R16. A Romnov by M.R. - Happily Ever After

My apologies if this post is totally incoherent, and for the presence of several monster paragraphs. I ended up having to put it together on my lunch break at work. I'm about 16 000 words away from being finished my NaNovel, and there'll be one more post on the topic this month (on the 30th), and then it'll be back to our normal schedule. Woo! -M.R.

I think this is probably obvious from the reviews I've done so far, but the Happily Ever After thing is easily my least favourite aspect of the romnovs*. To my knowledge, and someone please correct me if I'm wrong, it is literally a rule that every single category romance novel must have a happy ending. Most of the time, or at least as far as I've read so far, this happy ending takes the form of the two leads getting married and deciding that they need to have a baby, immediately. I'm prepared to say that just about everybody wants romantic love of some kind, but I can't believe how romantic love is defined here as marriage and children, or bust.

To me, this is totally unsatisfying for three reasons, leaving out the most obvious one, which is that I'm pretty sure I'd never agree to marry someone less than a month after meeting them.

1. I guess least importantly because this one's mainly based on my personal preferences, I like my romance to be more on the realistic side. This could be my youth talking, or maybe my lack of a long term relationship, but things just don't always work out. I'm partial to bittersweetness, and I'm a huge fan of fleeting beauty. Sometimes the lost thing can be more beautiful than the lasting thing. Think of a sunset versus a mountain, for example, and seeing one or the other with someone that you care about. The mountain will be there later to look at with someone else, but the sunset will never be exactly the same again, and maybe you'll never see another one that magnificent for the rest of your life. And no, I'm absolutely not trying to set up a brief teenage romance of mine against my grandparents' 50+ years of marriage or anything like that, I'm just saying that both have a lot of value. And, in the context of a short romance novel, where there isn't enough space to develop the characters and their relationship with each other in a realistic way, a pretty but finite story would actually be more diverting.

2. It's just too predictable. Knowing that the two main characters will absolutely, inevitably be together at the end of the book takes all the tension out of the romance. There's no suspense or anticipation about whether the leads will get together, because of course they'll get together. This spills over into the plot, as well. The situation that has shaken up the lives of our main characters and brought them together will inevitably be resolved in the best possible way so that it won't interfere with their HEA. Predictability plagues a lot of genres (in fact I just read an essay last month about how genre fantasy is essentially just a bunch of variations on The Lord of the Rings, which is one of the reasons that I don't read as much fantasy as I used to), but I really think that category romance is the worst offender.

3. Even if I grant that a romnov is itself a kind of fantasy and that it would disrupt the fantasy if the main characters didn't end up falling in love, why does HEA have to mean marriage and babies? And, more than that, what are the ethics of marketing HEA as marriage and babies? That's just not my experience at all, and I'm actually a bit nervous about the size of the industry that's built on that definition, and selling that definition to women all over the world. Maybe it's just my youth talking again, but why don't our heroes ever decide to go on a world trip or something? Take his riches and build themselves a castle on a mountain peak somewhere, get him a vasectomy, and live out the rest of their days screwing like bunnies, child-free? Donate all of their money to charity and go teach in a refugee camp somewhere? Nope, they're just going to get married and have kids. This all goes back to that primeval notion that success is measured in babies. This was all well and good when we were still getting trampled by woolly mammoths and devoured by sabre-tooth tigers, but now we're red-lining on the babies front and that metric for success is changing, and I seriously hope that the genre will change to reflect that. You can easily have a happy ending without pairing off all of your characters for eternity (then again, try explaining this to Shakespeare).

But anyway, that's about all I have to say about that. Maybe my main reason for disliking the romnov depiction of HEA is that for me "future" tends to be an undefined variable, and that that's more interesting to me than anything else (even though it can also be really stressful). And while I get that other people might want more certainty, I still don't see how an inevitable happy ending would be satisfying all the time.

So here's a question: Do you know what your HEA is? Do you have one?

* Once again, I can't really pick on just romnovs. Romcoms do this to an egregious extent as well (the only one that I can think of where the two main characters don't end up together is SPOILER ALERT The Break-Up, which I have to admit had a pretty great ending by my standards, but I guess ymmv). The more serious romantic films seem to be split between happy endings and tragedies.


  1. I have to agree with everything you said. While I have read one or two romances where HEA does seem to lead to marriage, unless of course getting married to the wrong person or having to get married to get something has already happened and they decided to stay married, and then decided to have kids.

    Of course I can't recall the titles, then again they are few and far between.

    To me Romances are adult fairy tales. They are a fantasy, or as I call them my bathtub books. Books I can read with only part of my brain engaged. They are to entertain not educate. As such I take the HEA with a grain or two or five of salt.

    I know how the books end is not how life works. I agree there is a very real danger because it seems there are lot of people who don't realize this is fiction, a fantasy and the Knight in Shining Arm is not really out there the way he is shown in these books.

    Romances are like Westerns or Spy Thrillers. People read them because they are all very much the same. It's the formula we want. The knowing what will happen in the book because Lord knows we have no idea what is going to happen next in real life.

    I could go on, I will stop here for now.

  2. Ooh, good point about reading romance novels/westerns/spy thrillers because you know what to expect. I'm starting to realize that reading these kinds of books is just a very different experience from reading other ones and actually almost impossible to compare. It's like a comfort/security thing, I suppose, like ice cream or a blanket, instead of something adventurous. And we all like ice cream sometimes!