I just finished the fourth offering in Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling series. The books are getting better and better. Always the mark of a truly gifted author. This one, Mine to Possess (commence eye-rolling now), is not really a Psy-Changeling story, as one half of the romantic pairing is (mostly) human (with, as usual, a little bit of something extra). The story centers on a couple who knew each other as abused children who survive a violent past together, but are then lost to each other for twenty years. When they come together again, there is a significant amount of betrayal to overcome between them, as well as the dysfunction produced by the tragedies in their shared and separate pasts. Deep stuff. And the larger back-story running throughout the series is also extremely complex and thought provoking. The primary issue that captured my attention in this novel is the creation, destruction and recreation of the bonds of trust between two people. Trust is such a difficult subject. In my experience, trust is a function of both external and interior forces. Some of us, myself included, did not learn trust from their families of origin. For some, these early lessons may lead to lives of deception and dishonesty--both toward others and toward themselves. Some of us, though, the lucky ones, begin to walk down this road but able to achieve a course correction, and learn--usually with difficulty, to have honest, authentic relationships.
But as Talin and Clay show us, trust, once broken, and between two damaged individuals, is a tricky thing. We may want to trust. We may need to trust. But, in my experience, we cannot will ourselves to trust. In the book, both Talin and Clay come to a series of intellectual realizations that are then coupled with the impact of their mutual attraction and comfort they find with each other. There is so much complexity in their relationship it was really gut-wrenching to read at times. There was an element of previous sexual abuse as well as sexual acting out as a means of self harm. Lots of stuff going on here.
And my only quibble with Ms. Singh, who I love, is that I think overcoming those kinds of psychological obstacles would take a lot more time and shared experiences than she portrays. But I guess I'm willing to suspend my disbelief about this (ironically I have a lot less trouble suspending disbelief with shapeshifters, vampires, witches and angels-- go figure) for the sake of argument and the development of a compelling plot.
I think a lot about trust. It's such an important element in living a full and authentic life. But trust is so hard. I don't know that I can say that I trust anyone unconditionally. I'm not sure that kind of trust actually exists. There are many different levels of trust, and many different ways to trust. For example, we trust a variety of websites to recommend people who perform critical functions for us, including doctors, lawyers, babysitters and contractors, not to mention restaurants and hotels. We trust machinery to work (having experienced the vertical climbing abilities of ten-person Hummers in Moab, Utah, I am quite familiar with putting my trust in machines). Anyone who flies understands that it really isn't magic or purposeful thinking that is keeping that winged aluminum tube aloft--my personal efforts to the contrary--it's that we trust that the engineers and mechanics and pilots are doing their jobs and that we won't go down in fiery flames.
But that is a different kind of trust than what is required in interpersonal relationships. For example, I trust that my oldest girlfriends will not start telling tales out of school about my misspent youth to anyone else. I trust that my relatives will help me move furniture or let me borrow a van or give me a kidney if I need it. And, fundamentally, I trust that my husband won't leave me after two decades of marriage on a whim because I've suddenly become more trouble than I'm worth.
At least I think I do. But sometimes I read these paranormal romances and wonder whether my ability to trust isn't somewhat impaired. It was hard to relate to Talin's decisions, conscious and unconscious, to love Clay no matter what, even knowing that she might lose him again, and that in losing him, might irretrievably lose herself. I want to have that kind of courage, and the strength to overcome my self-imposed barriers. But I'm not sure I can. And I'm not sure that this is something we can make ourselves to do, as Talin does. Perhaps it is, though.
I've read a lot of books by Nalini Singh, and I've come to trust her philosophy on relationships. There is that trust again-- and I'm willing to consider that she is right here, too, and that it is possible to make a decision to trust. Or at least to act as if we do, which is sometimes the best we can hope for.