Being a fan of romance novels isn’t always easy. We get the looks, the sneers, sometimes even the leers.
Case in point: when I was single and dating, I got set up on a blind date. I had high hopes for this guy – on paper he was perfect. We decided to meet up at a coffee shop, and, arriving a little early, I pulled out a romance novel to read as I waited. When he finally arrived, here’s how the conversation went…
Dream Guy: How’s that book you’re reading?
Me: I just started it, but so far so good.
Dream Guy: (smirking) Aren’t all those kind of books the same?
Me: ‘Those kind' of books?
Slightly-Less-Dreamy Guy: Yeah. Those… (scrunching his nose up like he’s smelled bad cheese) … girly, mushy books?
Me (trying to maintain a poker face, vowing never to blind date again): You mean books with a happy ending? Books about love? Books where people are going on dates far more successful than this one?
Dud Guy: Come on, you know, those trashy romance kind.
Me (getting up from the table): You know, before you go any further, you should probably know that I’m a romance writer. I write those kind of books for a living.
Dud laughs. Then sees my deadpan face.
Dud: Wait, you’re serious?
Me: Like a heart attack.
Dud (red-faced, attempting to pull his size twelve boot out of his mouth): Oh. Well, uh, that’s cool. That’s… wow, you write books. That’s great. That’s…huh, you’re an actual author. I’d love to read one.
Me (as I leave): I don’t think so. You’re not man enough for ‘those kind‘ of books.
Needless to say, that was the one and only time I saw that guy. But the book I was reading? I still have it. I’ve read it almost a dozen times. Why? Because I know that every single time that hero will still be the Dream Guy at the end. I know he’ll only improve page by page, and that as I fall in love with him alongside the heroine, there’s no way he’s going to suddenly turn into a Dud and leave the heroine wishing she’d had the presence of mind to toss a latte in his lap before she stormed out.
What can I say? I love those kind of books. Frankly, they’re the best kind. I love knowing that as a dark as it gets, it’s all going to be okay in the end. As tortured as the hero is, he’ll always change. As sad as the heroine gets, she’ll always get her man. (…) Life needs a few more happy endings. Romance gives up the hope that we’ll get them, and the courage to continue trying no matte how many duds we encounter along the way.
(P.S. And I did eventually find my dream guy. And he’s total hero material. And he is man enough to read my books. Score one for Happy Endings!)
I believe every single one of us, male and female, has had at least one day in our lives, and probably more than one day, when we felt ourselves lifted above the ordinary, when we felt like a hero or a heroine, when we first kissed our one true love, when we achieved a goal we’d been struggling to attain. We can’t hope to have such moments often in our lives, but we can relive them, remember them, re-feel them, especially when we read books that move us to tears. And those moments of recalling, those souvenirs of pride, praise, and passion, help us get through the tough days, the blah days, help us remember why we’re alive.
“Well, it’s romance,” he replied. “It’s not serious.”
“It’s about love, yes, and has a happy ending, but in the first one, for instance, the hero is escaping from an abusive, criminal ex-con, who wants to kill her and take her child. It involves being clever enough to escape, telling the truth, finding justice and doing whatever it takes to protect the innocent. How is that not serious? That could be the brief synopsis for the Illiad or the Odyssey, if you want to go to points.”
It took him a few minutes and he conceded, educated Librarian that he was, that I had a point. He still had to add, “But you know, it isn’t literature, honey.”
I conceded that Deadly Little Secrets, the last book out before he died, wasn’t meant to be a timeless, uber-meaningful story for the ages (which I find bore me to tears, by the way); it was meant to entertain, to encourage and yes, to empower. However, I had to push the point. “Do you consider Shakespeare to be literature?” I asked, and he agreed that the Bard’s works were the paragon of literary achievement.
Ta-da! I had him! I smiled and said, “You know, Dad, Shakespeare wrote romance.”
Ten years and ten books later, I have a new theory about the power and importance of romance. These books feature bluestockings and tomboys, adventuresses and ingénues, ugly ducklings and prom queens. I’ve read about heroes dealing with PTSD, heroes fighting alcoholism, scarred heroes, too good looking for their own good heroes, and some heroes with serious emotional baggage. In the end, though, the message is the same: no matter how scarred or wounded, no matter how quirky or unconventional (or no matter how staid and conventional), everyone deserves love. For every hero or heroine out there, there’s someone who will love them for their flaws and scars and will, through that love, help them be the best person they can be.
I’ve always loved the hopeful nature of the romance genre. We can go to terrible places, dark places with our hero and heroine, explore wounds painful and old, because we know that there is hope even in the darkness.
For me, the happy ever after ending (HEA) offers a dizzying freedom, because it allows us to go on journeys that might otherwise be too grim or too hard to bear. Our characters aren’t perfect people – no, they have histories, scars, wounds, and often, that gives them a tough road to walk. Yet no matter what, we know that in the end it will be all right. This doesn’t mean that everything will be perfect, all wounds healed. That is an impossibility, except in cartoons.
In a good story, the HEA for the characters will be shaped by who they are and the lives they’ve lived. For one couple, a happy ending might be a declaration of love and a proposal of marriage on the Eiffel Tower, while for the next couple it might be to sleep in one another’s arms all through the night, safe from the nightmares.
There are no limits to how our characters find happiness, and that’s how it should be. As each story is unique, so is each ending. The only constant is hope and that, I think, is a beautiful thing.