Seanan McGuire (seanan_mcguire) wrote,
Seanan McGuire

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The art of the breakup.

I am a media consumer; I consume media. I watch more hours of television a month than is probably strictly healthy (especially given how much of it is "reality" television). I go to the movies an average of once every three weeks. And as for reading, well...let's just say that there's a reason the city I live in considers my house to be a library, rather than a residence. (The cats appreciate my reading habit, as it causes me to build many interesting stacks of books for them to knock over. The housemates do not, as it causes me to build many interesting stacks of books for the cats to knock over. There's no pleasing everyone.) My interests are broad and easily modified to suit the type and quality of the work at hand. If you're looking for someone to consume your media, I'm probably your girl.

All this media consumption, however, comes with a price, and that price is a tendency to notice—and sometimes be bothered by—trends. Most recently, it's been an unexpected consequence of that old fairy tale saw, the happily ever after. You know the one I mean. Where they meet and kiss and marry and run off to live forever and ever in unchanging bliss. At least until the sequel, where she dies and he remarries and the new wife is horrible but luckily their daughter is beautiful and smart and looking for a husband, and...


This seems to have created the belief that once a couple hooks up, that's it, it's over, no more fun, no more fantastic adventures, no more anything but a rapid excuse to break them up. They can get together for good at the end of your story, but dude, once they're together? The happy ever after kicks in, and your options are "breakup" or "death." And it's not limited to the shows and stories aimed at a female audience, since we're supposedly the ones who are only in it for the smootchies; most of the relationships in male-targeted media meet the same end, which seems weird to me. After all, once you're together, you have access to regular sex, and you don't have to do all that sentimental "building a relationship" stuff. Maintaining, yes, but building, no. And yet only the sitcom couples who were married before the show started (or got married in the premiere) seem to stay together.

As Dave Davenport once said: "Where do I want to be in five years? Sleeping with a homicidal maniac, or sleeping with a homicidal maniac who occasionally cleans my toilet?"

I find this trend deeply upsetting. I mean, maybe this is my romantic streak showing through, but I like to believe that once I have invested in the relationships of fictional people—fictional people who were, in many cases, willing to spend years flirting and falling and feinting toward finally hooking up—that maybe I'll get some of the payoff. Not three episodes or one volume of the writers realizing they never figured out how this would work beyond "sweaty kitchen sex and SCENE" and breaking them up in a prefunctory, often utterly silly way. You sold me this relationship! It was for sale, and I wanted it, and now that I have it, I don't want a factory recall! By the time most fictional couples hook up, I am sick and fucking tired of the longing looks, the swooning sighs, the silly banter, all of it. I want them to get it out of their systems, settle down, and get on to telling whatever larger story they used to lure me in in the first place. What I don't want is another five seasons of sighing and swooning. What I don't want is the sort of breakup that could be resolved with thirty seconds of conversation and maybe a flowchart.

Romantic tension is awesome. But seriously, people! So is having a lasting romantic relationship! Where can I find the Nick and Nora Charles of today? No, really, where?

It doesn't help that, again thanks to the fairy tale structure, things get rushed like whoa as they try to give the media consumers "what they want." And yeah, we're a filthy-minded lot; we want Character A and Character B naked and sweaty five minutes after they walk in. But we're willing to wait if you'll promise to give us something that lasts for more than fifteen minutes. Promise me four seasons of Veronica and Logan making out after every successful case, and you will have my full attention for the four seasons it takes to get me there.

This is why I take my time. This is why I let my characters figure out what they want. Because I refuse to take it away from them just because I never bothered to consider the long-term consequences. And no, I don't believe that romance only belongs in the happy ever after.

I want my Nick and Nora.
Tags: contemplation, literary critique

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