When the male and female anglerfish mate, they melt into each other and share bodies forever. It sounds so romantic. Living in an inhospitable habitat, up to a mile in the depths of the most frigid oceans, lightless, the chance of encountering a mate is unlikely, so much so that when they find one they hold on for dear life. Literally.
But it’s not the fairy tale it seems. The anglerfish female is ugly, the stuff of nightmares, a true monster of the deep. She possesses a bioluminescent lure that flashes in the dark. Her mouth is so big and her body so pliable, she can seize prey up to twice her size. The lure floating above her head draws prey close enough to snatch.
To find a mate, she sends out a pheromone to any male who might cross her path. The young male, blundering along, follows the pheromone, glimpses the lure flashing in the dark. Finding her, he attaches himself to her belly, bores a hole into her soft underside, gradually increasing the transfusion of her blood through his veins. Attached to her like this, he needn’t bother with all the activity of keeping alive. He no longer needs eyes for finding food or fins for swimming. Even certain internal organs become irrelevant. All these body parts atrophy, degenerate, wither away.until little more is left than a bulbous pair of testes, fringed with gills, protruding from the female’s flank like a sperm-filled saddlebag.
Eventually, he loses everything that made him an individual. The relationship becomes nothing more than him taking food from her and providing sperm when she’s ready to spawn. Any inconvenience to the female is worth it. Not possessing any kind of soul, driven only by biological imperatives, the female is capable of hosting up to eight such consorts.
This grotesque transactional union is the opposite of fairy tales. It’s called sexual parasitism. Wrong on both sides, full of self-interest, mindless of consequences, blind to the ones you’re hurting.
I’ve imagined it ten thousand times.
Like the male anglerfish, you were made a non-entity, subsumed in darkness, swallowed by her opportunism and your own weak desire. You wandered into depths I would never have imagined for you, followed a dim lure, and became something irreconcilable with the shining image of you I held in my mind. And like the male anglerfish, it would forever after be impossible to separate you — and the idea of you — from her beastly body.
It was a horror, this thing unfolding off-stage, a faraway predation, parasitism, sex without love, infecting that one beautiful thing you were freely given, not just my love and the innocent need of our young family, but also my absolute faith in you.
(from Quantum Entanglements)