10.1 Dependence

The third book of the series, Face the Fire, focuses on Mia and suggests that no romantic partner, however loving, can satisfy all of their beloved’s emotional needs. Mia’s emotional difficulties were, however, initially caused by her parents. They “had been more interested in each other and traveling than in their daughter, and Lulu [...] had been hired to tend her” (Face 8). As Mia admits to Sam,

They never loved me. That’s sad and that’s painful, but more, they never cared that I loved them. So what was I to do with all that love just burning inside me? There was Lulu, thank the goddess. But I had so much more to give. And there you were. Poor sad-looking Sam. I heaped my love on you until you must have felt buried in it. (Face 324)

This summary may recall the case-studies included in Robin Norwood’s Women Who Love Too Much (1985), which “became the guiding light to more than 20 million readers” and spent “More than a year in the number-one spot on the New York Times Bestseller list” (Faludi 379). Certainly Mia in her youth was a women who fitted the pattern identified by Norwood: having been brought up in a “home in which [...] emotional needs were not met” she joined the ranks of women who attempt “to fill this unmet need vicariously by becoming a care-giver, especially to men who appear, in some way, needy” (Norwood 10). 

“Sad-eyed Sam” (Face 51) was emotionally needy because he had been left “unhappy, moody” (Face 222) by the lack of “affection in his house. Oh, no neglect, no abuse, no meanness” (Face 48) but he knew his father was “ashamed” (Face 222) of him. Ripley observes metafictionally of the older Sam that he is “handsome and brooding [...] he had on this long dark coat and it was all [...] billowy. Perfect tortured-hero look” (Face 109-110), adding that he looked “like some contemporary version of Heathcliff looking over the moors for Catherine” (Face 111). He was similarly brooding at a young age, and the “dark anger in him, that restless passion [...] had drawn” (Face 163) Mia to Sam.

He was, then, clearly a male protagonist in one of the molds discussed in the previous chapter. However, instead of depicting their youthful relationship culminating in a triumphant, ecstatic miracle of love, Roberts takes a cautious, legalistic position and shows how attempts to save such an individual may instead lead to a damaging dependency and abandonment. For Mia it became all too “easy [...] to forget everything and anything but him” (Face 206), this rendered her dependent upon Sam for her happiness and led her, subconsciously, to attempt to make him dependent upon her.

Dependence takes a variety of forms. The most obvious is that of the individual who gives over “responsibility for themselves into the keeping of one who can administer it in their best interests” (Greer 180) but a more subtle form is that of the person who makes another human being the emotional “source of all good things in her life” (Norwood 189). The fact that Fire “could find no purpose for her own life” (Face 2) after her “husband [...] returned to the sea” (Face 1) indicates that she was dependent on him in this fashion. Indeed, her dependence was so great she leapt off a sea cliff even though she knew that doing so would give greater power to the demon: “Her death would feed it, and still she could not face life” (Face 2).

Fire’s is the story of a woman who, in the grip of a love which was “consuming and obsessive” (Face 230), “couldn’t—or wouldn’t—[...] live without the love of one man” (Face 73); it functions as a monitory tale, warning against loving “too much” (Norwood 1). Mia’s girlish love for Sam resembled Fire’s for the silkie inasmuch as when Sam “walked away from” their relationship, Mia was left “hurting and helpless and hopeless. It still shamed her to remember the quivering mass of confusion and grief she’d been for weeks after he’d gone” (Face 13). Although she did not respond exactly as Fire did, and instead gradually recovered, for a time she did think she “would die” (Face 39) of grief. Moreover, the experience left her fearful of “feeling my heart break a second time, because I’m not sure I could survive it” (Heaven 151). The intensity of this kind of love is such that its loss seems to carry with it the risk of death. Norwood uses drowning as a metaphor which, for Fire, became a reality:

It would be difficult to overstate the sheer emotional charge that this kind of relationship, once begun, carries for the woman involved. When she tries to cut herself off from relating to the man she loves too much [...t]he old emptiness surges and swirls around her, pulling her down into the place where her childhood terror of being alone still lives, and she is sure she will drown in the pain. (Norwood 94-95)

This type of love is not just unhealthy for women who “love too much”: according to Norwood the fact that such a woman is so emotionally dependent on her beloved will create in her “a driving need to control” (127) him and make him dependent on her.

