Previous parts in Theme-Conflict Integration are indexed at:
Romance, just like Science Fiction, is a genre without borders -- there is literally no story that can be told that won't be improved by adding Science and scientific thinking to a Character, and likewise, there is no story that won't be improved by Romance.
We all know what Romance is. It is what we love to read.
And as with science fiction, thousands have tried to describe what makes a Romance novel a Romance novel -- has anyone actually succeeded and defining this human experience?
Is there anyone who can define happiness? What is the formula for a good life? How do you choose a mate? By how you FEEL? By who your parents approve of? By whose parents your parents approve of?
Arranged marriages, usually about property, heritage, Royal Titles, or settling ancestral feuds (or wars), can actually be about the Parental generation observing details about the young adults to find which personalities blend with least friction.
Arranged marriages can be successful when the elders doing the arranging are able to see, and understand what they are seeing, the youngsters from a perspective the youngsters don't know exists.
Look around this world of today, and you will find few, very few, elders who have any idea what the marriage-age generation is about.
It's called a generation-gap for a reason. There is simply no connection or contact across that gap because of the way young people's brains develop to process information.
This, of course, starts in infancy, or maybe even before birth, as the human brain its very plastic. Yes, it changes a lot through experience of the world, and keeps on changing far longer than science used to believe.
So let us postulate that Romance, and the potential to experience true Romance, the potential to recognize a Soul Mate (even in an Alien from another planet), the potential to bond firmly with a mate chosen by Older And Wiser matchmakers, is rooted in the experiences of infancy.
Infancy is the root of the ability to fall in love?
Or possibly infancy is where we learn there is no such thing as a Happily Ever After.
In infancy, we experience the passage of time as a percentage of all the time we have been aware.
Thus the second day of life is 50% of all existence.
By the time a person is 20 years old, you have lived 7,300 days, so a day is about 0.01 percent of your life.
As you get older, the percent of your life that a day represents gets smaller, so the Events of a day become less and less significant. You have good days. You have bad days. Nothing wallops you over backwards if it lasts only 1 day. The things that matter are the things that have long-range (years) consequences.
So the experiences of the world that have the longest range consequences happen in infancy, toddlerhood, and yes the angst of the teen years.
A Matchmaker who knows the business will be able to match 20 year olds with a good mate for a solid marriage, a marriage that will end in Romance, not begin there.
But to pull this off, and it is chancy, the Matchmaker has to remember how the parents of the 20-year-olds were treated as infants, and how the twenty-somethings were treated by those parents all their lives.
And the Matchmaker has to know a lot of people, their biographies, and how they turned out, and what they went on to do after having their kids. The successful matchmaker has to understand life-long trajectories, the business of living a good life.
This was possible when we all lived in villages small enough that everyone knew everyone, that children went into the same profession as the parents (blacksmithing, farming, trading, weaving, tanning, etc) or were apprenticed out to a better profession.
That much information just isn't available today, three generations into a highly mobile world where family ties to neighborhoods were broken as corporations moved workers around the country. You had to move your family to climb the executive ladder.
Nobody, at that time, was thinking of that process in terms of how it would affect the eventual ability to experience Romance.
Let's theorize that it did.
Would that explain why we have about half the world convinced there is no such thing as a Happily Ever After in real life?
Children whose significant Relationships, at 3, 5, 10, even 14 years of age are broken may be traumatized (brain development issue, more than just emotional) in such a way that their Character is scarred. Scars, physical scars on the skin, heal, and even disappear with the decades, so it is possible scars on the brain could likewise become invisible.
Skin scarring does retrain insensitivity for years after it becomes invisible, but healing can happen with enough time.
The brain is likewise pliable, responding to environment and experience.
Today's children are being raised "online" -- and I know some, personally, whose dear friends from Elementary School have moved away, but maintain contact via FACETIME or video-chat of some sort -- and yes, Facebook or other chat platforms.
In the 1940's only the relatively affluent had telephones at home, but by the 1950's it was common for a house or apartment to have ONE telephone.
The classic joke of the 1950's and 1960's was how Teens monopolized the single phone line (even or especially if there were "extensions" in the house) just talking snd talking to their friends about what seemed to the parents to be nothing at all important.
