Romeo & Juliet. Tristan & Isolde. Pyramus & Thisbe. The bones of star-crossed lovers litter classic plots throughout the ages. (Hahaha, plots. Pun intended.) And what is the common thread that connects them all?
They’re all certifiably insane.
They’re each in a battle with Fate, who has it out for them.
Yes, Fate, that wily mistress. One minute she’s smiling, and the next she’s twisting Fortune’s wheel to pitch her little darlings into the ditch. (Ask Troilus & Criseyde about that one. Well, maybe not Criseyde. She makes out okay in the end.) And because that fickle Fate is so inconstant, the lovers live with a sense of irrational urgency.
“We must act now! We may never have this opportunity again!”
Urgency in Context
In classic stories this irrational urgency makes some sense. Women were viewed as property, so there was no telling when their family might marry them off to some slavering misogynist twice their age. Under threat of that possibility, if two people were in love against their families’ wishes, it was probably in their best interest to run away together sooner rather than later. And who could blame them, really? (Aside from all the logic-minded audience members, I mean.)
In modern stories, where chances of the woman’s family fobbing her off into the arms of another man are probably slim to none (or at least should be), the sense of urgency must take a different form or else fall flat on its face. He’s headed off to war. She’s engaged to someone else, with a looming wedding date. They’re both dying of cancer.
Whatever the situation, time is of the essence where the star-crossed lovers are concerned. They can’t wait. Their window of opportunity is narrow and will never come again.
They MUST. ACT. NOW.
And it’s all terribly romantic. Or nauseating. Depends on how the trope is executed. (Another death pun. I think the star-crossed lovers bring out my morbid side.)
With regards to timing, there’s often another issue at play: love at first sight. It’s never, “Oh, hey, we’ve known each other forever and I think I might love you.” It’s, “Wow, you’re hot. We should run off to the bear-infested woods together.” An immediate physical attraction propels the lovers into one another’s arms, and their star-crossed circumstances trigger the events that follow. And it inevitably ends in tragedy.
Which just goes to show that you shouldn’t always listen to what your hormones are telling you. Long courtship good. Bear-infested woods bad.
Romance isn’t the end-all, be-all. Sometimes, dignity’s nice too.
(But that’s just the opinion of a single, solitary cynic. Obviously I haven’t met The One yet…)