I'm still enjoying Jennifer Ashley's Shifters Unbound series. The characters are well developed, the world building is interesting, the plots move along nicely and the sex is hot. What more can I ask? Not much, I'll tell you. In Ms. Ashley's world, there are several varieties of shifters, including Feline (cats), Lupine (wolves) and Ursine (bears). Each variety is a souped-up combination of species found in the wild, so each type of shifter already represents a mix. Then, when the shifters are brought in from the wild, they begin to mix with each other and with humans. Talk about your blended families. This mixology got me thinking about the difficulties that ensue when people from different countries, cultures, religions, races, and ethnicities get together and try to make a go of marriage or committed relationships. I remember my mother warning me about the challenges of interfaith marriage (I don't think she could have contemplated an interracial marriage). She told me that marriage is hard and requires a lot of work. She said that coming from different religions just makes it harder. I think I was five when we had this conversation.
Fast-forward about twenty-five years, and the gist of what she was talking about began to make sense. My husband and I had a little Green Acres action going on (I know I'm dating myself with this reference to sitcoms from the seventies, but you already know how old I am). I grew up on Park Avenue in Manhattan. My husband grew up in rural Washington State, in a locale whose claim to fame was that it was first in line to get ashed when Mt. St. Helens erupted. My apartment building had a larger population than his hometown. Suffice to say that we had some differences in our experiences, our approach to life, our respective cultures, religions, you name it. And yet, while we had almost nothing in common on paper, we had everything in common that counted. Still do, in fact.
This phenomenon of mates who come together not in spite of their differences but because of them is a common trope in paranormal fantasy. In Jennifer Ashley's world, it's relationships between Felines and Lupines, but also between shifters and humans. In many of my amazing paranormal fantasy books, humans mate with all sorts of paranormal creatures and the supernaturals mate inside and outside of their own kinds. Interestingly, in many of these series, Ms. Ashley’s included, interspecies marriage is illegal (also in the Sookie Stackhouse series, where vampires and humans are not allowed to marry). I’m sure this is a commentary on what was the law of the land, but is no longer. I wonder, given the Supreme Court’s landmark decision, whether this new reality will be reflected in my beloved fantasy books. I bet it will. But I digress. Again.
Back to mixed marriages and all the questions they engender. To begin, what will they raise the kids? Jennifer Ashley handles this question with aplomb, saying that if two kinds of shifters make a baby, the "cub" becomes the dominant form of shifter. In most of these books, however, interspecies breeding is rare, so when it happens, it’s usually an event that progresses a book plot. In some series, it's not possible for disparate species to make babies, so problem solved. In the real world, it’s a little less cut and dried when questions about how to honor and respect the heritage, history and customs of various cultures, beliefs and traditions need to be negotiated. For interfaith unions, there is the "December Dilemma." Do we celebrate Christmas, Hanukah or both? Passover, Easter or both? Or, do we do nothing and let the young ‘uns figure it out for themselves? How do we keep from confusing the children? Or ourselves? What about keeping multiple languages alive for the next generation? Or teaching multiple history lessons at home? Not to mention the faux pas we make when we don't fully understand or assimilate our mate's social mores or vocabulary into our everyday lives (have you ever heard a Gentile try to pronoun common Yiddish words and phrases? Oy vey). The whole thing is exhausting. And it can certainly lead to discord.
In my own household, even after more than two decades together, my husband is still dismayed when I pop the last bite of food in my mouth and there is none left for him. I assumed if he wanted some, he would have taken some off my plate. He expected me to offer. On the other hand, he’s consistently incredulous that I haven't yet learned that interrupting him to anticipate the end of his sentences is not an expression of my interest and love, which it is for me. For him, it's just rude and annoying. Go figure.
And then there is the issue that no matter how much we love each other and no matter now much we learn about each other, there are still aspects of ourselves that our partners may appreciate, but will never truly relate to. My husband is still slightly horrified by my misspent youth in 1980s New York City, while I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that he lived in such a homogenous town he had to travel at least an hour before he might encounter someone with skin darker than his, or someone who didn't worship Jesus. Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn't it?
And sometimes, no matter how much we love our mates, we need to be with our peeps. You know, the ones who get us, not just because they love us, but because they lived our reality. We may not even know these folks a long time but we feel an instant connection with someone and then bonded over similar geographic or cultural backgrounds. I love it when meet someone of my own species, New Yorkus Privilegus . It’s nice not to have to explain things sometimes,
So, paranormal fantasy authors gets it right when they explore the challenges and humor associated with dating and mating outside one's own tribe. The rewards are many, the least of which is avoiding having a family tree with no branches, but which also include expanding our horizons and perspectives and creating something unique and precious together. As always, we must ask ourselves, is the cake worth the bake? If the love is strong and both partners have the courage of commitment, then yes, yes it is. If one or the other participant is weak, it may not work out so well. In the end, mixing it up may not be for everyone, but it’s amazing that everyone may now have the right to decide what works for each of them.