What do these things have in common?
* The Science of Kissing
* The Argument For and Against Romance Bond Mates
Way back in early 2008, Time Magazine’s cover story explored the science of romance. I saved the article as I knew I could one day write about it in a column at AAR. When I read Lora Leigh’s Dawn’s Awakening a few months later, the opportunity jumped out.
For the uninitiated, the book is part of her long-running Breeds series. The Breeds were created in inhumane laboratories by The Council, a large group of greedy men working with unscrupulous scientists to create the ultimate warrior through experiments combining the DNA of humans and animals such as a lions, cougars, wolves, and coyotes. The purpose of many of the experiments was to insure the procreation of the Breeds. In this, The Council failed. It was only after the Breeds began to escape and to couple up with life mates that they discovered a limited fertility, one which they keep secret to protect themselves against recapture by those on The Council who were not imprisoned by the government.
Breeds are only fertile after bonding with their true mate. Breeds (with some minor exceptions) recognize their mates through smell and taste. Their mates’ scent turns them on and their general horniness ramps up until they’re ready to explode. After a Breed shares a kiss with their mate, it’s a done deal; they release a hormone through saliva (or other bodily fluids) that triggers a biological reaction. Now each is equally horny for the other...for life.
We all know that biological and chemical reactions occur when we fall in love. Our pupils dilate when we gaze upon the object of our attraction. Sex stimulates the release of oxytocin, the “bonding” hormone. (While I was pregnant, my OB/GYN explained that the level of oxytocin increases in a woman’s body during pregnancy to help her bond with her unborn child.) And this is where it gets most interesting as far as Leigh’s series is concerned: Among the genes that control our immune systems are those (MHC genes) that influence tissue rejection. If we hook up with somebody whose MHC genes are too similar to our own, carrying a pregnancy to term is less likely. In order to effectively procreate, our partner’s MHC genes must differ from our own.
Even more interesting in terms of the Breeds is the relationship between MHC and kissing as it serves “the utilitarian purpose of providing a sample of MHC.” As I explained it to my daughter when she talked to me last year about kissing her first college boyfriend, kissing is kind of a taste test of compatibility. MHC is found in saliva, which may explain, in part, why we started kissing altogether, “particularly those protracted sessions that stop short of intercourse. Kissing...might be a taste test.” Also, males slip females a “chemical Mickey” when they kiss, by passing testosterone in their saliva. Testosterone helps both sexes maintain arousal, so by engaging in lengthy make-out sessions, men are giving women a “natural aphrodesiac...increasing her arousal and making her receptive to even greater intimacy.”
This explains, on a biological level, why we love to kiss our mates...and why we found some men in our pasts to be lousy kissers. We actually didn’t like the taste of their kisses. When the Breeds kiss, they crave the taste. They need more of it, even though each additional taste feeds the need for more in a “mating heat”...and can only be satisfied by their one true mate.
IIRC, life mates became de rigueur in paranormal romance after Christine Feehan introduced her Carpathians and were cemented a few years later in J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood. Is this trend one that readers continue to enjoy, or has it become annoying and an easy out for authors?
Personally, I’m a big fan of the life or bond mate because it plays into my own personal experience; my husband and I fell in love at first sight. In my mind, falling in love at first sight dovetails nicely with the notion that two people belong together in some fated sense. If we weren’t meant to be together, after all, why did we both experience the “thunderbolt” when we first set eyes on each other? (A small aside here; though we may have first read or seen the “thunderbolt” in The Godfather, it’s actually a French term: Coup de foudre).
This summer Rose Fox, one of my brilliant Publishers Weekly editors, posted the entry Down with Destiny on her Genreville blog. She was inspired to write the piece after noticing that two consecutive reviews referred to “bond mates.” She’s not a fan of destined partners in paranormal romance. Here’s why she finds it disturbing:
“It’s like all the worst parts of arranged marriage with none of the upsides. It throws us back to a time when women were property and there was no divorce. You can’t even blame your parents; Fate or Destiny or God has made the choice for you, and you don’t get to argue. Initially dislike the other person? Too bad! Fate or Destiny or God has also slipped you a roofie, and you will be so compellingly attracted to your destined mate that your arousal overwhelms your very reasonable concerns. The super-hot compulsive sex will just have to make up for your partner not being someone you otherwise want to be in the same room with.”
Leigh addresses Fox’s concerns in all of the Breeds stories I’ve read, in one form or the other (and be sure to read my editor’s blog), but try as I might, I can’t get myself worked up against the pre-destined notion of life mates. In fact, I am attracted to the premise almost precisely for the same reason she argues against it. Here’s what I concluded in a comment to the article:
“Most of the books featuring bond mates feature very strong female leads, leaving no doubt in my mind that they control their lives regardless of the bond, which is less a handcuff, metaphorically, than a reminder of the HEA even when it all goes to hell. He may do something, she may do something, something horrible may befall them, but in the end they will maintain their HEA because it was meant to be, or as my mother would say, ‘beshert.’”
Leigh’s Breeds prove that time and time again. She does not make the coming together of her bonded pairs easy, and none of the women—whether Breed or human—is weak in any way. Fighting against the bond is the least of it in most of the stories as still-free members of The Council inevitably try to harm one or both of the pair, but those fights cannot be minimized as they are epic.
In Dawn’s Awakening, for instance, the fight against the bond lasts a decade. Seth, the book’s human hero, walked away from Dawn even after experiencing their mating kiss in order to protect her as she’d been raped so brutally in the labs. Unfortunately, nobody told her why he walked away, so not only does she suffer the unrequited effects of mating heat for a decade (he does too, but men experience mating heat to a lesser extent than women in the world Leigh created), she also suffers unnecessary feelings of rejection.
Of all the Breed stories/books I’ve read (and there have been 24 to date), Dawn’s Awakening is my favorite. I love it for a variety of reasons, but I go back to the series time and time again because of those kisses, and what they represent: That these couples’s HEA will never be in doubt.
Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Be one of the few who visits her at Toe in the Water or follow her may-be-too-political-for-you tweets at @laurie_gold.