Romance novelists always have the ‘happily-ever-after’ to achieve at the end of a book. Happily-ever-afters are great things, and most people would agree that good romances always have one.
But what is a happily-ever-after?
One of my favorite authors once wrote a novel in which the hero and heroine spent the entire book proclaiming the importance of their Dom/sub relationship, the collar, the feeding rituals, the primacy of her commitment to him. But, as in all good books, they came to a crisis. The author’s resolution was to (1) let the Heroine run away and have nobody chase her or look for her, even her family, until she came back to her parents voluntarily (2) the Hero built her a house NEXT DOOR to her parents, and (3) the dynamics of a power exchange relationship were never again mentioned. He married her, they had children, and they lived happily ever after.
It was a completely bewildering, and unlikely, scenario to follow up on a book in which two strong-willed, well-traveled, independent personalities completely abandoned their past lives to forever after live a conventional life in a house in a meadow beside a creek and have a conventional little household of children and dinner cooked on the barbeque.
I kept waiting and waiting for any actual resolution to the actual issues outlined in the story, and … there was hope and happiness and sunshine and hugging, but the only resolution was the dominant, executive-type Hero proclaiming that he’d jump at her command.
The Happily Ever After didn’t fit the book.
A writer friend of mine (to be left anonymous, thank you!) has been challenged in recent weeks by complaints (in reviews) on a book she wrote. The complaints — after an entire book where the heroine alternated between desperation and depression over fertility issues — go along like this: Why can’t you leave her with some hope of having a baby? Why didn’t they pray and hope and it all worked out in the end? Why did they have to accept it?
We all want hope on issues that are important to us. Of course we do. Hope is the reason that we get up and keep living in bad years, and the reason we keep trying. Hope is the reason we aren’t still living like animals in caves — we want more, we want better, and we understand it’s possible, whether by luck, fate, or plain hard work.
And yes, to a certain extent, a romantic story embodies hope. But a romance is a tale in which the plot is moved forward by the developing relationship of the Hero and Heroine. A romance is not a story in which all of our problems are solved by falling in love.
Sometimes faith, miracles, gambles, and plot devices can create the perfect ending and no-risk future. But it isn’t very realistic, is it? I mean, I’m living a Happily Ever After. Life with a small child isn’t all sunshine and roses. I’m allergic to roses, to be honest, and sunshine causes sunburns.
My husband and I deal with grief, tragedy, and pain nearly on a daily basis. We’ve had trouble having more children, his father has died, my dad has had heart surgery, and an uncle is currently in rehab recovering from a heart attack and stroke — at sixty-plus years old, he has to re-learn how to feed himself, dial a phone, and hobble through the corridors with a walker. Five of my uncles and aunts have died or are fighting cancer in the last ten years, and my grandparents’ happily-ever-after-devoted-to-each-other hearts have been broken over and over again as they watch their children die.
Life is fucking hard. Happily Ever Afters are hard, too. Having a Happily Ever After doesn’t make all the other problems in life disappear. A Happily Ever After makes them bearable, because we have someone to share the journey with us.