While going over my page proofs today (yes, on paper, with a pencil, because we are seriously old school over here), I caught the term “bond-mate” in two consecutive reviews. I took one out and replaced it with an equivalent term, but this got me thinking about how many paranormal romances seem to revolve around the idea of destined partners, much as fantasy epics often revolve around the idea of destined jobs or tasks.
Does anyone else find this idea really disturbing? It’s like all the worst parts of arranged marriage with none of the upsides. It throws us back to a time when women were property and there was no divorce. You can’t even blame your parents; Fate or Destiny or God has made the choice for you, and you don’t get to argue. Initially dislike the other person? Too bad! Fate or Destiny or God has also slipped you a roofie, and you will be so compellingly attracted to your destined mate that your arousal overwhelms your very reasonable concerns. The super-hot compulsive sex will just have to make up for your partner not being someone you otherwise want to be in the same room with.
In anything resembling the real world, this would be a recipe for marital disaster and profound self-loathing. The compulsive arousal/attraction thing particularly makes me cringe. There’s a word for sex you don’t want but are forced to have, and I think that word is applicable even when it’s Fate or Destiny or God forcing two people to behave a certain way rather than one of those people forcing the other. How terrible would it be to be repeatedly compelled to have sex with someone you’re bound to forever, possibly for multiple centuries or lifetimes depending on the paranormal setting, and to have your body aroused by it every single time even when it’s really not what your mind wants, and to know that you can’t escape because Fate or Destiny or God will inexorably draw the two of you back together no matter how far you run? Even if you loved your partner truly and deeply, how could you bring yourself to touch them, knowing that their responses aren’t under their control and that in this setting there is no such thing as consent because neither of you can really say no?
If the destiny is in some way related to race or heritage or gender–all men are fighters, all elves prefer bow-and-arrow to swords, each man gets one woman and each woman gets one man, the prince raised as a woodcutter will be a terrific king because kingliness is inherited, etc.–you get double extra “no” points. Essentialism is bad enough without setting up an entire fictional world that supports and enforces it.
I could be all analytical and muse about why so many readers and writers find these concepts even remotely appealing, but I’m going to keep it personal. The more I encounter destiny tropes, the more they turn me off. Destined love is the opposite of romantic.
Freedom to choose one’s own path in life is such a fundamental necessity that wars have been fought over it and people have marched by the millions demanding it. Let’s stop mining the emotional power of restriction and the quest for freedom by writing endless narratives of people who not only have no choices but whose character arcs begin with defiant struggle and end with giving in. When destined partners fall helplessly in love, it’s no different from “He loved Big Brother”.
Give me protagonists who make choices, even terrible choices, maybe especially terrible choices. Give me all the character development that comes from debating those choices. If Fate or Destiny or God forces them to do certain things, they’re not protagonists anymore; they’re puppets, hollow and voiceless, following their script to its depressingly inevitable conclusion.