The Unequal Relationship

fridays child WARNING: This article contains spoilers below the cut for Someone Like Her by Janice Kay Johnson.

Last weekend, I wrote a review for Janice Kay Johnson’s contemporary romance Someone Like Her. While I liked many aspects of the book a lot, I felt the relationship between hero and heroine to be unequal, and to some extent this spoilt my pleasure while reading, and my belief in the HEA. Two days later, my mum phoned me and told me about a situation involving a relative, and I couldn’t help wondering if his marriage, also an unequal relationship, might have something to do with it. (Mind you: Both my cousin and his wife are lovely. It’s just that there is a very obvious imbalance in their marriage.) So I am inclined to take this issue rather seriously, and it makes me wonder how it is treated in romances, which are about relationships in all their facets.

In Someone Like Her, the heroine has spent all her like in her small hometown, surrounded by her very close, nosy and large extended family. At the beginning of the novel, she dreams about moving somewhere else, but by the end of the novel she has learnt to appreciate her hometown better (without being blind to its drawbacks) and doesn’t want to leave anymore. So far, so good. The hero, a highly successful corporate lawyer, lives in Seattle, and as he falls in love with the heroine, he plans to ask her to move to Seattle. He meets her family and enjoys spending time with them, but he also experiences what it’s like to have one’s every move observed. At the end of the novel he decides, very suddenly, that he will give up his present job, move to the small town, and work as a family lawyer there. What strikes me as unsettling here is the fact that he gives up everything his own adult life consisted of in order to be enveloped entirely by her life. There is no thought that he might miss some of the advantages of living in a large city – and Seattle is a very attractive one, I am told. There is no thought that he might wish for more privacy, or independence – everything he has been used to enjoying without question. There is no thought that he might wake up one day and suddenly feel he has gotten the short end of the stick.

Now my cousin’s life has been similar: He moved from a medium-sized town to a small village. He lives in the midst of an extremely close-knit family now that is not his birth family. And he lives completely immersed in his wife’s lifestyle, with horses, a large garden, family dropping in any time of the day, and the doctor across the road whose competence one doesn’t quite trust, but it wouldn’t do to offend a neighbor. Both their children and their finances are managed the way she wants it, with her never considering he might disagree with her decisions and him only rarely asserting himself. It’s not that he’s weak: Mild is an attribute that describes him better, and with strong convictions, but unable as yet to properly deal with the force of nature that his wife is.

Many relationships go through an unequal phase at some point, but the true danger lies in accepting this inequality as a matter of course, and not recognizing it for what it is and then fighting it. As I love romances that deal with working out matters in relationships, when dealt with perceptively, the unequal marriage can be one of my favorite motifs.

How often do we see such unequality in romances? A lot. We see it whenever a poor girl marries a duke / billionaire with the accompanying lifestyle. We see it when a jaded person from the big city – for some reason New York is a favorite – settles in one of those homey small towns in the middle of nowhere, complete with his or her new lover’s family and hobbies. Very few romances actually address the problems that might come with such a dramatic and one-sided change, because these questions would have to be asked close to the end of the novel, and could thus endanger the HEA. In fact, the only romances that do so I can think of at the moment are some of the traditional regencies and older gothics, often with marriage of convenience plots.

Georgette Heyer’s exquisite Friday’s Child comes to mind. Here, the charming and selfish Viscount Sheringham, a young man about town, marries Hero Wantage, who is seventeen, extremely innocent and the daughter of her family’s black sheep, to gain control of his fortune. Sherry removes Hero to his London apartment and expects her to settle in her new role as his wife without a hitch and without disturbing his comfort in any way. Completely out of her depth, and unhappy because she is aware of this yet unable to deal with the situation alone, Hero gets into many scrapes and the HEA is only possible after Sherry understands he must give up his old life, too, and create a new one together with her. I seem to recall that several of Victoria Holt’s gothics and Carola Salisbury’s Mallion’s Pride also depict marriages in which a young woman is transplanted into an environment which is completely alien to her and which she is expected to adapt to without fuss, causing great unhappiness.