Nell states of love that “believing you can control it, mold its shape, plot its direction? That you have to do that? That’s a mistake” (Face 314). Norwood would presumably concur, since she warns that the attempt made by “women who love too much” to control their partners

usually yields exactly the opposite of the hoped-for result. Rather than a grateful, loyal partner who is bonded to her through his devotion and his dependence, such a woman finds she soon has a man who is increasingly rebellious, resentful, and critical of her. Out of his own need to maintain his autonomy and self-respect, he must cease to see her as the solution to all his problems, and make her instead the source of many if not most of them. (141)

Fire, who “found her silkie, in human form, and fell in love while he slept,” bound him to her when she “took his pelt and hid it away so she could keep him” (Face 55). In taking and hiding the pelt, Fire took control over him; she “trapped the man she loved. You take a silkie’s pelt, you bind him to the land and to you. They had a life together, a family. But his feelings for her were a result of magic, not free will” (Face 336). Once he “found his pelt,” the silkie immediately rebelled against Fire’s choice for him: “He couldn’t stop what he did. It was his nature. Once he’d found his pelt, nothing, not even love, could make him stay. He left her, went into the sea, and forgot she existed. Forgot his home, and his children” (Face 55).

A similar pattern of control and escape characterised Mia and Sam’s youthful relationship. Sam, too, had “felt trapped” (Face 78) and he, too, “knew how it felt, to be pulled” away (Face 209). Since Sam’s free will had not been bound by magic, he used it to pull away from Mia, until in a final attempt to break free of her control he deliberately set out “to hurt” (Face 77) her. The alternative, he felt, was to have his free will contained within an intangible box created by Mia’s vision of their shared future. As he tells her years later,

“ [...] The problem was I didn’t know what I wanted. You always did. It was always so fucking clear to you, Mia. What you needed, what you wanted. There were times when your vision choked me. [...] It was as if you could see the rest of our lives in this pretty box. You had it all lined up for me. [...] I couldn’t be what you wanted. I couldn’t give you what you were so sure was meant to be. [...] I couldn’t be here. For God’s sake, Mia, we were hardly more than children and you were talking marriage. Babies. You’d lie beside me [...] and talk about how we’d buy a little cottage by the woods and … [...] It was destiny for you. When I was with you, I believed it. I could see it, too. And at that point it smothered me.” (Face 224-225)

Mia is deeply hurt by this disclosure of Sam’s past feelings because she had been “so wrapped up in the boy, and in her visions of what she wanted their life to be, she couldn’t see he wasn’t ready. It wasn’t that she ignored it, or overlooked it [...] she really couldn’t see it” (Face 323-324). She genuinely believed he “wanted what she wanted, and she never looked beyond that” (324). Inadvertently, then, in attempting to create for them a future which she desired and believed to be good, she made Sam feel trapped. As Norwood warns, “when we plan another's future [...] this is controlling” (Norwood 130).

Mia’s path to recovery did not lead her to seek a formal support group of the kind advocated by Norwood, but she did

learn to seek feelings of self-worth and well-being from sources other than a man unable to foster those feelings. The key is in learning how to live a healthy, satisfying, and serene life without being dependent on another person for happiness. (Norwood 59)

Over time, she came to “like being on my own, in control of my destiny, and all the little day-to-day decisions and choices” (Dance 150). Her life without Sam was a full and emotionally rewarding one: she had her magic “gift [...] and all its joys and responsibilities” (Face 87), her “bookstore was more than a business to her. It was a deep and steady love” (Face 92), and her home “soothed her [...] the feel of the house [...] warm, waiting” (Face 27-28) while its gardens “she thought of [...] as her children. She had created them, taking the time to plant, to nurture, to discipline. And they brought her joy” (Face 28). Thus, she had found “contentment” as a singleton and even “flourish[ed]” (Face 93). Mia has, then, become “capable of handling life on [her] own. But being capable of it doesn’t mean being unable to share and depend on someone else. It shouldn’t mean being unwilling to. That’s the romance” (Face 302). 

In order to defeat the demon and save her island Mia’s “task, let’s call it, deals with love. Love without boundaries” (Face 336). Mia must once more risk love, and the type of love required from her is unconditional: love with “no regrets, no conditions” (Face 357), no attempts to control or change the beloved and which, instead of placing boundaries on them, is strong “enough to let [...] go” (Face 357). This kind of love “without boundaries” (Face 3) becomes possible for Mia due to growing out of the belief that “there’s one person for each of us who’s worth everything” (Heaven 171). Her experiences of loving and losing have taught her that “there were some losses that sliced you to bits, shattered the spirit into dust. And still you went on, you remade yourself, mended your spirit. You lived. If not happily ever after, then contentedly enough” (Face 151). Secure in this knowledge, she can “look into her heart, open it and leave it bare” (Face 337) with no defence against the pain of loss except the certainty that she would “cherish [...] what we made together” (Face 357).