Even though romance includes a wide variety of subgenres -from historical and contemporary to paranormal, inspirational, erotic, and seemingly countless other sorts- there’s one thing that holds true with every genre romance novel, one tradition we hold sacred, that readers know they can count on, no matter the characters, tone, or setting: the happy ending, where our lovers are together and happy about it, no matter what else life has thrown at them. With all the noise of everyday life, and the turbulence of current events, can the fates of fictional characters amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world? We’re thinking it might. Let’s take a look.
According to Romance Writers of America, there are only two points a book needs to hit to qualify as a romance novel. The growing love relationship must be the main focus of the book, and the story must have an emotionally satisfying and uplifting ending. That means the love story is the whole point – take it out, and the book crumbles. Sure, there may be a mystery to solve, historical or futuristic goings-on, people may be finding their freak flag or inner serenity, saving the ranch, making their fortune, conquering the forces of evil, or what-have-you, but none of it can carry the whole story without the love. More importantly, we know that the time and effort put into building that relationship is going to pay off in the end. Doesn’t matter how dark things get, doesn’t matter how dastardly the villain is, doesn’t matter how badly our hero or heroine (or both) has bungled their entire life, and possibly the lives of those they love, their entire country, planet, species, etc – love is going to win.
When our everyday lives bring challenge and uncertainty, on large or small scales, we know that romance novels will give us certainty. No matter what’s standing in the way of our lovers finding each other, or finding their ways back to each other, it stands no chance in the face of true love. No matter what happens, no matter if our lovers think they can’t make it, if they think they’ve messed up so badly that nobody will ever love or accept them, guess what? They still get a happy ending. They make mistakes? Happy ending. Make wrong choices? Happy ending. Lose everything they once held dear? Happy ending. With that guarantee, we can get through anything the writer throws in our lovers’ ways, because we know that, at the end, they’re going to be okay.
Does this mean that nothing bad will ever happen to them, ever again, in their entire lives? Probably not. Maybe in some books, this is the case. Romance is a wide umbrella, after all, but even in the sweetest of books, in the coziest of small towns or most palatial stately homes, life happens to us all. In long running series, we get to see the heroes and heroines of previous books as they continue their journeys together, in the background of the current couple’s love story. Life isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always fair. That couple we ached over and cheered for in their book can be faced with any number of trials after they’ve achieved their own HEA. The world doesn’t stop turning and these couples can face the same trials many of us face in our own daily lives.
We’re not talking about being kidnapped by Vikings or caught in the middle of a clan feud, gambled away to a billionaire to pay off a parent or guardian’s debts, or awoken on a milestone birthday to discover paranormal abilities have made themselves known, but things that have far more power to shake us to our very cores. While readers and characters alike thrill to the births of babies to previous heroes and heroines (and really, how many series would even feel complete without the requisite gathering of couples and their progeny, happily ever aftering all over the place?) they also share in the sorrow of saying goodbye to characters who have played important supporting roles all along. Death and pregnancy loss can happen, adoptions fall through, and not even romance heroes and heroines can control wars or natural disasters, to name only a few of the misfortunes characters might endure.
There’s the thing, though; they endure them together. No matter what, once our lovers have committed to each other, they never again have to face anything alone. The person who rocks their world when the lights are low is the same person who holds their hand in their darkest moment, the same person who stays up to rock the fussy infant or keep watch for the enemy’s attack, sometimes both at the same time. They know they can count on their beloved to stick with them when times get rough, pick them up when they fall, and that they will do the same when it’s their turn to be the strong one. When they’ve lost everything else, they have each other, and that makes it more than enough.
In these turbulent times, when many of us feel that there are more than a few important matters entirely out of our control, romance novels remind us that love is the most important part of life, and it really is achievable for us all.
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. What is the most powerful happy ending you’ve ever read? What constitutes a happily ever after for you? Does it mean the lovers have nothing but blue skies and babies (if desired) ahead of them, or that the future may be uncertain, but they are certainly an unstoppable team? Pull up a chair in the comments section and tell us all about it. Have a different opinion? We want to hear that, too. There’s room for everybody at this table.