Another novel that deals with the problem of the unequal marriage is Jo Beverley’s An Unwilling Bride, one of my favorites by her. In this book, Lucien de Vaux, Marquess of Arden, heir to the Duke of Belcraven, and Elizabeth Armitage, a schoolteacher, enter a marriage of convenience engineered by the powerful duke. Lifted from a plain, intellectual, middle-class lifestyle into the ducal mansion, Beth feels jittery and out-of-place from day one, partly because all the adjustment is expected from her, and next to none from Lucien. As they are characters of equal strength of will, their battles are fierce, and they hurt each other painfully. But Lucien learns to consider his wife as anything but a pawn, while she discovers sides to him that are a far cry from his splendid society persona and that make him approachable to her. They end the novel as equals in every sense, and they create a home that combines both their lifestyles.

As I avoid contemporaries featuring billionaires like the plague, I don’t know of any which really address the problem of one partner getting used to the lifestyle of the mega-rich. I have read one contemporary in which a man of moderate means marries a recent millionaire heiress – Julie Cohen’s Driving Him Wild aka His for the Taking – but the disparity of fortunes was not really the primary issue there.

Can you name any other romances – historical, contemporary, futuristic – which really address the situation of one partner giving up everything in his or her old life to be completely immersed in a new lifestyle, and the problems this can mean for the relationship? Do you like or dislike it when realism enters the HEA in such a way? Is it part of the fantasy for you that one partner can be transplanted just like that, or does this leave a feeling of unease in you, as it does in me?

-Rike Horstmann

41 thoughts on “The Unequal Relationship

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  2. JMM: Oh, it drives me INSANE when heroines (in historicals) are castigated for being cautious about marriage. They’re always surrounded by Happily Married Former Heroines who chastise them – “If you LOVED him, you wouldn’t hesitate!”
    Puh-leeze! It’s easy to SAY that – but how many people today would actually put their ENTIRE life under the control of another? Getting married (in the past) meant putting your money, your property, your body, and your children in the hands of your husband – he could do anything short of killing you (and sometimes he could get away with that) with no penalty.
    So, tell me the titles of the “Lady Anne” books!

    Exactly, JMM! Anne almost married badly, too, but her fiance fortunately died. ( LOL) She now knows that if she had married her first fiance, she would have been desperately unhappy, so she is ultra-careful, now. After all, she’s handing her whole life over to a man; since she is independently wealthy, and has an easy-going father who lets her do what she wants and never pressures her to marry, she has little motive to tie herself to a man.

    Except that the Marquess of Darkefell, her suitor, is compelling, good-looking and makes her heart go pittapat!

    Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark was released in April to good reviews and ‘disappointing’ sales. LOL.

  3. I’m remembering a romance with a theme like that – the free-spirited heroine marries a very conservative hero while he’s on temporary assignment in her home town (Vegas) and moves to HIS home town (a small town in Nebraska) with his very conservative family – and it’s a disaster. They end up separating, and in the end he quits his job and they start over in a completely new place.

    I loved that ending! So often the heroine (and more and more often, the hero nowadays) ends up giving up their life to live their SO’s.

  4. I never believed in the big sacrifice for someone else, esp. if they are completely one sided. Way too often it leads to resentments and accusaitons, at least in my experience.

    One of my closest friends moved from across the world to be with her boyfriend. He has lived here all his life and has many friends. They did accept her gladly but my friend never felt like they were her friends. She learned enough German to get by but was unable to reach a higher level. so that pushed her more into isolation. Did it kill her relationship? No. but it puts a serious strain on it – so much so that they have now decided to move to a completely new environement together, where they are both strangers. The situation has put a lot of pressure on my friend, who is lucky to have a partner who acknowledges her problems and who is trying to make things easier.

    In a believalbe romance, I expect this kind of effort from the other partner, too. I find it very romantic in fact. It turns a sacrifice in a gift – a gift that is acknowledged and appreciated.

  5. Oh, it drives me INSANE when heroines (in historicals) are castigated for being cautious about marriage. They’re always surrounded by Happily Married Former Heroines who chastise them – “If you LOVED him, you wouldn’t hesitate!”

    Puh-leeze! It’s easy to SAY that – but how many people today would actually put their ENTIRE life under the control of another? Getting married (in the past) meant putting your money, your property, your body, and your children in the hands of your husband – he could do anything short of killing you (and sometimes he could get away with that) with no penalty.

    So, tell me the titles of the “Lady Anne” books!

    Oh, and what happened in Like No Other Lover? Was it yet another Unrealistic Last Minute Change Of Heart by the Father in law?

