I'm reading a book with a very tight POV, and so I'm in the protagonist's head all the time. (It's a mystery, btw, not a romance.) And I'm seeing something interesting. He thinks he's utterly in love with an old flame, and says it a whole lot. "I'm so in love with her." "She's the one I never got over." "If I'd stayed with her all these years, my life would have been happy."
Well, I don't believe it. As I read, I keep ticking off the clues (to me) that he's just deceiving himself, like he didn't think of her at all till she suddenly arrived at his house one day, and that their epic separation (engineered by her over-protective father, natch) would never have been successful if he'd just, you know, picked up the phone and called her, but he didn't bother. And that even now, he never thinks of her and doesn't pursue her-- she always has to go to him. And their conversations are all about how wonderful it was to be 16 and in love (only now they're in their 40s), and how tragic it was to be separated for so long, and not at all about current life, like her children and his job.
Anyway, I want to take him aside and say, "Dude, you are just not that into her."
But I know he'd look at me with those starry eyes and reply, "What do you mean? She's the love of my life!"
Now I'm wondering if at the end of the book (I'm still about halfway through) he's going to realize, or she is, that this great passion is 90% nostalgia for youth, and not actually love at all. But there's something about the presentation of it that suggests to me that this is NOT what the author is setting up (the realization of self-deception), that the author actually does think that this is Twu Luv 4-evuh, and that the book will end with the two of them holding hands and gazing at their youthful photos in their high school yearbook and talking sincerely about how much they're in love. (I mean, that the author is deceived too. Because I'm so right-- the lady is just trying to escape her boring life by relighting an old flame, and the guy is just in love with the memory of himself in love.)
Has anyone had to work with this sort of issue? I was thinking that when you're really falling in love, it's more of a conflict than this, and there's more internal questioning and debate. But then I remembered one of my favorite Joan Wolf romances, where the hero has known that he has loved the heroine all their lives (they grew up together), and never for a moment did I doubt it (nor did they). So it's not doubt and conflict that are the keys, I don't think. Why do I think the mystery fella is lying to himself, but not the young Regency horse-trainer?
But we'll see. Anyway, I'm wondering what you all do when you want a character to deceive him/herself, but you don't want to make it too obvious or have an omniscient narrator make that observation. How do you make the self-deception plausible (that he could really be in love with her) but also set up for some epiphany or change at the end?
And how does this differ from the way you'd handle the same set of circumstances if there WAS no self-deception, if this were truly true?
So-- scenarios. (Deep POV, remember-- we're in his head, no veering off into the common sense of his best friend or secretary.)
Protagonist is with a woman. He thinks he is in love with her. He thinks this is real. How would you present it (and I don't mean the ending) if:
1. It's not real. He's deceiving himself.
2. It's real. He's right. He really does love her.