A new Thea Harrison novella is always a cause for celebration. A novella based on Dragos and Pia requires a ‘sick day’ curled up on my couch. Planet Dragos delivers. Ms. Harrison announced it’s the last Pia and Dragos story. Crushing. So, I’m putting off re-read and making plans to savor a second helping down the road. When I’m in a book desert. Or a funk.
One of the things I love best about Pia and Dragos is the truth in their fantasy. Yes, they’re wildly in love but the romance between unicorn Pia and Dragos the dragon is not all calm waters and smooth sailing. That whole carnivore/herbivore thing is just the beginning for them. Relationships take work in paranormal romance.
And in real life. A sixty-year old friend of mine started a romantic relationship, basically her first. As she struggles to find balance in many areas of her life, she now has to juggle one more element. How much time to spend with him? How much effort should she make relative to him? What does she have to give up to be in this relationship? What does she get from making these sacrifices?
As a reader and writer of romance, and someone who’s been married for 25 years, I think a lot about these questions. I’ve found that all good relationships, romantic and otherwise, force us to grow, to leave our comfort zones and evolve. That is their greatest value. Part of this value, of course, comes from its cost. As I’ve written before, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
Real relationships necessitate changes; changes in lifestyle, outlook, perspectives, habits and expectations. My friend commented on how much time her relationship takes and how she’s had to give up activities she used to enjoy. I understand her consternation; there are opportunity costs involved in every choice.
If I were single (and didn’t have kids), I would have significantly more time to write, go to yoga or hang out with my friends. I could travel on a whim or stay home for an entire weekend. I would watch less TV and read more books. I would probably never cook another meal or compromise on bedroom temperature. I would not have to think about anyone else in making plans or satisfy expectations concerning my whereabouts. I could do exactly what I want, when I want and how I want. Appealing.
But not appealing enough. Because the truth is, I might not be a writer or a yoga instructor or anything else for that matter if I weren’t married to my husband. Being with him has both allowed me and forced me to evolve, to become who I am. A good relationship helps us to become better versions of ourselves. And it’s not just him; I’m lucky enough to have several close relationships, all of which have helped me become who I am.
This becoming is not a painless process. Evolution rarely is. There have been fits and starts along the way, not to mention frustration and disappointment galore. I’ve had to learn to acknowledge and articulate my needs. I’ve had to learn to express my wants. To differentiate between my needs and wants. To understand how much I can give away and have enough left over so that I’m still me. None of this has been easy.
Meaningful relationships require sacrifice. This is true for our romantic partners and our close friends. We must be mindful of what others need and be willing to give it to them. If we can. As my friend is learning, new relationships (and those we come to later in life) are especially tricky. How can we expand to make room? Where can we be more efficient with time to fit it all in? How much of our resistance to change is fear and how much is legitimate pushback against losing something essential or gaining something that will change everything?
It’s also important to avoid thinking the problem to death. We come to a relationship because we feel a tangible connection. These connections are rare and precious and must be nurtured and protected. Too much analysis can result in paralysis. Sometimes, we need to jump in with both feet and stand our ground. Optimally, this is what marriage is, the whole for better and for worse aspect. In my experience, this kind of all-in approach applies to other kinds of relationships as well, both with family and true friends.
Relationships take time, energy, attention and surrender. If they are good and strong and healthy, the cake is totally worth the bake. And it’s not a one and done; we pay the price over and over again but also reap the benefits tenfold every time.
I told my friend to stay the course. And, to take a lesson from Pia and Dragos; if a dragon and a unicorn can make it work, surely so can we.