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B  R  E  N     A  N  D     L  O  V  E

Originally posted in March 2002
Edited slightly for the sake of clarity.

Spoiler Alert!  Do not read this if you have not finished Defender.
 

hautdesert:
So I was thinking profound Foreigner thoughts over the weekend, wondering what great stuff to read I'd find when I got back. And this occurred to me.

It's probably not outrageous to say that Bren's career choice was likely influenced by a desire to get away from his mother. And that Barb is disfunctional enough to choose a man who could never, ever really be there for her, tell him that was okay, and then flake out right at the moment he was least accessible. Certainly his mother seems to push her sons away while at the same time demanding that they be with her whenever she wants them (which seems chiefly to be when they can't be there).

So I was thinking about this, when I thought, I wonder how much of Bren's comfort with atevi is helped by the fact that he knows they can't ever love him? The people who love him seem to be pretty destructive of the people they love, or else involved themselves in difficult relationships and demanding Bren solve their problems (like Toby) or have even abandoned him (Bren's father--I'm making a big assumption here, but I don't think it's completely unreasonable). Imagine how much of a relief it must be to know that the people you live with will never do that to you. He must feel very conflicted about love--he'd want it, everyone does. But then when he gets it it's painful and messes up his life.

But the atevi are entirely safe on that score, and there's a degree to which his agonizing about their never liking or loving him has the flavor of his mother, to my eyes. His mother can't accept that her sons can only love her as they are and as they can--she keeps insisting that they love her on her terms.

Just a thought. 
 

WereOtter:
"I wonder how much of Bren's comfort with atevi is helped by the fact that he knows they can't ever love him?"

I don't think Bren is attracted to Jago because he is afraid to love a "real" woman. 

Bren simply doesn't have the opportunities that he would need to find, woo and have a relationship with the "right" human woman. Bren sometimes does not visit Mospheria for months or years, and when he does, it's just for a few days. On the other hand, Bren and Jago have been through a lot together. Jago's always there. Jago goes where he goes. And what he has with Jago is both unique and special.

I suppose that theoretically, Bren could have dated women on the station during the time between Precursor and Defender. He could choose between Phoenix crew or Mospheiran workers. But the impression that I get from other Cherryh books is that it is very unusual for a ship crew-woman to consider living her ship. And I doubt that Bren would find much attraction to a woman who would be traumatized by a visit to a planet and who knows even less about the atevi than a Mospheiran woman would.

Maybe there are prospects among the Mospheiran stations workers, translators like Kate Shugart, or a scientist. But it would mean possibly jeopardizing his relationship with Jago, for a human relationship that might not work out anyway. I don't think that Bren's risk/benefit analysis would be optimistic.
 

hautdesert:

Quote:

 I don't think Bren is attracted to Jago because he is afraid to love a "real" woman. 
That's not really what I was saying. I think if he were to choose a human woman as a partner, she would have to demonstrate the same emotional non-threat as Jago does. But it makes perfect sense, just in general terms, that he would be attracted to someone he's with a lot and can develop a close attachment to, perfect sense that he would love someone who is with him and works closely with him. And at this point he's deeply involved with Jago and unlikely to look anywhere else, and I think the relationship is good for him. 

And I don't think he's afraid to love. I'm just wondering if he's subconsciously uneasy about being loved, and wondering if that's part of what makes him able to live in atevi society as well as he does, and at least part of the attraction to Jago. The same attraction would exist in a human woman who could demonstrate that she wouldn't be like Bren's relatives. But, as you point out, he has very little access to human women who would be remotely suitable partners.
 

Susan:
No, I think Haut is really on to something important here. 

Consider the type of human personality that really succeeds - as Bren has done about as much as a human could - at being at home among the atevi in general, and yet functional as a human. The person would have to have an unusual amount of comfort with giving very little expression to his feelings and an unusual amount of comfort with relationships (sexual and otherwise) that lack intimacy. Bren, not being deeply impaired as a human, doesn't feel complete comfort with either and, in fact, suffers to a certain degree with both. That's a good sign, for a human.

