The Big Idea: Dave Ring
In The Hidden Ones, author Dave Ring is looking at a part of human relationships that sometimes gets short shrift in the world of fiction — but in many way is the part of human relationships most of us strive for. And just what part is that? Ring is here to explain.
In college, I was two things I no longer am: a poet and a serial monogamist. I burned through a never-ending string of three-month boyfriends. Of these relationships, many inspired torrid poetry, most were relatively lovely, and all of them self-destructed very neatly around the ninety day mark. Each one all left me devastated, which of course led to more poetry. My poems about heartache tended to get more applause than anything I came up with about love, so this cycle was ultimately more successful than I realized at the time.
I’d always wanted to be with someone, and those years were a time to put those wants into action. I blame that cursed desire on the impossibility of queer love that loomed over the late nineties. But like many people in college, I wasn’t very good at being with someone else. But where would I have learned that? I deeply admired those who managed to stay together for long enough that the rest of us could eye them enviously, wondering how they’d managed to sort their shit out—even if time would reveal that they were on the verge of falling apart.
In stories it’s not uncommon to read, say, the story of the warrior queen and the sorceress, drawn together despite their oath. Other times, perhaps, the galactic president trysting with the alien emissary, or the heroes who finally kiss at the end of the adventure. There is no shortage of just-starting flames, almost-loves or rivals-who-just-might-also-want-to-kiss. And I love those stories as much as the next romantic.
But there’s often been a dearth, in the genre fiction I read anyway, of writing that explores romantic relationships beyond the point of connection/courtship/consummation. Not to mention long-term queer romantic relationships.* The details of how such relationships change and thrive is too often banished to the post-credits imagination. Has the lack of Epic Relationships in storytelling resulted in a missing vocabulary in our cultural imagination around sustainable partnership? A myopia of thought focused on creating a spark rather than feeding the fire?
At the heart of my novella, The Hidden Ones, is our ne’er-do-well protagonist, Baird, and the estranged love of his life, Tadhg. As two immortal scions from warring families, their union once brought a truce to an endless war, but when the book begins, they can barely look at each other. Even when mayhem of both the family drama and existential threat varieties ensue, Baird and Tadhg’s equilibrium—or lack of it—propels both of them forward.
I wrote the beginning of this novella in my early 20s and then finished it in my late 30s. Somewhere in the middle there, just as I’d started to figure out that I didn’t need to plan on forever with every guy I met, I found myself in the sort of relationship that didn’t have an obvious expiration date. Fifteen plus years later, that’s still true. The poetry has mostly withered on the vine, which is probably for the best, but that shift in perspective has led to a very different attitude towards a central premise of my plot.
A prominent couple were in the news the other day for a memoir one of them had written about their relationship, and amidst the usual fragmentary and bombastic opinions that come with all celebrity news, there was a persistent, underlying refrain that this couple should simply split up. Besides the parasocial aspects, I was struck by the lack of nuance in this reaction. Of course, there are plenty of relationships that people stay in for reasons that feel unhealthy or unsafe; that didn’t seem to be the case here. What was it that led onlookers to believe that acknowledging any struggle at all meant that the relationship should be over?
I’m curious if a possible solution is to put more iterations of established relationships into our storytelling. Take time to show the nuance and care that can develop over time. Romanticize them, even. Because applying the tools we’ve been given for exploring new love—watching for red flags, setting firm boundaries—sometimes fails up when applied as-is to an eight year or an eighteen year relationship. How do we instill the idea of growing with someone, or explore ensuring that the person they are becoming is someone you want to stay connected with?
It might seem like what I’m saying is that we all need therapy. Which wouldn’t be totally wrong. But I think something powerful can come from privileging the conversation with the butch blacksmith about how she’s stayed happy with the miller and his wife for so long. From lending an epic guitar riff to a tense, domestic moment between the two kings before they go to war. From zeroing in on that tiny affirmation, pressed between two palms, before the captain and the mecha pilot fall to sleep.
Ten, fifteen, and twenty-plus year relationships deserve poetry as much as or more than doomed three-month affairs. It’s for the best that I don’t write them, I think. But I’ll still try to put words to page that share the incendiary moments arising from long-burning loves as often as flash-in-the-pan sparks. And maybe eventually our cultural imagination will catch the heat.
*As an aside, the other thing that the nineties lacked, besides the mythical existence of appropriate teenage boyfriends, was readily available queer fiction. The internet was still a nascent thing, YA hadn’t yet exploded. And while since then the volume of queer writing has (thankfully) grown exponentially, queerness continues to be often treated as if its mere existence is “adult” or “explicit,” while corresponding cisness and straightness goes unnoticed and unremarked upon. So, in addition to depicting adult relationships in media res, The Hidden Ones is also intended to fulfill that secondary mission of putting queer desire on the page. There’s a similar argument to be made for centering stories of platonic friendship.