  6. Lynn Spencer: @JMM – I totally agree with you about Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane!One of the reasons I love this romance so much is because the author does not rush things.The story ARC stretches across several books, and we get to see the characters establish an equal footing.

    Ah, Lynn, I wish romance readers felt the same way. My Lady Anne series is having a rough go of it, unfortunately, and the primary reason seems not to be my writing, which has gotten good reviews, or the characters, which people love, but the fact that the first book of three doesn’t have an HEA. I wanted to create a realistic relationship, and since I had created a woman who was strong, independent and had come to terms with the fact that women of her time were not rewarded for being that way, she had decided she might never marry. To marry would mean putting herself wholly in her husband’s control, and she was uncomfortable with that thought. Once I created her, there was no going back. I couldn’t make her just fall into Darkefell’s arms because it was the end of the book.

    It wouldn’t have been a realistic HEA. He has to convince her that his intentions are to honour that side of her, which he loves, and she has to learn to trust him.

    I don’t know if it was the marketing, or what, but I fear too many reviews stressed the lack of an HEA in Book 1 without informing readers that there are two more books to come!

  7. @JMM – I totally agree with you about Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane! One of the reasons I love this romance so much is because the author does not rush things. The story ARC stretches across several books, and we get to see the characters establish an equal footing.

  8. This was a theme in the Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane stories. In “Strong Poison”, he swoops in and rescues her when she is about to be convicted of murder.

    Most authors would have had a romantic ending, where Harriet falls into his arms. Not Sayers. She had them talk to one another. She had Harriet recover from her trauma and build up her strength. She had her THINK about what marriage to Peter would be like – a rich, titled man who is thought of as a dabbler. She had them work out what marriage would mean to Harriet.

    As for “Giving all for love” – sounds noble. Doesn’t usally work out that way. If a person changes his/her life because there’s something missing in it and the change brings more than it costs; more power to them.

    If a person changes his/her entire life and GIVES UP everything for another – that’s going to lead to resentment at some point.

  9. I was thrilled with this column since I’ve pretty memorized Friday’s Child and An Unwilling Bride. The couples really have to work/change/self-examine and fight for their HEAs in both books and charmingly, it’s the friends of the male who chime in in both books with great advice. Friday’s Child in particular.

    That’s said to be Heyer’s favourite book: easy to understand why! It wasn’t until I grew up a bit that I realized that Kitten was a bit selfish herself. Not a complaint — it’s just a younger reader thinks, imo, that it’s all Sherry’s fault and that’s not really the case.

    So I liked that it wasn’t a fade to happy black. Particularly in Friday’s Child but also the Beverley book, there’s a ton of work after they say “I do”. And I totally believe in their HEAs — luckily for Beverley readers, Lucien and Beth show up in many subsequent Rogue books.

  10. @Elaine S

    It obviously worked well for you and you’re happy. I think this is exactly what Rike is talking about. In some romances, it’s not clear that it will work well and that the heroine or hero making the change will be happy. It’s important that the author show the “working well” and the “happiness.”

  11. Having experienced an “unequal” relationship that did not work out, I completely agree that it makes me question the validity of their HEA. I moved 3000 miles away from all of my family and friends to be with a man who I loved and who loved me. However, we moved to his hometown with his built in support system and I knew no one except my boyfriend. He did not understand how I could be lonely and unhappy when he had everyone he cared about together. My HEA did not last due to my decision to put myself into an unequal situation with my boyfirned.

    The inequality is in that one person is completely comfortable and happy and the other is in unfamiliar surroundings or situations.

    There are many books that I read and think about what this relationship will be like in one year or 5 years. I think paranormals are the best example, as was mentioned before.

    I like when the gravity of what the one person is giving up is treated realistically. I thought “like no other lover” by julie ann long did a good job of it. When the hero falls for the woman his father does not approve of, he is forced to make some serious sacrifices. He realizes that all will not be easy and pretty but he is willing to do so for the woman he loves. I believed in their HEA.

  12. I was always disturbed by the popularity of the Twilight series for exactly this reason. I found the power imbalance in the relationship between Edward and Bella so unpalatable I barely finished New Moon (book 2). It’s more than just he’s a strong vampire and she’s only human, Bella thought of herself as nothing without Edward…”a moon without a planet”. In fact, she’s practically suicidal until Jacob (another guy, of course) starts paying more attention to her.