It was only the affluent who had extensions, and most phones were on a short wire attached to the wall. That phone line had to be kept open for incoming "important" calls the parents wanted to be available for.
Long distance phone calls were massively expensive.
So if a child's friend moved away, to another state for example, ALL TIES were broken.
Today, even lower income households have dumb phones, if not smart phones. But penetration is in full swing, and in 20 years or less, everyone will have a wider world to live in.
WITHOUT BORDERS is the way to think of the current generation gap.
Humans experience the "freedom" of living without borders, without having to re-establish credentials and licenses for professions (Nursing, M.D.'s, Electricians, Plumbers, Teachers, etc) by passing state tests each time you move, as a wonderful thing.
Humans experience the freedom of leaving home for college as a wonderful thing.
Humans experience the freedom of getting a driver's license and being able to borrow a parent's car as a wonderful thing.
Freedom - the ability to transgress boundaries without adverse consequences - is treasured by humans.
Happily Ever After without FREEDOM is Misery Ever After.
But Freedom is dangerous. Give a 3 year old freedom, and he'll run out in the street and get run over, or drown in the backyard pool, or fall down a Well, or get stuck in a storm drain. It happens.
Freedom is dangerous, but it is essential to the Happily Ever After goal.
Managing risk is the skill-set parents have to start teaching their infants on day two of life. The mother's hands holding and feeding the newborn start the process of configuring the brain to get what you want/need within the risk-borders best chosen for the situation.
As with all primates, humans learn to parent by being parented. How those mother's hands hold the newborn begins the process of acquiring the ability to parent.
It is a long process of acquisition and is accompanied by many other skill-sets being acquired.
But it is the parent's influence on the newborn that the matchmaker has to know.
Today, only God knows.
The chain of parenting culture/habits/practices has been broken -- in the early 1900's by the advent of experts writing books on how to parent, and in the early 2000's by the advent of email (OK, programming the VCR became the joke of the 1990's) and other online activities. Children could do things their parents could not learn to do no matter how hard they tried.
It has always, throughout human history, been the opposite -- parents with years of experience could do things the children could only hope to master some day.
Thus we have a generation of parents who, as children long ago, escaped the "limits" -- the borders of discipline, their parents set for them.
Romeo and Juliet enshrined the archetype of children associating with people their parents disapproved of.
Children always hate, resent, and expend enormous energy beating at these borders parents put around them.
Look at the 1 year old who stands up in his crib and falls out. Look at the 10 year old who runs away from home. We all spend our formative years trying to escape.
Kids do that. Parents remember being like that, seeing the world as a trap, and like cows in a pasture, pushing toward the greener grass on the other side of that fence.
Parenting fashions have begun to change rapidly in the last century, as what children are capable of doing has expanded (but common sense acquisition has not), so we have new books on "how to" parent coming out every decade or two, with conflicting advice based on science.
The parents (and grand-parents) who weren't parented with strict boundaries, physical borders, psychological and sociological limits, are now raising children. These new parents may know, but not have personal feelings and memories for, living within strict boundaries, and trusting their parents to set those boundaries appropriately.
The parenting process that might be producing the skepticism about the Happily Ever After lifestyle goal is the process of delineating borders.
Parental border setting is all about "controlling" who your child associates with.
As infants, we learn to recognize Mother's face, Father's face, and then others who provide and handle us, feed us, change diapers, put us in a playpen, allow this but not that behavior.
As we grow, our circle of recognition grows.
Good parenting consists of observing this particular child's growing ability to form and hold associations, and carefully enlarging the circle of acquaintances, managing the establishing of friends (these days through "play dates,") and adding people from this type of household but not that type.
By High School, children should have acquired the ability to assess the risks of this or that Relationship, and to understand their own sensitivity to risk, their ability to tolerate emotional impacts that come inevitably from having friends.
The problems today come at least partly from the parent's inability to teach these skills.
They can't teach them for two main reasons: A) they weren't taught, B) what they were taught, and what they learned, aren't relevant to the world today's children live in.
The generation gap caused by technology has ripped apart the parent-child relationship.
In families where that has happened, you will see a rising percentage of people who just can't see happiness as anything stable, long term.
