[Note from Frolic: We’re so excited to welcome author Alice Archer to the site today. She’s talking about the importance of boundaries on and off the page. Take it away, Alice!]
The road to happily ever after is paved with boundary negotiations. From the first meeting to the happy ending in a romance story, characters interact in a series of approaches and retreats, queries and responses. Yes. No. Maybe.
This is why I love writing and reading romance: the genre explores how to manage boundaries, overcome impediments, and be more true to oneself.
As I wrote The Infinite Onion, I considered how someone who’d lost the ability to manage his own boundaries could be healed. Oliver Rossi, a man rooted in his past, has lived a complacent and unchallenged life for a long time. This changes when a large, loud, cranky man barges onto his remote property.
Grant Eastbrook is on the verge of extinction, plunged into homelessness by the recent loss of his job. He’s on a quest for the bare necessities of life, a way to survive long enough to figure out what’s next for him. Oliver could share some of his bounty. If he wasn’t such a stuck-up, infuriating ass.
It’s not an easy match. No one has pushed Oliver’s boundaries for a long time. Interactions with Grant require Oliver to wake up long-dormant parts of himself. Grant’s continuous breaches of propriety awaken Oliver’s unhealed wounds and activate his self-protection mechanism, at first only on a subconscious level experienced as the unfamiliar thrill of pushing back.
I write what I like to read—stories about people with unhealed trauma who expose each other’s debilitating wounds so they can be cleansed. For me, a match made in heaven requires a hefty dose of reluctant forward movement, painful friction, resistance, internal confusion, and awful realizations en route to the happy ending. I write to heal. As in real life, the journey of healing hinges on the concept of differentiation.
Differentiation occurs when we claim our truth, even if only internally at first. In a close relationship, intimacy is created by the interplay between boundary negotiations and differentiation. If we can’t be true, especially when those close to us disapprove of our choices, we can’t achieve intimacy. Saying no stakes a claim. Being told no provides a chance to practice self-soothing and taking responsibility for our own lives. All of that is easier said than done.
No means no. That’s a given. But what happens when the ability to say yes is broken?
In The Infinite Onion, Grant’s desperation about his life, his determination to survive, creates situations in which Oliver gets to reclaim his own edges. They both struggle to figure out where their boundaries are. Oliver and Grant’s dislike for each other manifests as the freedom to interact with brutal honesty. But honesty fosters intimacy. Romance gains a foothold amid the barbs and push-back. Oliver moves from a newfound ability to reclaim his no to a growing desire to say yes.
And that’s when things get really scary. Yes will mean excavation. Deeper wounds beneath the old wounds. Open wounds. Messy confusion on the inside. Messy interactions on the outside. Shifting boundaries, terrifying risks, and the sharp sting of genuine intimacy.
Romance stories are journeys of people telling themselves the truth, taking responsibility for their own experiences, and sharing their truth with others, even when they know it’s not going to land well. Even when it creates havoc. But it’s not until the truth is out that intimacy can flourish. Recognizing our boundaries, staking a claim, and hoisting the flag of honesty—that’s the human growth path.
Romance stories show us how to be honest, illustrate the costs of not doing so, and reward us with the pay-off of connecting with someone else as brave as we are.
About the Author:
Alice Archer has lots of questions. Scheming to put fictional characters through the muck so they can get to a better place helps her find answers.
She shares her stories with the hope that others might find some healing too. Alice has messed about with words professionally for many years as an editor and writing coach.
She also travels a bunch. Her home base is Eugene, Oregon.
The Infinite Onion by Alice Archer, out now!
The truth is harder to hide when someone sharp starts poking around.
Grant Eastbrook hit the ground crawling after his wife kicked him out. Six months later, in Seattle without a job or a place to live, he escapes to the woods of nearby Vashon Island to consider his options. When he’s found sleeping outdoors by a cheerful man who seems bent on irritating him to death, Grant’s plans to resuscitate his life take a peculiar turn.
Oliver Rossi knows how to keep his fears at bay. He’s had years of practice. As a local eccentric and artist, he works from his funky home in the deep woods, where he thinks he has everything he needs. Then he rescues an angry man from a rainy ditch and discovers a present worth fighting the past for.
Amid the buzz of high summer, unwelcome attraction blooms on a playing field of barbs, defenses, and secrets.