    There was nothing romantic about this to me and I’m a bit horrified that this is what we’re marketing as romantic to so many teen and tween girls. (I know I’m the minority opinion here and don’t mean to deny anyone else’s enjoyment of the series!)

    Isn’t this also one of the reasons our mothers (and we in our turn) warn that Cinderella is indeed just a fairytale? It makes a nice story but doesn’t translate into reality all that well.

  13. Great thought provoking column, Rike. I don’t like to read about a romance where I perceive an imbalance of power either. For me the problem occurs when one character seems to be way more committed to the relationship than the other. I loved Sherry Thomas’ Private Arrangements, but I couldn’t help but feeling that Gigi was much more in love with Camden than he was with her and when I think about that book that’s the residual feeling I have. In other words, not a perfect HEA. One of Kresley Cole’s books, Dark Desires After Dusk (?), left me with the same feeling. Cade was fated to be with Holly and I always felt she could take it or leave it.

  14. I am an immigrant. I left an unhappy first marriage, a lovely house, an extended family, career and life in LA to live in a tiny village in another country *England) with my second (English) husband. Actually, that takes more strength of mind that those who have NOT done it can ever imagine. I’m probably the stronger of the two of us but our happiness together means that it does not matter and we see each other as the other half of ourselves. What about the various characters in Robyn Carr’s Virgin River series? I can identify with them because they have settled down to what they hope will be peace, serenity and companionship in a small town environment following life in big cities, at war, in Hollywood, or some other difficult family situation. I don’t feel I’ve sacrificed anything in my life. I’ve benefitted hugely, learnt an enormous amount about my own abilities and strengths, widened my outlook and become, I hope, a better person. I’d do it all again in the blink of an eye.

  15. I think this is a very interesting topic because there are some books that I’ve read where I’ve though the exact same thing about unequal marriages. It does seem to me a big stretch for one person to have to completely change their lifestyle for love. I understand that they love each other and, in romance novels, that love will last forever. But you also have to consider the rest of the world too. Yeah, we all like to think we don’t care what other people think about us, but in truth we do care a little bit, and it eventually will affect our every day lives. So for someone living in a small town and was poor or whatever to suddenly take on the responsibilities of a duchess, for example, is a lot to believe in.

  16. Lois McMaster Bujold’s “Companion Knife” series may be a good example of the compromises and adjustments that must be made by a couple with very different backgrounds, skills, and strengths in order to forge a truly ‘happily-married’ life together.

    I’d use her, along with Georgette Heyer, as a role model for portraying this successfully.

  17. After reading the posts, I must agree with Rike, Donna and misty. I really can’t finish books that I feel there is going to be a huge disappointment or unhappiness after reality sets in even if the books tend to end with everything rosy. Like misty mentioned, Sunshine and Shadow is a perfect example. I couldn’t even finish the last few pages because I was so disappointed in how a HEA could even be possible. I knew where it was going and I just couldn’t imagine the hero happy.

    On a more personal level, I have also dealt with an unequal relationship. Or more accurately, haven’t we all at some point? But I guess, it is how the couple deals with it that makes or breaks the happiness. And I for one like to see those issues being dealt with in the romances I read. It really gives me a sense of reality for the characters.

    Another fact that I’ve found as I get older and have read more romances, is that I’ve found younger characters to behave very juvenile in certain situations. This is truly bothersome for me and completely discredits my idea of a true HEA. I need the hero and heroine to behave maturely for me to believe that their interactions will continue in the same vein. Otherwise, I think there will be some huge growing pains for the couple as they mature. I guess this may come from personal experience, as I married young and realize we aren’t the same people we were when we married.

    I think a perfect example of a mature couple and believeable HEA is Elizabeth Hoyt’s To Beguile a Beast. Very good read and realistic couple.

    Kelly

  18. I liked this post. I read the JKJ book and while I really enjoyed it, this hit the head on the nail about my concern. I don’t mind him deciding to move to a small town, but felt I needed more about him as a character and his emotions to feel it true.

    I think we all sacrifice some things when we are in a relationship. My husband and I have both accepted things, we didn’t plan on. However, there was decision about it and how it would affect our lives.

    Interesting discussion.

