Every romance author (and reader) knows – it’s all about the HEA. The Happily Ever After. In an ever increasingly cynical world, where most of the real-life stories we read and hear about have anything but a happy ending, it’s no wonder the romance genre is so popular. We want to escape the disappointments of the real world, lose ourselves in a story that, we know, will end on a positive note, with the antagonist thwarted, the people involved safe and sound, and yes, the main characters riding into the cliched sunset toward romantic, if not wedded, bliss.
Romance Writers of America defines the romance genre thus:
“Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.
A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.
An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love. “
Those of us in romance (aspiring or published author of, or consumer of) know those elements are required. The ending has to satisfy and wrap up those romantic loose ends, either with the classic “Happily Ever After” or HEA, or the “Happy For Now” or HFN that’s increasingly found in contemporary romances and women’s/chick lit.
But that’s in fiction. Real life doesn’t work that way.
Five years ago today, I got my HEA. My very own romantic hero and I walked down the aisle, exchanged vows and rings, and went off to enjoy everything that’s suppose to come after “and they lived Happily Ever After”. The road to wedded bliss followed the general expectations of that central love story. We both had our hang ups and jaded views of love and romance, for various reasons. We had to learn to trust and confide in each other, how to communicate respectfully and effectively, overcome obstacles and conflicts, both internal and external, before we could enjoy our happy ending.
And that’s the end, right?
Well, as we all know, real life doesn’t usually end with the HEA. If we want to be honest and fair, even though it’s never shown, we have to imagine the HEAs of our favorite romance novels aren’t really the end either. Relationships are constantly in need of review, repair, and reflection. No HEA is every truly set in stone, even if books make us want to believe so. The thing is, people expect their HEAs to be the end, that they will never have to put another ounce of effort into keeping the HEA happy.
But it does take work. If you forget to nurture your relationship, even after the HEA, it’s going to fall apart eventually. Here’s my take on it – the Central Love Story that got you to your HEA needs to remain the Central Love Story after the HEA. There will continue to be challenges and conflict – family crises, financial matters, career aspirations and goals – that will make it hard to keep the happy in your HEA. Sometimes you have to learn to communicate all over again. Sometimes one or both of you will have to make sacrifices in order to allow the other person to grow and achieve success. Both people in the HEA need to feel like a vital, successful part of the Central Love Story. You’re in it together.
My hero and I have definitely had to deal with our share of challenges and conflict. Sometimes we handled them with grace, and other times we forgot how to approach them in a way that would keep our Central Love Story completely healthy. But we never forgot the Central Love Story, or the need for a Happily Ever After.
Even though we’re five years into our HEA, I bet the rest of the story is going to be a fantastic, satisfying read.