Friday, August 10, 2018

Will That Particular Dysfunction Spoil the Relationship?

At the end of a romance, the reader is left to ponder, Okay, so will this relationship continue to work?

Here are two fictional relationships, with dysfunctions, that I hope will continue to work. However, I worry more about the first than the second, and the reason is the dysfunction under examination.

To start, dysfunctions are a given in romances (as they are, one could argue, in life--but that's a post for another time). After all, if the characters have nothing to overcome/contend with/worry about, then, Where's the plot? Sure, outsiders can cause problems, but they can only cause so many problems before the characters' issues come into play.

If Mulder is perfectly well-balanced, then what would Scully roll her eyes at?

1. Kelly and Walter from Love Lessons by Heidi Cullinan

I don't worry about these characters!
I am rapidly becoming a Heidi Cullinan fan. I like the true diversity employed in her books, not the nominal diversity that decides who the "right/good" people are.

I worry about Kelly and Walter from Love Lessons, however, and I worry about them due to Walter's tendency to use money to buy affection.

Actually, Walter uses money to show affection when other approaches fail--so there is hope for him. Unfortunately, it is a very fine line. I have witnessed upfront the problems that using money to buy affection can cause: (a) a person (the giver) uses money to buy affection because he or she feels unlovable; (b) the receivers of the money and the gifts either have to assure the giver, Please, stop, we love you no matter what, or give up and accept the gifts graciously.

Unfortunately, constantly assuring and reassuring the giver is exhausting and doesn't always work, so (c) the receivers give up and accept the gifts graciously, which sounds nice but doing so establishes a power imbalance whereby the giver is being taken advantage of and the receivers are being treated like affection prostitutes.

Kelly does shower Walter with affection and seems to know how to handle his bursts of neediness (and has the confidence to establish boundaries). But using money in this way is addictive. I worry that Walter won't be able to stop; Kelly will eventually find himself suffocating under a sense of "I bought you/you owe me," however unintentional.

2. Jake and Andy from Eli Easton's Five Dares

Jake and Andy remind me of Gus and Sean
Eli Easton is one of my favorite writers (and yes, I do wish she would write another Mad Creek book!).

I was worried at the beginning of Five Dares, which revolves on dares between two friends-lovers. People like Andy who take dangerous and unnecessary risks often also have a death wish.

However, it became clear within a few chapters that Andy's dares were (1) almost always staged; (2) done more for the applause/reaction than the adrenaline rush--getting the crowd hyped up is as big a part, if not bigger, than the risk itself; (3) Andy has a single goal in mind; (4) Andy walks away from the most risky self-dare, standing drunk on the edge of the dormitory--that is, he can talk himself down (Jake helps but ultimately, the decision is Andy's).

The dare at the end is pure showmanship, a wild example of Andy's joie de vivre. And it's all for Jake's benefit. I'm not worried that Andy will rush off on his own and do something stupid and life-threatening.

Both books are well-written. All characters are distinct and well-established. Both relationships are believable. The (slight) difference: dysfunctions that demand other people's continual reassurance are far more difficult to resolve that dysfunctions that lie within a person's control and purview.

Everybody, ultimately, has to fight their own battles. We readers need to see the fight (and hopefully, some wins).