  19. Wow, farmwifetwo, you seem very ready to jump on Rike simply because she likes to see some acknowledgment that giving up everything isn’t easy, and it’s more believable if the other partner comes to that realization and does something to help the one who had to sacrifice adjust.

    And did I really say everything has to be equal? Quote me, if I did.

    I don’t believe in ‘keeping score’ because I’ve seen how damaging that can be. And I have acknowledged that sometimes one partner has to sacrifice more, in your case moving to be with someone you love. But I also said if one partner is expected to give up everything in their life with no acknowledgment that it isn’t going to be all roses and angel kisses, I don’t see how it can work in the long run.

    But more importantly, I can’t imagine a man or woman on earth who, if they asked someone to give up everything, wouldn’t want to try and make life easier for the one sacrificing. That is not love, to ignore your partner’s needs.

    In a romance novel I think it would be the ultimate romantic moment if the hero told the woman he loved that he appreciated what she gave up, and since he wanted her to be happy, he’d go out of his way to make sure she was. Or vice versa, if the one giving up his life as he knew it was the hero.

    Really, there is no reason to get defensive here; we’re all just saying we want to read about the creation of a loving partnership in a romance, not all sacrifice on one side and all selfish taking on the other.

  20. farmwifetwo: Rike how doyou know the relationship is causing them pain?? Do they discuss every detail of their lives with you?? Do they put everything out on the perverbial closeline for all to see? Or is his Mother and other family members telling tales?? Trust me… having been there when my BIL got divorced.. tales are exactly that… tales. Maybe you should actually ask them instead of claiming to know the intimate details of their marriage.

    ,
    farmwifetwo

    in the same spirit in which I am not judging or reconstruing what you say above about your relationship, I’d take it kindly if you wouldn’t judge or reconstrue about what I say about my cousin’s relationship. As it happens, I have spoken to both of them, at different times, about their relationship and family life. No, they have not told me every detail, but enough for me to know that they felt dissatisfaction with certain aspects of their situation and trusted me enough to wish for my opinion about some of them (which is why I can’t go into any more detail here). The latest development is that one has got a psychosomatic illness (and yes, that’s what the doctor says, not what I assume). I’d call that pretty serious signs of something being wrong, as does the couple in question. So I don’t think I’m out of bounds in being worried about my cousin and his wife, or just projecting.

    Rike

  21. Working through the changes required when an unequal (in money terms) marriage happens is one aspect of the In Death series I really like – we see Eve having to cope with Roarke’s bazillions and lifestyle and how he compromises and works with her to do this …. it’s taken 30 plus books to manage to give her a car and she still has trouble taking money….

  22. What’s there to compromise about??

    Rike wrote that she thinks that if one person gives up whatever to be with the person they wish to be with that that is an “unequal” relationship. Since when?? How?? And why does the other person owe the one that did the moving?? Donna mentions having to keep all equal. Since when do relationships keep score?? I have yet to meet anyone that is actually happy who does that. Although on that point I know a lot of people that do in their marriages.

    I chose to move here…. period…. I could have said “No”, I could have refused to get married. I made that choice he owes me NOTHING because I made it. Anyone that thinks he does…. do you keep score on how many times he says he loves you?? How much money he gets for savings vs yours?? How many times he does the dishes vs how many times you do?? B/c it’ll never turn out equal no matter what you do.

    That’s just being petty and damaging to a relationship.

    Rike how do you know the relationship is causing them pain?? Do they discuss every detail of their lives with you?? Do they put everything out on the perverbial closeline for all to see? Or is his Mother and other family members telling tales?? Trust me… having been there when my BIL got divorced.. tales are exactly that… tales. Maybe you should actually ask them instead of claiming to know the intimate details of their marriage.

    Yes, sometimes one appears to “submit” more than the other….. but moving to a new village isn’t any different than moving to another city… I think I can still drive to the city if I feel like it…. I’m not trapped. What’s the difference if she gave up her job to look after the baby?? Is this unequal… a lot of people find those story-lines to be romantic.

    I think you simply project into these books your personal feelings on relationships. We all do.

