Richelle Mead

When Love is Not Enough

I've been told that love is all you need. It sounds good. I wish it were true. But it's not true. And it's a dangerous untruth, at least in my mind. I've gone down many a bad road and made many a wrong turn under the misapprehension that love is enough. I've stayed in relationships well past their expiration dates and performed many heroic feats of attempted salvation in the hopes of convincing a beloved that love will save the day. Only, sometimes it can't. Or it won't. Either way, the disappointment of discovering that love does not conquer all can be absolutely devastating.

Why am I thinking such depressing thoughts, you may wonder. Well, I'm still contemplating the experience of reading the entirety of the Vampire Academy series in one fell swoop. It was an utterly marvelous adventure in which I lost myself for hours on end in a thoroughly compelling world filled with characters I cared about and loved to spend time with. Thinking all the while that I was so grateful to have discovered (along with millions of other fans) another truly outstanding series and author.

Now don't get me wrong, I enjoyed this series immensely. I found myself forgoing other activities to be able to read instead. And I always like it when a series actually has a beginning, a middle and an end, rather than going on ad infinitum like some series I could name. Nothing good ever comes from a never-ending story. At least not in reality. But, having said that, Ms. Mead left quite a number of loose ends dangling like participles at the end of a poorly-constructed sentence. Not generally considered good form. I had a lot of questions, personally, which I won't list here, lest you haven't yet read the books. But suffice it to say, there was quite a bit of Batman's utility belt going on toward the end--you know what I mean--miraculous coincidences, deus ex machine, everything tied up neatly in a bow. And you know how I feel about that. I'm opposed, for the record.

And, in case you need a spoiler alert, here you go--spoiler alert--Rose and Dimitri get their HEA (I know, you are totally surprised!). But I have to say, I had a bit of a problem with it and here's why:  Richelle Mead got it right the first time, when toward the middle of the series things fall apart between our erstwhile hero and heroine. And while I was sad that things were going south for them, and that I was only going to get one stinking, tepid sex scene after three or four books--oops, did I say that out loud?!--I loved the way that Richelle Mead described the absolutely heart-breaking, gut wrenching phenomenon of knowing someone loves you and also knowing that it doesn't matter, that it's not all going to be OK, and that despite true love, the two of you are not going to go riding off into the sunset together.

Has this ever happened to you?  If not, count yourself among the fortunate. I think I read too many historical romances as a teen; you know, the kind where the hero and heroine hate each other for most of the book or have some other compelling reason to keep them apart, despite their palpable attraction to each other? But it always works out in the end for these fantasy lovers, and, in fiction, love usually does conquer all. And while I'm not a child of the sixties, I liked the Beatles as much as anyone, and I absolutely believed love is all you need and all you need is love. So when I dated a series of completely unsuitable men who I absolutely believed in my heart of hearts loved me, I held onto those relationships with everything I had because I thought that love would prevail, if I could just persevere.

But, here's another spoiler alert, this time, of the real life variety:  love doesn't always prevail. My problem, it turned out, was that I was listening to too much Beatles and not enough Rolling Stones. I should have paid attention when Mick Jagger sang, “Angie, I still love you baby, everywhere I look I see your eyes.” But the song is still about him breaking up with her. And I hated that part of it, and secretly berated Mick for leaving his love.  Because if he loved her, why was he leaving her?  I really didn’t get it. And, on top of my tendency to perseverate to Angie, I had a bad habit of listening to Guns and Roses Don't Cry over and over again, until my roommate wanted to throw herself out of the nearest window (which was 39 stories above street level, so you can imagine her annoyance). It’s harder to let go when you know that love isn’t the problem. At least it was for me.

I've been in at least two, maybe three relationships where the man I was with was in love with me--and acknowledged it-- but didn't like that he felt that way so he punished me for it. Twisted? Upsetting?  You bet. Truth?  Absolutely. In fact, this is exactly like the situation between Rose and Dimitri at one point in the series, and I celebrated the author's foray into authenticity.

But then Richelle lost her nerve.  She cheated. Like a light bulb going off, Dimitri "realizes" that true love must endure, so he gets over himself and throws himself wholeheartedly into the relationship with Rose and they get their HEA after all.

I think this could lead to the creation of dangerous expectations concerning romantic liaisons for some individuals. This is not usually what happens in real life. In real life, when someone can't accept love, it's usually because they are emotionally damaged in some way (in the way Dimitri is damaged, in fact), and it is only rarely that another’s love can overcome that (at least not without massive therapy for the damaged person). But how many times have we told ourselves that if we can just love our beloved a little more, hold on a little longer, it will all be OK? How many times have we made excuses for the other, dismissing hurtful behavior, rationalizing that he didn't mean it?  Yup, I thought so.