But he is sufficiently neurotic (a label that doesn't say much, but I can't think of a better one right here) to find his circumstances and relationships among the atevi bearable, and even satisfying. The atevi are giving him almost enough.

Another thought - consider the enormous amount of self-control it takes for Bren, as a human, to be fluent in Ragi and to comport himself in a polite manner among the atevi. Being able to exercise that kind of iron control presumably comes with a price.

I'm at work, and can't write at greater length here, but I think Haut has started a great topic. 
 

Ansikalden:
Bren can love.

We only get to see Bren in one crisis or another, when he is likely to be most negatively analytical of himself and his relationships with everyone; humans and atevi, close family/friends/associates and casual acquaintances. He is in panic mode, fearing the slightest misinterpretation of atevi will be fatal and suspecting that his inborn human empathy will lead him to make mistakes that will break the peace. He is just quite naturally depressed and doubting everything, simply questioning the meaning of life. 

In between – I think he has a healthy mind and emotional life and loves (because there is no way to escape it if you aren’t a psychopath) as humans do – despite his difficult affection-demanding relatives (really, who haven’t got some of those?), despite the confusion of thinking and dreaming in Ragi... 
 

Heritage Partier:
Ansikalden brings up a good point: we only see Bren during times of high stress. And while we would all enjoy reading about Bren reading the phone book, the publishers don't agree.

Perhaps the space station is the best thing that has happened to Bren emotionally in a long time. Consider, Bren gets regular, in person contact with other humans in addition to his regular atevi associates, especially the Mospheira-born humans. The psychological set of these humans is much more flexible than the "ordinary" Mospheirans and more flexible than most of the ship-born. These contacts offer potential new friendships (perhaps even more) without the baggage of his fraught-filled family relationships. He has new people to gauge his humanity against and come out feeling fine. Even Ginny Kroger is a friend now.

Concurrently, his atevi personna is thriving: the household is strong and devoted, no one has filed Intent lately, and his closest associates are tied ever more strongly to him, be it man'chi or love. Most interesting, his relationship with Jago is an anchor. Even with possible temptation appearing on station and during his trips to the island, Bren appears committed to his love of Jago and her response. 

Even with Mum and Toby and Barb pushing the same old emotional buttons in PRECURSOR, Bren is less fragile than he was earlier and has a stronger emotional base among humans and atevi to keep his sanity. 
 

hautdesert:
HP, I do agree that the station is good for him, for all the reasons you cited. In fact, I think his being with the atevi was and has been good for him all around. It's given him a source of unequivocal support, a way to be with other people and love them and accept what they give him without feeling threatened by it, and he's learned a lot from this. This would be one situation where running away from his family would be the productive thing to do, and he did it. I also think his having to come to terms with atevi never loving or liking has really matured his idea of love and relationships in general. Having grown a good deal, with the help of his household's devotion and his own experiences, he's in a better position now to deal emotionally with humans.

Ansi, I'm not trying to say he's unhealthy or crazy or dysfunctional. You're right--everyone's family is nuts, really, and everyone has some sort of emotional baggage that they carry that affects things. I'm just pondering the specific nature of Bren's. In fact, like I said, I think he's made very healthy choices--get away from the problem, try to find a way to relate to others that isn't destructive, that won't injure him.

Quote:

 Concurrently, his atevi personna is thriving: the household is strong and devoted, no one has filed Intent lately, and his closest associates are tied ever more strongly to him, be it man'chi or love. Most interesting, his relationship with Jago is an anchor. Even with possible temptation appearing on station and during his trips to the island, Bren appears committed to his love of Jago and her response. 

Even with Mum and Toby and Barb pushing the same old emotional buttons in PRECURSOR, Bren is less fragile than he was earlier and has a stronger emotional base among humans and atevi to keep his sanity. 