  23. Pingback: Sacrifice & Love « That Bitch Goddess, Love

  24. Having friends who are expatriots and immigrants, I’ve had similar qualms, about characters who have to make drastic changes, not just about inequality. Leaving one’s familiar ground behind is something, and it requires adjustment on the part of the mover. There is motivation (character backstory) on why the change (not just the love object) is desirable/attractive/possible, and when an author skates over that, I find the character’s actions improbable. Even just to say what they learn in the new environment at least acknowledges that it is new to them. I like how the poster above put it–that considering the consequences makes the book seem more adult.

  25. Regarding futuristics: in Four Ways to Forgiveness by Ursula K. Le Guin, the novella Forgiveness Day describes the romance of a most unlikely couple: She’s a star-travelling diplomat, and he’s a soldier from a highly conservative society. After they have fallen in love, they wait until both have fulfilled vital obligations before moving together. I adored the story and found it highly moving, others may consider it too muted, however.

  26. Claire: I’m not into paranormals is that for me, I couldn’t imagine dropping all my family and life on earth as a human for something so different. The awesome sex would be tempting but I’m afraid it wouldn’t be enough for me for a lifetime.

    I think that Lynsay Sands addresses this issue pretty well in her Argeneau series. The couple always discusses and the ‘human’ usually agonizes over the ‘choice’ or, after the fact, of turning vampire and eventually having to cut off contact with their own family. Her paranormal romances strike me as more ‘adult’ in their outlook than many of the series with a more juvenile outlook (i.e. not weighing the choices an consequences). I like this! This is why I buy her books.

  27. Misty, I think Sunshine and Shadows is a great example of a book where its hard to imagine their HEA. They were from different worlds in a big way. Similar to the paranormal’s Rebekah mentioned above. I think that’s one reason I’m not into paranormals is that for me, I couldn’t imagine dropping all my family and life on earth as a human for something so different. The awesome sex would be tempting but I’m afraid it wouldn’t be enough for me for a lifetime. ;)

    I think a lot of times where its the woman who gives up her simple, normal or poor lifestyle for the bzillionaire, we are to just assume that hey, there’s no problem whatsoever for her adjusting to that because it sounds like the ideal perfect lifestyle.

  28. ” Love is about sacrifice. Love is when you stop thinking about what is good for you and care more about what is good for the other. To love is to sacrifice. To give oneself totally, forgetting about one’s own desires. ”

    What an absolutely horrible concept of love! Who would want to fall in love if it meant giving up everything that had been important ot you in the past, all your individuality, all your dreams and interests? For what?
    In order to submerge your life in someone else’s? That’s my definition of torture, not love. I can see the need to sacrifice for your children, but why in a relationship between equals should one person be expected to fade away?

  29. Sunshine and Shadow by Laura London comes to mind. I didn’t believe in their happily ever after at all though. He was a very successful and jaded movie director and she was an Amish school teacher. She tried living in his world, but couldn’t deal with it, so he ended up giving up movies and living with her in the Amish village. It was clear that his current life wasn’t satisfying him, but I couldn’t help but think that once the novelty wore off, he would end up restless.

  30. Donna Lea Simpson: It all comes down to characters, for me, and how they are depicted.

    Yes! I need to be convinced. If I’m not, the book did not succeed for me.

    It doesn’t have to be just about money, it can be all kinds of intangibles, but there needs to be some kind of parity. I need to be convinced that the relationship is beneficial to both and that the two are stronger together than they were apart.

  31. I think we have to consider the characters as they are created, too. In my observation, some people are very rooted to place, (that is me, by the way; I live in the same neighborhood I grew up in and any time I tried to move away, I felt like I lost a part of my identity) and moving would be an enormous upheaval, while others are more free-spirited, so moving to another country or sphere of life would not affect them in the same manner.

    So, too, a vast difference in money; some (like myself) feel enormous obligation to keep things equal, so a marriage with some enormously richer than I would be difficult for me. But I think some people would have no trouble with that inequality, because they would see that money is not important, in the long run, and the wealthier partner isn’t counting money spent, or money differences.

    It all comes down to characters, for me, and how they are depicted.

  32. What I consider a “successful romance” read is one where, after I finish it, I feel that the two people are better off together than they were apart. The ‘Happy Ever After’ is not enough for me. I need to believe that their continued partnership will be successful and satisfying for years to come. I need to believe that the marriage will be long-term…for life.

    Thanks Rike for bringing this up! Very intuitive! Yes, imbalance of power is a huge issue for me. I think it goes to the preference of readers for ‘old skool’ versus ‘new skool’ style of romance novels. If one-half of the couple is less well off, whether financially or otherwise, then that seems to lead towards a less happy future. I find that this very much inhibits my enjoyment of the book.