Abandon this trope--it doesn't work. Love is marvelous and unquestionably necessary for relationships to work. But it is not the only requirement. Respect, trust, and compatibly are equally important for the long-term success of any romantic alliance. I wish someone would write a song about that.  I’d hit the repeat button and settle in for a long listen.

The Divinity of Domestic Goddesses

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I'm still reading the Vampire Academy books by Richelle Mead. And I'm feeling called to comment on her observations about the dichotomy of individuals--mostly female--who seem to fall into two categories: warrior women and domestic goddesses. The heroine of these novels, Rose Hathaway, my girl crush from last week, clearly falls into the first category. But one of the interesting aspects of these books is that Ms. Mead expresses--through Rose--some longing for the ability and inclination to be more oriented to the home and the family. And one element of this theme that runs subtly through the series is the implicit notion that these ways of being are essentially mutually exclusive. 

Being a warrior precludes domesticity, maybe especially for women, at least according to Richelle Mead. And I need to give this serious thought. Because I really don't want to believe that this is true, but, unfortunately, I suspect that it is. So, for today, the question is, can the same person be happy and fulfilled out in the world kicking ass and taking names while also enjoying pursuits closer to home, including cooking, cleaning, gardening, child care, and general homemaking?

When I married my husband, I felt I was very clear about my position on traditionally-dictated gender roles. I was opposed. With prejudice. He says I misled him during our courtship with protestations of delight in exercising my culinary skills, limited as they were. He claims, and I'm not commenting on his veracity, that as soon as we got married, I ceased spending time in the kitchen. I came back with the observation that I still enjoy spending time in the bedroom, so he should be quiet and grateful.

He encouraged me to take a gardening class (the fact that I needed a class should have been his first clue that perhaps my thumb was less than chartreuse). We had a conversation about cleaning bathrooms, where I had to point out that the bathroom belonged to both of us, and therefore it was not my job to clean it, but rather ours. Just as childcare was also a shared responsibility. I get so angry when a father refers to caring for his children as "babysitting."  When a parent cares for a child it's called "parenting" and should not be considered a cause for expecting a medal.  My husband doesn't do that, just for the record.

Over time, my husband came to understand that I had no more affinity for domestic activities than he did, and that, as a result, we needed to share these responsibilities so as to balance the burden equitably. But the truth is there are people out there, mostly but not exclusively female, who enjoy these sorts of activities. Lots of folks like to cook, don't mind cleaning, and delight in playing peek-a-boo with a toddler 100,000 times in a row. Not to mention those who feel that kneeling all day in the dirt under a hot sun is the height of relaxation and fulfillment.

I am absolutely not one of these people. And part of me really wishes I were. But the part that wishes I didn't feel so wretchedly bored and put upon by domestic chores is at odds with the part that believes, like Rose and her creator, that if I enjoyed homemaking, then I might not enjoy my pursuits outside the home as much as I do, nor would I be as motivated to do them as I am.

Is this a false dichotomy?  Perhaps.  Can women bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan?  Undoubtedly. Does that mean we have to enjoy both?  Probably not. Now, I know that such people exist; women, especially single mothers, who do it all and do it well. And I also know there are women who claim to enjoy both work and home activities.

But these women, at least from my vantage point, are warriors on hold. It's possible that before the house and the kids they were fierce and intense in their purpose, as Rose is. But domesticity is domesticating, no doubt about that. What makes us good at nesting undermines what makes us good at risk taking, a necessary component of the warrior mentality. And we can argue about whether it is the nature of the attachments that encourages risk aversion or the distraction of the tasks themselves. For me, it's the dilution of focus that compromises my ability to kick ass and take names effectively.

Being a warrior isn't just about war and physical fighting, although that is certainly true for Rose.  Being a warrior is the ability to achieve difficult goals. It requires the capacity to focus on complex relationships and the patterns of many moving parts. From my perspective, domestic goddesses are able to focus their attention on many things at once, to keep many balls in the air at the same time and to juggle them all with grace and efficacy.

All I know is that I wish I gotten me some of that genetic code. I wish I could be happier in my kitchen and my backyard. I wish I were the type of mother who relished making Halloween costumes for my kids and cupcakes from scratch. Instead, I was the kind of mother who dressed up as Princess Leia for our Halloween party, wielding a light saber (and yes, I am aware that she didn't have one in the movies) and leading the charge of 15 eight-year-old boys into battle against a drone army armed with laser guns. It was ok, though. One of the other mothers brought the cupcakes.

