Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dating Woes: Relationship Building

Pardon me while I'm distracted by the concept of relationships. How does one go about dating in this day and age? I'm not talking about the tweeners or the college sceners. I'm talking about adults, in their 30s, 40s, or older. How do people pick up the pieces of their lives, insulate themselves in resilience, and tackle the dating game?

To put this question in perspective, I spent two hours helping one of my husband's friends fill out his e-harmony profile the other night. I love this man. If I weren't happily married, I would snatch him up faster than you can gobble down cheesecake. He's that yummy. He's also 44, super active, intelligent, and highly organized. He loves his dog and his cat, is generous to a fault, and uses his sense of humor to mask his sensitive side. Although he's certainly logical, rational, and suspicious of emotional outbursts, he's intuitive beyond belief. He would, undoubtedly, kill me for pointing that out. He's a man's man, you know.

Perhaps I'm a little prejudiced, but it would take a very special woman to deserve him, understand him, complete him. And as I'm glancing through his matches, I'm thinking maybe this really was a ridiculous idea. I'm stunned by the number of women who can't live without their "teachers" (what the heck does that mean?) or their yoga instructors. (Just an FYI for all you e-daters out there: Nothing spells cult or crazy like someone who is ultra dependent upon someone else -- AND who includes that tidbit in her profile.) Of course, my friend is just as honest as he is generous, so his profile is the real deal. I'm not certain that is true of the ones I've seen: It seems that many women are actually typing in the profile of their latest harlequin romance heroine. Pardon my cynicism.

Which brings me to novel writing: ultimately, good writing is about relationships. Whether we couch it in terms of romance or war buddies or detective partners, we are exploring the minutia of relationships. These relationships certainly entertain -- but they also teach the reader how to negotiate the rocky paths of her own life, to enhance the strengths, endure the strains, to determine the worth of time, energy, and effort expended in a relationship. (This is, of course, not to be confused with the various forms of pure escapism.) Without the exploration of worthy, gritty, engaging relationships in a book, the reader feels no pull, no connection with the text, no reason to read further. After all, a kick-butt plot can only keep a reader entertained so long.

Donald Maass prompts writers to explore the various sides of a character, to reveal the heroic but also to unveil the less savory aspects of human nature. As writers, we should make Hero X face the least desired facet of his personality or show Heroine Y that the very thing she despises in others resides in her own heart. This complexity not only feels more honest, more realistic, but it resonates with readers. And once these fully developed, dynamic, round characters interact with one another, the relationship quotient reaches another level. Sparks must fly. Chemistry, compatibility, and chaos -- or their opposites -- ensue. Reader is hooked. Writer is exhausted but happy.

Now...back to those matches...


  1. What an interesting perspective, Alex! When we write, we really are establishing a relationship with the reader. We can strengthen that relationship by making sure that what we write is real and authentic, and by giving the reader our best. I like what you have here : ).

  2. "How does one go about dating in this day and age?"

    Going to church helps a lot. I know of several middle-aged men who got hooked up from being active in their religious community.

    I also have other suggestions, all of which you will need to ply me with wine to reveal. :-p

  3. So, uhh... where does Mr e-harmony live?

  4. @Margot: thanks. It really is true that relationships make the world go 'round. Sometimes we are more cynical (it's not what you know, it's who you know), but getting to know someone allows for a fuller understanding -- not only of that person, but of self & the world in general, i think.

    @anthony: I will ply you with mucho vino if you would but disclose some of your many secrets!

    @Venus Vaughn: Pacific Northwest. If you want any more info, do email me :P


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