You know all about "boy meets girl" - it's one of the most common things we see in stories, even ones that don't have romance as their primary reason for being. But if you're working in a world with alternate social rules, one thing you should probably consider is how boys and girls meet each other. After all, if they aren't meeting each other at all, then that makes it hard for them to fall in love. And if they are meeting each other in very restricted circumstances, that may have a deep influence on what the society considers relevant to choosing a match.
Imagine the situation where boys and girls aren't allowed to meet. The
sexes are totally separated as much as possible, so love between a
potential husband and wife is probably not considered that important.
This is the kind of place where you'd expect to see arranged matches
based on criteria that can be assessed within the isolated context.
Imagine the situation where boys and girls play together all the time,
but boys and girls tend to be separated for things like team activities,
and gender roles are seen to be relatively distinct. Relationships
form, and some boys understand girls better because they have sisters or
cousins who force the gender-divided expectations to be broken down,
and vice versa for girls understanding boys. But there are also going to
be large groups of boys who haven't had much contact with girls and
know their ways mostly by hearsay and culturally based report. This is
sort of the situation my children are currently working in.
Every parameter you change is going to have a huge influence on how relationships form.
In this vein, I was thinking about Disney princesses. When we watched Mulan, I remarked to my daughter how this was my favorite
of the Disney princess movies, and she said, "but she's not a princess."
It was a good observation. Mulan is obviously a member of a noble
family, but really, she's not a princess. And I think the reason why I
always enjoyed her relationship with the Captain was that in spite of
the deception involved in her pretending to be male, she actually got to know him.
They went through rough things together. Compare that with the typical
love-at-first-sight scenario that we see basically everywhere else in
the Disney princess canon.
If you think about it, the idea of love at first sight in itself isn't a
horrible thing - instant attractions happen. But when you look
structurally at the positions the princesses are put in, they aren't
ever in positions where meeting a boy will happen naturally and allow
them to get to know each other. Historical princesses had some of this
difficulty as well (though I imagine they were more realistic in their
personalities), because the ways in which they were allowed to interact
with potential matches were very circumscribed. If you're only ever
going to be meeting any member of the opposite sex for an hour at a
time, on a dance floor, then NOT believing in love at first sight is
going to be a problem, because it will simply mean you have to resign
yourself to not loving the person you're going to marry. Which of course
does happen, but we like to think of these matches in an idealized way
(because thinking of them any other way might be depressing! Just
witness the Disney princess annotated portrait that has been floating
around the internet lately).
Now, an example from my Varin world. The social parameters in Varin are
twisted by the fact that the noble caste is in decline and in desperate
need of healthy children (which it finds difficult to procure). As a
result of this, women in the noble caste (but not the ones below) are
very oppressed, and rushed into babymaking as soon as possible (age 17,
which in the global scheme of things is not horrible, but still very
early from my own point of view). Because their health and safety is
considered a priority, the Grobal women are given bodyguard-nurses at
birth, and these companions safeguard them until they are grown. This
means that it is extremely difficult for boys to interact with girls.
Boys are expected to approach the girl's servant before they approach
the girl herself, to the extent that they must speak with the servant
first until they get permission to speak to the girl. This means that
boys without sisters have very little idea how to interact with girls at
all. It also means that arranged marriages are the norm. Arranged
marriages are also the norm because of the need for alliances between
the Great Families, and they are typically arranged by men in power, so
you end up with lots of couples where the man is 20 years older than the
woman - because the man is powerful enough to make the arrangement
successfully, and the woman is being rushed into childbearing. This has
consequences all through the society because love is not generally the
currency on which these things are based, and because young people are
not able to satisfy their sexual appetites without braving bodyguards
and serious trouble (which means they look for various other ways to
satisfy them that I won't go into here).
What parameters for interaction have you set up in your world? How do
boys and girls meet? What are the expectations for love and marriage?
How does that change expectations and behavior?
It's something to think about.