    Some other Georgette Heyer books deal with this issue. Two that come to mind are “A Civil Contract” (less sucessful/convincing/satisfying) and “The Convenient Marriage” (more successful/convincing/satisfying.)

    I think that if one partner has more assets (money, education, status, etc.) they other partner needs to bring an equal amount of assets (happiness, charm, enjoyment of life, social skills….whatever) so that the partnership is beneficial to both.

    That is what is important to my reading and satisfaction.

  33. Hi Maria,

    I think what I’m saying is, Rike is making a point about when one partner is expected to give up everything and is unhappy about it. If someone wants to sacrifice everything, then that isn’t unequal, it’s their choice. But if one partner (usually the woman, especially in historicals) is just expected to give up everything with no consideration given to their feelings, that is the problem.

    I think, personally, that there are likely some instances where one partner has to give up/sacrifice more, isn’t happy about it, but that’s just the mechanics of the situation. Say one partner, as in Rike’s example, has to move from a city and autonomy, to a village, surrounded by close-knit family. In that case I think it behooves the other partner, who is getting more of what they want/need, to help find some middle ground that can help the other partner transition, or find some outlet that gives them some, at least, of what they need.

    Isn’t THAT what love is about? Recognizing each others need and trying to fulfill them, not expecting one partner to give up everything and pretend to be completely happy about it? In your own words, Maria, “Union is the key word, if they are both going their own way without either one willing to give up anything how are they united?” I think that’s what Rike is talking about, books that recognize that if one partner has to give up everything they value, it’s going to be a transition, and a loving partner will try to help by compromising in some way, giving them back some of what they need.

    Complete self-sacrifice might sound good on paper, but I doubt any human could stand a lifetime of complete self-sacrifice. We all have needs, and love is recognizing that and coming to a compromise. It’s not selfish to want something/some time/some privacy for oneself.

    I think we’re all on the same page here, really! Rike is asking for some realism in the way a loving relationship is portrayed; if there are huge inequalities in what each partner is asked to give up, then that should be addressed. The one who is benefiting most from what the other is having to give up should, if they really love the other person, recognize that and try to make it better, or at least *try* to do so in the course of the marriage. To expect that there will be no repercussions at all from one half of a partnership being expected to give up everything they are accustomed to is unrealistic.

  34. To farmwifetwo

    as Donna has already pointed out, the intention of what I wrote is NOT to call marriages in which one partner moves to a village or marriages in which the partner have different spheres where they make the decisions (as your, according to your despription, seems to be) unequal – not at all. What I sometimes do wonder about are real-life marriages that appear unequal to me – and I only wonder about these relationships when I know both partners really well, as I do in the case of my cousin, and only when I see that the imbalance causes pain for both, as it does there.

    When I consider romances, I see both romances that address the problem that comes with what such unequal pairings as described in my post, and romances that completely gloss over the possibility that such problems might occur. As it is, I prefer the former, but in my questions at the end of the post I make clear that do not expect anyone to share my taste.

    To Maria

    as far as believing there’s sacrifice involved when two individuals become the “we” of a relationship, as well as great joy, I’m all with you.

    When you write that

    Maria:To love is to sacrifice.To give oneself totally, forgetting about one’s own desires.When you care more about what makes the other person happy than you, that is self-giving love.

    I don’t agree. In my eyes, one-sided sacrifice is a sure killer of love. Instead, a careful and loving consideration of what makes both partners, the “we” you speak about, happy seems to me the most promising way to long-lasting love and happiness.

    Seeing your second post, I really wish to emphasize again that my blog post is not about people in unequal relationships that work (in my eyes, in this case they are not unequal anyway, although they may appear so to some outsider – but who cares?). It’s about one couple who in spite of best intentions are not happy in an unequal relationship, and coming from that, about romances that do or don’t address this issue.

    Rike

  35. Donna, it may be that sacrifice comes just from one of them. I’m not saying it should just be one person, I’m saying it should be discussed by both. Both count but it may well be that for some of those couples that Rike is seeing as unequal that is what makes them happy and works for them. Feelings of inaHaving learned this the hard way on my own, marriage is a communion. Union is the key word, if they are both going their own way without either one willing to give up anything how are they united? After going through a painful divorce and having it annulled, I now see where many things went wrong in my marriage. I don’t think it’s simplistic at all to say Love is sacrifice. How is it love to never want to give up anything at all for anyone?

