Romances need happily ever afters. To me, the final kiss under the sunset is what a story is all about. But besides juxtaposing lips against a backdrop of technicolor, what does happily ever after mean? Villains vanquished, order restored, perhaps a snapshot of an idealized future: children, wealth, contentment, life in a land of milk and honey. Nothing wrong with that. I’d take it, no questions asked.
The world is full of skeptics, and I needn’t add to their number, but…(my husband says I can’t resist them; you decide which kind I mean) does happiness mean wish fulfillment? Not always. The great lesson of my life has been choosing happiness in imperfect circumstances. Life is good, but seldom perfect. Would we trust it if it were?
Back to romance novels. Wish fulfillment is part of their charm, living with our heroes and heroines through the pages. Happily the most rescue I’ve needed is help finding my keys (and I’d like to keep things that way) but, safe behind a matrix of print, I read to experience thrills, anguish and love. Until the phone rings, or I’m out of milk or…you know how it is. A romance novel offers what we want, and we can stroll through aisles, comparing ingredients, choosing our favorite sub-genres: regency, chick-lit, f/f, or practically any permutation of letters. There are sweet ones and funny ones and ones so full of steam the covers should be wet with condensation, and each one of them is selling someone’s desired future. It’s fun to play pretend. It’s why I read and write.
But how much do we need to be happy? What, exactly, is the object of our desires? The guy? The girl? A glamorous wedding? Add 1.7 children. A castle in Scotland. A billionaire. Death to all enemies and humiliation to every mean girl. Wealth and security and a flawless complexion and …you see my point? Art imitates life, but that kind of art doesn’t imitate mine much. In every story—whether it’s in the past, the future, or another world—it’s the link to what we know and feel that lets us believe the rest. I know I take myself too seriously, but I want my dreams to have some chance of happening. And I want some degree of verisimilitude in my romances, because the cynic in me wants and believes in the Real. Victory, then, isn’t Elysium. It’s gathering to you the person you love, and learning (through the torturous workings of that plot diagram) to overcome your foibles so you can face the world with confidence. It’s happiness of a less jubilant, more tender kind, and I can believe in that.