As we know, romance comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. Sometimes outside forces conspire to keep our two lovers apart, while other times it’s our characters themselves. One of my favorite things about this genre is that, like sci-fi/fantasy, romance authors get to play with some really fun tropes. Things that wouldn’t work in our world but seem totally natural in the fictional world they’ve created. Like soul-mate marks.
The soul-mate mark is essentially the ultimate wedding band. It can’t be removed and is often not actually chosen by the afflicted character. Sometimes they appear after meeting that special someone, sometimes after forging a deep bond, sometimes after mutual consent. What doesn’t change? The characters always experience some conflict about the meaning of these marks. They fight them as you would fight any other permanent arrangement in which you had no say. They fight with their own desires for independence and autonomy, with their new life-partners… with everything, pretty much.
The whole trope is a shorthand for the bonds of love and the ways in which we navigate our own independence in a committed relationship. It allows authors to play with some intense conflicts and, like other tropes, allows readers an entry point to an otherwise bonkers story.
I’ve seen it in three basic ways, each with their own flavor of conflict: the mate mark that just appears, the socially constructed mark (chosen by at least one of the partners), and the non-tattoo physical change. This trope is probably familiar to those of you who read paranormal romance and there are many examples I could give. For the sake of clarity, I’ve chosen one series to illustrate each of the three variants, but please comment with your other favorites!