little, so their relationship never had a May-December vibe.

All these are personal takes on the matter, and soulmate romances are popular with many readers. But these might be reasons why they aren't popular with others.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

re point #1: have you ever read the Elfquest comics? there's a soulmate kinda thing there, which does fall into most of these traps, except that the girl resists for a long time and is all set to marry someone else. she eventually comes around, though, of course.

not much a fan of the soulmate thing myself, have to say.