Ever since I have been reading fiction, I had always be struck by how many stories were largely a description of the relationship escalator.
The book Backwards and Forwards describes how stories start with a stasis, which is quickly broken, and the story ends when a new stasis is formed.
As it so happens, the relationship escalator and old stasis/broken stasis/new stasis pattern work together really well:
Stasis: Two people don’t know each other.
Breaking the Stasis: Two people meet.
[the two people go up the escalator]
New Stasis: Two people are happily married (or otherwise at the top of the escalator)
It’s actually a pretty good story. I myself like good, escalator-style romance tales. But why aren’t there more variations? I’m not talking about off-the-escalator relationships – though more fiction about those would be very welcome. I’m talking about stories *about* escalator relationships where the beginning is not ‘two people begin a romance’ and especially where the endpoint is not ‘two people are happily married’. Why aren’t there more stories like this:
Stasis: Two people are happily married.
Breaking the Stasis: One spouse is kidnapped by pirates.
[plot plot plot]
New Stasis: The married couple is reunited.
It seems that there are way more stories in which the unestablished ‘love interest’ gets kidnapped (literally or metaphorically) by pirates.
The above story doesn’t seem to challenge the relationship escalator – the pirates are an external factor. The couple could experience a lot of personal growth along the way, and personal growth is good,right? If anything, wouldn’t kicking pirate butt demonstrate the strength of being at the top of the escalator.
Or would it?
Is the promise of the escalator ‘at the top, you’ll be really good at dealing with life’s twists and turns?’ Or is the promise ‘at the top, life will stop twisting and turning’?
The story of ‘Pirates Kidnapping the Spouse’ makes it very clear that reaching the top of the escalator is no guarantee of happiness or stability. Even if the couple is absolutely perfect for each other, those pirates can still mess things up.
If you say ‘getting married to The One means that you will have a happy stable life, which no outside force can disturb’, it sounds absurd – what about pirates?
But then again … why are there so many stories in which reaching the top of the relationship escalator represents a new stasis/conclusion, yet so few stories in which an established escalator-style couple have their ‘stasis’ broken, and they have to create a new stasis? I think it’s because once the new stasis is set, it’s supposed to be unbreakable. People stop growing, because they’re not supposed to need that growth to confront the unexpected.
People yearn for stability, and the escalator gets a lot of its power by offering a predictable, unchanging, ‘safe’ situation. If people truly understood that this promise is an illusion, I think the escalator would lose much of its sway over people’s visions.
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