(Crossposted from Silk And Shadows)
My XY wanted to know how I could write a post about believing in Happily Ever Afters. “In real life, everybody dies,” he said.
He’s fun at parties, I swear.
Yes, I explained, people die. But if they lived a full, satisfying life, reaching their potential and connecting with the people they loved, that counts as an HEA (Happily Ever After). Most books don’t follow that entire progression, because we can’t all be turn-of-the-century Russian novelists (they didn’t believe in HEAs anyway) burning through paper pulp like weak vodka Jello shots. The best we can do is show — in 400 pages or less — that our characters met and overcame their roadblocks, and walked away with the skills to continue down that path, whatever else might come along — whether we see that in the next book in the series or just imagine it.
I read a thread in an online romance reading community that asked whether the readers felt that romance skewed their perception of what “real” relationships should be like. I was shocked at the number that said, yes, reading romances made it harder to maintain a real-world relationship because their expectations were too high. HEA was one of the alleged culprits.
Which made me think those readers had my XY’s interpretation of HEA: That somehow HEA meant you’d never have another fight, always orgasm simultaneously (in his defense, I’m extrapolating my XY’s beliefs a bit) and never die. Whether you’re a vampire or not.
Instead, I think an HEA is built on three elements, and all of them have real-world applications, not just in our romantic relationships but elsewhere too.
Romance novels are a uniquely female pleasure, I think, because of all the words that go into building the relationship, culminating in the “I love you” moment. As anyone with a Y chromosome in the vicinity knows, relationship words aren’t always the easiest for the male persuasion to muster. But romances also understand the value of the gesture — grand or small — that reveals the truth behind words unspoken. Whether with words or action, romances teach that only by reaching beyond the confines of themselves can our characters begin to seek their HEA.
Half of communicating is receiving what the other person reveals. With that new understanding, our characters — female and male — are able to progress past the prejudices and limitations that have held them back. Compromise gets a bad name because it sounds like giving up, giving in. But anybody whose read about the bad boy alpha hero oh-so reluctantly giving his woman a place on the mission team — only to discover that she’s crucial to his success — knows that compromise is the heart of the HEA.
Whether it’s an HEA or HFN (happy for now) the dedication to the cause completes the Ever After. Or should we say Even After? Because that decision to stay the course – regardless of annoyances, tribulations and assorted escalating bad guys — means we can believe that our hero and heroine remain true to each other and themselves.
How would you describe Happily Ever After? Is it reserved for fairy tales? Or does everyone deserve it? Would HEA be better described as Hopefully Ever After?