Is it Worth The Time, Marrying Ephemerals?
If you’re blessed with long, long life, is it fair to marry/partner with/life bond with a short-lifer?
Many of the species and races that populate fantasy and paranormal fiction are long lifers: vampires, of course, plus elves, demons, angels, and even author-invented species. Most of them can be killed, in usually unpleasant ways, but if they manage to dodge a violent end, then they effectively live forever.
Yet some of our favourite fiction features these long lifers marrying or having long term relationships (surely, the only definition of marriage that counts?) with short lifers. That is: Humans.
Long Life in Science Fiction
Robert A. Heinlein, the classic science fiction author, wrote six or more very long novels that featured long lifers – in his case, they were perfectly normal humans who were extraordinarily long lived.
Heinlein tackled this question from about six different directions, but one novel in particular; Time Enough for Love, the wisdom of falling in love with and marrying an ephemeral (his name for short lifers) was the theme of the whole novel. It just happens to be one of my top five novels of all time and not just because of this theme and the story that goes along with it.
So, even science fiction writers have considered this conundrum.
Long Life & Ephemerals in Romance
Romance novels don’t stop very often to consider the wisdom of a long-lifer committing to an ephemeral. That’s because of a basic premise of all romance novels: The guaranteed happy ever after conclusion. Even happy-for-now endings indicate that there’s not too much left in the story world that will get between the lovers.
Oh…except for 80 years on one hand and several millennia on the other.
It’s difficult to write a true romance novel with a happy ending, if you deal in any way at all with the fact that one of the couple’s biological clock runs longer than the other’s. To even acknowledge that one of the pair is going to live centuries longer than the other is to imply that the relationship ain’t going to last and no one is going to be happy ever after.
So most romance novels ignore the blight completely.
Long Life & Ephemerals in Urban Fantasy
I find relationships between long & short lifers in UF even more bizarre. While romance turns a convenient blind eye in order to remain a romance, UF doesn’t have that excuse, yet I can think of half a dozen UF novels that deal with short/long lifer relationships the same way romance does; by conveniently ignoring it.
The Anita Blake series is the first one that pops into my mind. The heroine, Anita Blake, is human with talents and has a long term affair with a vampire. While Blake goes through all manner of challenges in each book, never once in the 12 books of the series I lasted through did she ever question the future of her relationship with the vampire Jean-Claude. And neither did he.
Fixing the Disaster
Vampire + human relationships have the potential of turning the human into a vampire and thus extending the relationship that way. So that makes vampire + human relationships slightly more satisfying…which gives Anita Blake a solution, if she ever gets to worrying about this.
For other species that begin as human (demons, some forms of angels, ghosts, for example), there is the potential to return to the human state, usually via paranormal shenanigans that resolve the couple’s problems and give them a true happy ending.
Not so for “natural” long lifers, like elves, or species that happen to be immortal right out of the gate. For them and their human partner, there is no ninth inning miracle. The human is going to age and die long before their lover is ready to let them go.
Romance readers wouldn’t read such a story, but it makes for some interesting long-term, series-length story possibilities.
Have you read any UF that deals squarely with this issue? Hit reply and tell me about it!