  36. Every single novel in which the heroine is transformed into a vampire/werewolf/pixie? Most paranormals involve the hero or heroine (though usually it is the heroine) giving up her normal life in order to be inducted into the society of creepy immortals. Nearly every book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood has the heroine, previously living a comfortable if sexless life, ripped away either with or without her consent, due to circumstances beyond her control, into a life totally foreign to her own and is expected to enjoy this. These aren’t even historical novels, but novels of modern women turning themselves into an entirely different species for the love of the hero and nothing else, entering a previously unknown society, and in many cases, cutting themselves off from everything and everyone they had known previously. This doesn’t even begin to look at historicals or nonparanormal contemporaries.

    I think that we expect women to be OK with that exchange (former life for lotsa sex all the time) but now that authors are starting to shift that scenario to include men having to make changes we squirm a little bit. In modern relationships in which the two partners live completely disparate lives one partner or the other will have to compromise. Depending on the personality of either spouse this may or may not work out too well.

    I know from personal experience, as a woman pursuing a post-graduate degree and focusing almost entirely on her career that there are things I am unwilling to compromise in my life. Ever, no matter how much I love someone or even if they offered to pay off my college loans (although that would be a toughie). Other people might be more willing to make sacrifices or have more mobile careers in order to be with the one they love. It really depends on the person.

  37. Again, I think Rike’s post is being misinterpreted. It’s simplistic to say “To love is to sacrifice. To give oneself totally, forgetting about one’s own desires. When you care more about what makes the other person happy than you, that is self-giving love. When people get married, the I’s stop to become a we.”

    How is it love, then, if one person has it all their way without even considering the well-being of the other? If love is sacrifice, shouldn’t the sacrifice be on *both* sides, instead of all on one side? IOW, if one person of the pair is doing all the sacrificing, where does that leave the other half of the couple… not in love because they are not sacrificing?

    I’m not sure I understand the objections to Rike’s post; if I’m being obtuse, please tell me what I’m missing.

  38. I’m with S. above. There are many things out there right now being called love that I find disgusting and unequal and that really do not go together even with crazy glue but seem to be accepted. Counterfeits will always be counterfeits, no matter how they look like the real thing.

    Love is a choice. Real love is not about individualism, it is not about whining about giving up things because if you have to whine there is no love. Love is about sacrifice. Love is when you stop thinking about what is good for you and care more about what is good for the other. To love is to sacrifice. To give oneself totally, forgetting about one’s own desires. When you care more about what makes the other person happy than you, that is self-giving love. When people get married, the I’s stop to become a we. That is the way it’s supposed to be but unfortunately in our individualistic pleasure seeking all about sex society this is almost disappeared. Then people wonder why nothing seems to fulfill them. It is not all about us.

  39. To farmwifetwo,

    I think you have misinterpreted Rike’s post completely. I believe she is asking about unequal marriage where the perceived ‘inequality’ causes problems for one partner, the other, or both. If your perceived ‘inequality’ doesn’t cause trouble, then it is not at all the situation Rike was speaking of, and isn’t really unequal at all, but just the way things work best in your home.

  40. If you view your cousin’s marriage unequal I’d hate to think of what you think of mine, but then again I’ve had people tell me to my face we’re “not married” b/c we’re independant adults and treat each other as such. Not only do I live up and down the road from his relatives – four houses of relatives on this farm – and live outside that village where everyone knows your business before you do…. I am a SAHM.

    That’s not unequal. That’s choice. We make choices of where we wish to live and who we wish to live with.

    And in our house…. I too deal with the finances. And no, I don’t think my husband is weak by anymeans and he’s quite capable of asserting himself. Also he has no say in the children and their autism. Yes, he may offer an opinion but has no final say. Same with the farm I can offer an opinion but I have no final say.

    Did we plan it like this, no actually we didn’t. Have we discussed it, actually not. But after over 11yrs of doing it….. it works for us.

    I don’t find my relationship unequal at all and actually was offended to read you thought so. Don’t judge people by your views on life… you’re no different than those small town gossips.

    S.

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