I’ve been married for more than twenty years, and with my husband for almost a quarter century. That’s a long time, although not, of course, by immortal standards, where a millennium of togetherness is the expectation upon mating and marriage. I literally can’t imagine. And I’ve been thinking about all of the HEAs in my beloved fantasy books, and the countless centuries of intimacy that each and every one represents. As anyone in a long term relationship knows, the honeymoon eventually ends, and much of the intensity of the passion fades, as does our tolerance for the many differences between our partners and ourselves. I’ve written before about how opposites attract, and that has certainly been true for me and my spouse. But even if we partner with someone who seems very similar to us on the surface, we all have shadow selves that are uniquely our own. In a lasting lifetime partnership, how do we accept the dark side of our mates, and how can we ask them to do the same for us? I’m not sure, but I know we’re working on it.
Whenever I think I’m terminally unique or that my relationship is different from those of others, I have but to read one of my favorite fantasy books. Pia and Dragos, Mac and Barrons, Sookie and Sam, and, most recently, Mariketa and Bowen all deal with the beasts within and the necessary accommodations each must make to be part of a couple. Over the course of their stories, each of these pairs learns to come to terms with the creature beneath a beautiful body as they struggle to become a twosome. And maybe it’s the GQ looks that each of our heroes possesses, or the alpha male charisma, or their profound devotion to their women that makes it seem easier for their wives. But any way you slice it, these guys got game—of the animalistic variety. Talk about a dark side. And their women have their own weaknesses and shadows that give depth to their characters and interest to the readers.
But how does this relate to the rest of us? If we ask ourselves honestly, do we truly accept the shadows of our mates? Have we revealed our own inner demons? I’m pretty sure I have, as my demons aren’t quite housebroken, and come out to play even when I’ve told them firmly to stay inside. But they don’t listen, and the mess they make can be epic at times. So my husband is well aware of the shadows lurking in my heart. Most of them, at least. But what about his? Can I embrace the darkness in him even as I demand his light? I tell myself I can, but sometimes my actions belie my claims.
In our wedding ceremony, the officiant spoke of the three elements of our union: my husband, our marriage and me. She talked about how we were two complete individuals coming together to create something distinct—a new entity. We had discussed this concept with the minister before the wedding, and she was able to write beautiful prose around our desire to avoid the two halves of a whole trope. I’d been to weddings where that was the theme—where the bride or groom represented the “missing puzzle piece” for the other, like the lyrics of that simpering Katy Perry song about being a teenage dream. I’d also read about this approach to love relationships in the historical romance novels of my youth in the 1980s. In those early bodice rippers, the hero and heroine were always two peas in a pod, two sides of the same coin, an incomplete soul waiting for its other half. Gag me.
My husband, good man that he is, would never introduce me as his better half. The way I figure it, if I’m only half a person waiting to become whole through the addition of another, the half I’m likely to be is the good part—after all, who would want me (or anyone) if they represent the half that lives in shadow? No one, that’s who. So if I’m half a person representing the good stuff, then when I come together with He Who Shall Complete Me, we’re gonna generate shadows, not light.
Instead, when I was at the point where I was open to a lifetime partnership, I was looking for someone who would intensify my light and my strengths but also be able to live with my darkness and weaknesses. After all, the advice I give to all couples thinking about marriage is this: take your intended’s worst qualities, magnify them 1000 times, and decide if you can live with what that looks like, it’s a good match. Because if you’re going in with the hope of change, as they say in my hometown, fuggedaboutit.
So for me, and for the fantasy fictional couples I love, we’re working on it. All of it. Making sure all of me loves all of my mate and vice versa. It’s the work of a lifetime, and a labor of love. We have to take the dark with the light, the beast with the beauty, the good with the bad. Whatever the case, I’ll take it all.