Humans yearn for long-term as much as for freedom, so the trend will reverse. Currently, your prime readership for Romance (teens-twenties) may be in the stage of being unable to form long-term Relationships, so "Happily" means something, but "Ever After" just does not.
Being dependent or having dependents is not a "happy" situation from the point of view of a young person who grew up as a single child, or maybe just two, possibly in a one-parent situation. The view of life, of what it can and should be, that children with 7 or 10 siblings have is very different. Happiness is a noisy mob, and freedom is running with that noisy mob faster than Mom can capture you.
Children raised in a noisy mob generally have parents who have many siblings, so aunts, uncles, cousins form an even noisier mob, and happiness is having them over as company -- or being over to their house to play with more cousins.
The point of getting married is to create a new noisy mob.
Children raised in a noisy mob start infancy with a much larger circle of intimates, and learn to deal with compatible and abrasive personalities very early in life. Such children will have less trauma dealing with an ever growing circle of acquaintances, greater resistance to bullying, more tools for creating social harmony.
Today, families have shrunk, so even three generations back children don't have the noisy mob of uncles and cousins. Where they do exist, often families just aren't in touch because they long ago moved to different places, even countries.
The parenting skill of allowing a child's number of associating children to grow at the rate that child needs is no longer being transmitted in the majority population. For the Romance writer, this means the potential readership is thirsting for a vision of life with those skills.
Think about the popularity of the T V Series THE BRADY BUNCH. Or consider the Cop-Family depicted in the TV Series, BLUE BLOODS (2019-2020 season is #10 in this family gritty drama series).
Or think about the work-family formed at the core of TV Series like NCIS or BONES, or the much older Series, THE WALTONS or LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE.
There is an audience hungering for broad group-dynamic Relationship stories -- maybe because families have shrunk and humans prefer larger families?
Romance readers will be wanting stories about large families where, right before our eyes, humans learn the art of conflict resolution via close, personal, intimate relationships that are not romantic (e.g. siblings, cousins).
It is in the larger family dynamic that humans master the tools of conflict resolution, or perhaps even conflict generation. Ask yourself what is the optimum family size for humans -- then explore what the reproductive dynamic of your Alien species would dictate for their early life acculturation.
Themes involving deep, personal, unique and individual Relationships easily embrace the problems of having many siblings. Humans compete with siblings (gotta kill that kid brother!) -- but do your Aliens?
Parents try to police that sibling rivalry, but do they know how if they had no siblings?
Many of the Conflicts that drive humans out into the workplace, and hurl them into love affairs, originate in early life, even infancy and toddlerhood.
The borders we internalize as our parents enlarge our circle of acquaintances, how to behave toward a friend, how to fend off attacks from an aggressor, how to accept, how to reject, how to know when to do which, are the foundation off all subsequent Romance.
How a child responds to being "socialized" with these borders around behavior shows the Matchmaker what groups to look at to find the Soul Mate.
That's what Matchmakers are supposed to do - find the Soul Mate and introduce them.
A brief introduction is all that's necessary when a Relationship can "click."
Sometimes that Soul Mate just isn't alive to be found, and then the Matchmaker's job is to find another bereft lonesome who can blend easily into a Happily Ever After life for the couple.
It can be done. It has routinely been done throughout human history. But today the shattered family structure has prevented the nurturing of the Matchmaker skill sets.
The internet, live video-chat, and other tools may heal the extended family and shift the cultural matrix toward the more stable "village" of associations.
In a thousand years, humanity may look back on this shattered-family period as a difficult aberration in the human search for peace.
Do we have to wait that long to open hailing frequencies with Aliens? Are they waiting? Or are they already here?
If an Alien was adopted into a large human family, what inevitable conflicts would develop?
THEME: humans are innately combative, competitive and hostile to anyone "different."
THEME: humans are innately gentle, curious, and loving toward all, but the animal body striving to survive in a hostile world warps these innate tendencies toward hating that which is different.
THEME: love can free such a warped human psyche to roam beyond the torturous internal borders adopted for survival.
All three of these themes can generate Romance Novels - but they are especially suited to the Second Time Around Romance, as the more mature Characters have relevant backstory that shapes their conflicts, internal and external.