I completely agree with you here. And I think his being less fragile is directly attributable to his being with atevi--developing relationships that don't threaten him, with people who are truly devoted to him and don't play emotional games with him, and whose different emotional makeup has forced him to question what it means to love someone. The whole experience has been stabilizing and maturing for him. Contrast him with Toby, who even though he fled to the North Shore is still pretty enmeshed with his mother (not like Bren's completely free--you're never completely free from your mother....) and hasn't learned any of the emotional lessons Bren has. Bren's atevi household have given him that stable base. And his love for Jago, who can't love him back, has taught him something about the unselfish part of love, about respecting the other person and loving them as they are, not as you would wish them to be, something his mother certainly didn't convey to him, something Barb seems to know nothing about.
 

Susan:

Quote:

Concurrently, his atevi personna is thriving: the household is strong and devoted, no one has filed Intent lately, and his closest associates are tied ever more strongly to him, be it man'chi or love. Most interesting, his relationship with Jago is an anchor. Even with possible temptation appearing on station and during his trips to the island, Bren appears committed to his love of Jago and her response.
- and-
Quote:

And I think his being less fragile is directly attributable to his being with atevi--developing relationships that don't threaten him, with people who are truly devoted to him and don't play emotional games with him, and whose different emotional makeup has forced him to question what it means to love someone. The whole experience has been stabilizing and maturing for him.
I agree with both quotations. I lean towards Haut's view of Bren, but I take it further. The fact that Bren has an "atevi persona" at all is noteworthy - most humans could never reach the point of developing an atevi self, let alone a thriving one with atevi relationships that satisfy him. And many or most humans would become more fragile, not less fragile, by being with atevi. 

The fact that he can maintain a relationship with Jago that anchors him is also noteworthy. So many human men would feel that they were receiving insufficient nurturing, cuddling and warmth. But Bren is happy with what Jago can give.

There is a great deal of distance and reticence in their relationship, of necessity, both because they are so different, and because of atevi custom. Bren has adjusted to this degree of distance and reticence by Persuader, and finds it comfortable. 

I hope that relieved of the unhealthy pressures that his mother and Barb placed on him, Bren might mature to accept a human version of intimacy in a love relationship with a human woman, but I guess I don't think it likely. I keep coming back to the feeling that he wouldn't be doing so well with Jago if he were the kind of person who would do well with a human romantic partnership. People grow, but do they change that fundamentally? 

Bren has the right strengths for the situation he has found himself in, but I don't know if he would have the right strengths for a cozy suburban home with a wife, two kids, a dog and a lawnmower. Indeed Bren can love, and does love, the special atevi in his life, especially Jago, Banichi and Ilisidi. That doesn't mean that he can love a human wife - and be loved by a human wife - with as much success.

I don't mean that there is necessarily something "wrong" or something "unhealthy" about Bren, compared to other people -but he has some unusual qualities that seem to me to be fundamental to the person he is.
 

Heritage Partier:
One of a kind, an aside to Bren can love.

This time around in my re-reading of the FOREIGNER books I've been keeping an eye out for mention of the training of the paidhi. Mospheira is careful in its training of paidhiin as the ship is in deciding to create Taylor's Children. Atevi studies graduates can happen any year, but candidates for the position of paidhi seem concentrated in one graduating class, probably timed to the retirement age of the previous paidhi. Bren and Deana and probably other agemates went through the candidacy process, but no more substantially mature candidates are mentioned. Plus Bren muses that, were he to leave his position before retirement age, Deana would be his designated replacement (although she'd probably be so ensconced in her Mospheiran life that she'd demur at that hypothetical time), not a more recent graduate of atevi studies. 

So far my gleanings bring the suppositions that Bren started his training in atevi studies towards the awarding of paidhi rank at age 12, an impressionable age, and that a lot of that training was was negative. You will NOT expect atevi to like you, you will NOT be friends with atevi, you will NOT display emotion in front of atevi, you will NOT find your worldview important... Who knows what Bren would be like if he hadn't undergone paidhi training in addition to his family dynamics?

Bren is one of a kind, at least in his generation, and this was acknowledged by the Committee that chose him over his rival with better political connections in a society where nepotism ruled politics. His ability to use linguistic nuances was simply too great. (And until CJC lets us know who Bren's father is and what his position in Mospheira is, we won't know if Bren had even a tad of political sympathy regarding his origins.)