I'm reading Thea Harrison's Elder Races books, and while I'm not the biggest fan of paranormal romances, I do enjoy her depiction of an entire world that's divvied up among seven different classes of paranormal critters--and that one of the classes is witches. (Even if none of the novels thus far casts a witch in anything other than a bit part.)
I had to reread Dragon Bound, though, to really appreciate what's going on. That's the one with the Wyr-dragon, Dragos Cuelebre, and his mate, Pia Giovanni. Early on, he tells her "you're mine," an unequivocal statement of possession, but what does he really mean? Dragos may not know and Pia's not sure...but we totally get it. She's his True Mate.
In real life, or in the world of contemporary romances, if a character started spouting off about a "True Mate" he or she would seem like a stalker. And even then, the line is pretty thin between the confidence a hero or heroine has that he or she has met The One and an irrational refusal to accept rejection.
In a paranormal romance, the True Mate system works better. First, the author simply states that's how that world works. Second, our only examples are successful ones. Harrison presents it as extraordinarily rare that when a Wyr finds his or her mate, it's not a perfect match.
In Dragon Bound, Dragos, who's been alive since the planets in our solar system were created, says to Pia, "As for Wyr mating, I remember once a couple hundred years ago it didn't take right. At least I think. Were they going through the bonding process or were they just fucked-up? She killed herself when he wouldn't have her." And in True Colors, an Elder Races novella, Gideon Riehl (a Wyr-wolf) mates with Alice, a rare Wyr-chamelon. She tells him, "I do not believe that we would be mates without also being right for each other. The fates of the gods, or whomever it was that created the Wyr to be what we are, would not have been so cruel."
Don't get me wrong. I get it -- people do believe they've met The One, and sometimes it works out great. But it's not guaranteed as it is in Wyr-land.
Of all the fantastical elements of paranormal romance (with physical attributes being high on the list), I think the True Mate system is one of the most emotionally potent. If the reader is single, it reassures her that The One is out there. If a reader is married, it says she made a good choice. And even if a reader is divorced or unhappily married, there's still hope that The One may yet show up.
As Alice puts it in True Colors, "I'm a person of faith." Gideon replies, "I don't have your faith...But I do know one thing--you're the purest gift I've ever been given, and I'll do anything to keep you safe and be worthy of you."
Sigh. A perfect romance; all you have to do is wait.