That's What I'm Talking About

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I have a girl crush. I'm a little in love with Rose Hathaway, the badass heroine of Richelle Mead's YA series, Vampire Academy. Generally, I eschew YA series; I can't really handle all that teenaged angst, once was certainly enough for me. Nor do I like the high drama over absolutely nothing, especially among the girls, although being the mother of two teenaged boys had taught me that high drama among teenagers is not limited by gender.  And finally, I really don't appreciate the absence of hot sex scenes in these YA books. I'm all about the chick porn. Having said all of that, however, I also have to say that I have barely been able to tear myself away from these books for the past week. In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if I'm being driven by the kind of compulsion that fuels the magic in Ms. Mead's interesting, original world. But perhaps not. I think this kind of compulsion is just the result of good, old-fashioned compelling writing. I can't turn the pages fast enough to see what happens next. And each book in the series is better than the last. Coolio!

So, back to Rose. She has firmly taken her place in the pantheon of warrior women I aspire to emulate from my beloved paranormal fantasy books. Included in this august group are Mac, Anita, Merry, Jane, Mercy, Cat, Sookie, Elena, Pia, and even some of their more light-hearted sisters, including Betsy, Glory, the other Jane (Jameson), Nix, and her Valkyrie contingent. These women kick ass and take names, as I’ve described before. But the thing I love most about them is their ability to overcome their own compulsions. And Rose might actually take the prize in this arena—her evolution from a girl who consistently gives into her reckless and irresponsible side, with all the hedonistic pleasures it promises—into a woman who consistently does the right and responsible thing has been enlightening and instructive. In this, she is like all of my favorite ladies, but her situation is maybe just a little harder. After all, for her, doing the right thing means killing the man she loves.  She definitely wins the competition, I think. What am I talking about, you may wonder again, as you have before. Don't worry, I'll tell you, just as I always do—eventually. When I can find my way back to the point of my ramblings. I'm talking about resisting those overwhelming feelings we all have to do things that feel good in the moment, but that we absolutely know are not good in the long run. Or even in the moment immediately following the immediate moment where the bad behavior seems like such a good idea.You know what I'm talking about: the ice cream at the end of the meal, even though we're trying to lose a few pounds; reading just one more chapter or even just one more page when we know we need to get going to meet another responsibility or just get to sleep so that we won't be zombies in the morning; or skipping the gym in favor of the local watering hole to meet some friends. That's what I'm talking about. 

But wait, there's more; diet, sleep and exercise are child's play compared to the more important decisions we make while under the influence of the compulsion of ease and avoidance of pain and discomfort. What about when we know it's time to leave a job, or a spouse, or a friend, or just a bad situation?  And we don't. We put it off just a little while longer, kind of like Rose does when she knows she should stake the bad vampire, but she hesitates because she just doesn't want to do that right this minute. She tells herself she'll do it in a few minutes. But for Rose, like for us, procrastination is paralysis.  But unlike the rest of us, or, maybe it’s just me, Rose gets over her procrastination PDQ and does what she needs to do—even when she is fighting the physical, emotional and mental withdrawal from some pretty potent magic, which works like the best drugs imaginable, giving her an incredible, almost irresistible high.  Almost irresistible.  As in, not quite, because resist she does, though God only knows where she found the strength, because I sure don't.  I’m just not sure I could be so strong. Could I get up and walk away from something that felt so good, and seemed so real?  Surely I’d like to think so, but I doubt myself all the time.

Luckily, we are all given lots of opportunities in our everyday lives to practice this particular form of compulsion resistance.  Temptation calls at almost every turn—and we are often in the position to wonder whether we really need to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, or because we’re afraid we might get caught if we don’t.  If we are honest with ourselves, would we all be completely upstanding citizens if there were no penalty for transgressing?  Would we jaywalk? Snag a candy bar without paying? Cheat on a paper or a test? Kiss our sister’s really cute boyfriend if he wanted? Probably not.  Or maybe so.  Each of us has to answer for ourselves. As I’ve noted many times before, doing the right thing is hard to do. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

That’s what makes Rose Hathaway such an excellent role model, and why I have a teensy swoon going on for her.  I want to be just like her. I want to do the right thing, no matter the cost to my heart or my comfort or anything else.  But, I have to say, I don’t think I could kill the man I love even if I were convinced it was the right thing to do. The good news is, I don’t have to make that choice today.  But I can be inspired by Rose and her willingness to do the hard thing.  Because it always helps when we see someone else succeed in doing things we want to be able to do ourselves.  If she can do it, maybe so can I.