Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Premature Marriage

One of the classic plots in the romance genre is that of the convenient or premature marriage. I prefer to call it a premature marriage because the couple marries before they fall in love, but since it is a romance, we know they are going to be in love and looking for a future together before the end of the book. It is a compelling plot because it is a story of self-sacrifice. The woman offers herself up on the altar of marriage to serve some greater purpose. Maybe it is so she can take care of his children, or he her children. Maybe it is a requirement for him to become king. Maybe they both have grown tired of going home to an empty house and there is no one else.

We all know this plot is fanciful in modern America. I can’t think of any situation where I would walk up to some woman that I don’t know very well and say, “I don’t expect us to ever love each other, but let’s get married anyway.” For that matter, it is unbiblical. The Bible commands husbands to love their wives. It isn’t optional.

No matter how fanciful the plot might be, it is compelling whether it is in a modern romance novel, in the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast or in the biblical account of Esther.

In Blake Snyder’s terminology, unlike most romance novels, which tend toward Buddy Love in which the characters argue until they figure out they need each other, the premature marriage plot often parallels the Dude With a Problem plot. Through no fault of her own, the lady is in a difficult situation in which she, her children, her country or someone else needs help. This help seems to come in the form of the premature marriage, but that is a false victory. She is now worse off because she must suffer through an unhappy marriage, presumably for the rest of her life. True victory comes when the two characters figure out that they actually want to spend their lives together and it isn’t going to be the sacrifice they thought it was.

Plots dealing with self-sacrifice encourage the reader to ask, “Would I be willing to do that?” or “What would it take for me to be willing to do that?” The premature marriage plot is especially poignant in today’s culture because our culture puts so much importance on this concept of the soul mate. Many people assume that God has one ideal person for each person and if it doesn’t work out then it must be that we didn’t wait long enough to find the right person. The premature marriage opposes that idea so strongly by implying that two people can love each other, even if they didn’t come together under ideal circumstances.