Fate as the unseen, driving force bringing two people together is not an idea that is unique to the romance genre. In fact, you’re just as, if not more, likely to find it in fantasy writing. Whenever there is a “quest” and/or a “prophecy” there is likely to be some sort of fated pairing. It’s an archetype that can be endlessly molded, formed . . . massaged even, to fit the circumstances of the story. Yes, it can also be a huge concrete wall as well. After all, if a character is meant to be only with one certain person, and it was preordained, and if it doesn’t happen the world will end—well, you don’t have much wiggle room in that, do you?
In practice, the “rules” of Fate seem to have a little give in them, though. Is that because we’ve lost the personification of the idea? It’s just an amorphous concept now, the strength of it beginning and ending with impressive capitalization. Few authors bring the Greek (or Latin) sized pressure of Klotho, Lachesis and Atropos to bear when talking about Fate.
Thanks to Wikipedia and William Smith’s A Classical Dictionary of Biography, Mythology and Geography (1858) here is a fatal little refresher on the Moirae or the Three Fates:
Lachesis is the one who assigns your Fate. Are you meant to star in movies or to watch them? That’s her direction, and she gives you the pages when you’re born. Klotho takes over the scene from there, spinning the “thread of your life.” Atropos, the last sister, determines when and where and how your thread of life will be snipped. Fade to black. Sounds like they have from (before) birth to death pretty much covered, right? Even the second act, the Klotho period, isn’t so much your making decisions as your acting out the decisions made for you. YOU are an actor whose script has already been written. Thanks for the walk-on, we’ll shut the door after you leave.
So, it's understandable that modern authors would want to loosen the rules a bit. Throw caution to the wind, insert a little free will—what could it hurt, right? If characters don’t make any decisions, there are no rewards or consequences, right? Fate shouldn't be two characters meeting, one smells like bacon, the other smells like eggs, and they know they’re meant for each other. I like bacon and eggs as much (maybe more) than the next person, but come on. Let’s leave the sniff test for deodorants. Fate isn’t just pheromones.
Or is it? Two series that jump to mind when dealing with “fated” partners are David Eddings’ Belgariad and Jennifer Roberson’s Cheysuli.
Both are fantasy series, one a classic and one lesser-known. Both are centered around a prophecy to be fulfilled. In Eddings' series, the prophecy is complex, involving the joining of fated couple Garion and Ce’Nedra (along with other prophesied couples) who are by no means the center of the world. In Roberson's series, however, the prophecy is based on a child of “four warring realms and two magic races.” To boil it down: couples must meet and mate until they get the right mix that makes the savior. There are 8 books in this series and each one is based on another link in the prophecy. If there is a category for “romantic fantasy” I'd think this would be a fit. In the Belgariad, there are agents of the prophecy who work steadily to make sure characters make the right choices. Not exactly our Moirae pulling the strings, but a little bit more than just “bacon and eggs” meeting and getting it on. The Roberson books have a similar guiding hand, but it is mostly unseen. The wiser lir (animal companions to the Cheysuli) get involved at times, stopping characters from messing with the mates of others, steering them towards their matches, but it is mostly characters fumbling their way to making the prophecy complete. A little more human and interesting, perhaps, but I’ve never gotten the impression that Fate fumbled along at anything.
I guess, in the end, the idea of “Fate” making a match leaves me cold. If you are destined to be the whipped cream to his sweet potato pie, and nothing in the universe could stop it, then what’s the point? The ending is foretold, right? You’re eggnog, he’s bourbon, life’s good. Where is the conflict? Where is the angst? Where is the CHOICE? I guess my choice is to wait for Klotho to give me another book to read.