Time Travel romances are a particular favourite of mine. I got hooked on the idea of travelling through time for love at a very early age, when I saw the 1960 version of The Time Machine, featuring Rod Taylor (who just happens to be Australian). In that story, the hero goes forward in time, but the general idea is the same. In the romance genre, most often one of the romantically involved travels back in time, to start the story rolling.
But as much fun as they are, if time travel really worked, the chances that a romance could flourish successfully back in history would be pretty damned small.
Because the person who came from that historical period probably wouldn’t understand the modern person well enough to fall in love with them in the first place.
Romance novels tend to gloss over this stark reality, if they give it any airtime at all. I sometime wonder if romance authors who write time travel novels have seriously considered this unique cultural problem, or if I’m just too geeky for my own good.
But I think about history, social psychology, time travel and immortality a lot, because my novels tend to deal with these subjects over and over again. I’ve just released my third time travel romance, and it won’t be my last by a long chalk.
Lemme explain. Here in our modern day world, we use cell phones, tablets, the Internet, and we are so wirelessly connected to one another that if someone goes off the grid for more than a few hours, a dozen friends from around the globe will send up the alarm.
If you listen to the average conversation of the average people around you (and I do, every day. I shamelessly eavesdrop on the bus!), you will hear speech thick with cultural references — TV shows, movies, books, movie icons, comic characters. The words, slang and idioms are from movies, TV, music and books, popular cult figures and more.
The more wired into each other we become (and the Internet moving to our cell phones and mobile devices as our primary access will be the penultimate step), the faster these references will change and adapt.
One hundred years ago, a child could pretty much expect to lead a life very similar to that of his or her parents, using the same technology, wearing similar clothes, earning a similar amount of money and staying within a hundred mile radius of where they were born.
These days, our parents have trouble keeping up with the technology and language we use, the books, movies and music we like, and often they’re living on a different coastline from us, or even a different country (mine are, for instance).
Cultural change is speeding up. If our parents, who were born only one generation before us, have a hard time understanding our likes and dislikes, and sometimes don’t understand what we’re talking about, how would someone from one or two hundred years cope? What about someone from a thousand years ago?
Then there’s changes from country to country. Even in this day and age of globalization, there are still huge differences between one country and another.
We laugh about polite Canadians and pushy American tourists, and meek British civil servants…but those clichés are still around for a reason. They point out differences between national cultures. When I first moved to Canada, I figured I would have no trouble at all fitting in. I was moving from one Commonwealth country to another, and everyone spoke English. No worries, mate.
Except, I had a permanent headache for six weeks, caused by the endless need to concentrate at all times whenever someone spoke, so I could sort past the accent, the strange words used, the cultural references I didn’t understand (I had a three year TV lag, just to begin, and some shows Australia simply never received), to finally reach a point where I understood what someone was saying. By the time I figured out what they’d said, they’d spoken again and I was back to squeezing my temples.
And I hadn’t even moved through time. Just space.
About six months after arriving here, I was hit by the strongest wave of homesickness I’ve ever experienced. The novelty of a new country and snow and mountains had worn off. Psychologically, I had adapted. And now I had started to miss all the things that Canada didn’t have (and all the friends and family), and subconsciously realized I would never experience again, unless I went back to Australia.
What sort of psychological depression would a time traveller go through, if they went back a few hundred or a thousand years and stayed there for a long while?
Given the lack of technology and devices of convenience around back then (any “then”), the depression could be pretty severe. And the traveller would have to go back for a decent amount of time, if they’re going to have a serious shot at a long term romance, so there would have to be some sort of repercussion.
All that mental depression aside, and even if the couple could manage to overcome their communications difficulties to speak heart to heart, the odds are still stacked against a modern person and someone from the past successfully sustaining a romantic relationship.
Personal values becomes the next gigantic hurdle. The historically-based of the pair would have values that the modern person would find at the very least a touch old-fashioned. For example: It wasn’t too long ago when a woman’s place was in the home, and men expected the woman to cook, clean, make his shirts, bear his children, and keep her mouth shut at all times unless he directly addressed her. These “values” were so strongly rooted in society that women who tried to buck the system were beaten, cast out of society and worse.
A modern woman travelling back to historical times and falling in love with a historically-based male would find this expectation so rooted in her hero that he would not even be aware that there are alternatives for women. He would be surprised she would even question the situation, because for him, that is the way it has always been, and always will be.
Even if the open lines of communications allowed the pair to discuss their conflicting values, and if the man was a rare, open-minded forward thinker who could allow his modern mate the freedom she was born and raised to expect, the culture they live in would do everything to ensure she maintained the status quo, and was a good and proper mate. That would put incredible pressures on the couple and their romance.
Do you think you could subjugate your personal freedom and will for the sake of love? I know I’d have to sit down and really think hard about it.
The problems couldn’t simply be resolved by having the historically-based mate jump forward, although this solution does lessen the degree of conflict.
The one who jumped forward would have to deal with a culture shock far more severe than the temporary headaches, disorientation and mild depression I suffered from moving around the globe. Depending on how robust their intelligence and mental state, it’s possible they would not be able to make the adaptation at all, leading to a tragic end to the romance.
Thank heavens, though, the average romance novel does gloss over these uncomfortable and, well, depressing considerations about time travel. Time travel romances are, in the end, just plain good fun. A way to sneak back in history and play in it, while keeping all your modern attitudes and ideas.