When I talk about why I love romance – and happy endings – people often say “but they are so unrealistic!”
When this happens, the general response from romance advocates I hear in return is “It’s just a fantasy, like a crime novel!” But…why? Why are romance novels considered fantasies? I don’t really think they are. A heightened version of life, yeah, sure. And obviously the more fantastical romances are fantasies in that sense. But is the Happily Ever After really such an unattainable thing?
Let’s do an experiment, shall we?
Close your eyes, and picture all the people you know well. Friends, family, coworkers, the over-sharing guy that runs the corner store. You got them all? Right. Now, how many of those people would consider themselves happy, or even just content. A decent number, right?
I have friends and family going through tough times, but I also know a lot of people that are really happy with where their lives are. Some are married, or with partners. Some are single. Happiness is across all range of jobs, lives, circumstances. That doesn’t mean there is no conflict in their lives, that’s ridiculous. But these people are satisfied with where they have found themselves. Even the ones that aren’t happy now definitely will be one day – life is a series of ups and downs, but there are always ups.
So, let’s apply this logic to fiction, shall we?
The general progression of a Romance novel is two people go through some conflict, and end up falling in love. It’s a very simplified version, of course, but that’s the basic premise.
Falling in love is something that people do every day. I know many people in love right now. Married people. People in committed relationships. Sometimes other, more complicated scenarios. But it is still all love.
So why, when this is applied to fiction, is it suddenly “fantasy”?
Quite apart from the fact that romance novels are rarely just about that. Most are about conquering the bad stuff in life and triumphing. People I know do that all the time, too! They move away from the bad things in their life to get to a better place. It’s human nature.
So, again, why is this considered unrealistic?
I think we are doing a disservice to ourselves and our genre to say that getting to a good place in life and falling in love is unrealistic. It’s like saying that people will be miserable and never fall in love, ever, because that’s not a thing that happens in real life. But for romance writers and readers, HEAs don’t imply that our main characters will now and forever lead a conflict-free existence. They just say that these people are in love and are going to make a good go at a life together. And, if it’s done right, the author will have convinced us that they’ve got a good shot of making it work.
Frankly, based on my own experience, misery isn’t any more realistic than happiness, despite what people say. When people are faced with disappointments, they usually move on, grow, and find something new. Something good. And it is up to the author to decide where in this process they want to tell the character’s story – on the up- or the down-swing of a character’s life.
Romance novelists choose the up-swing. Other authors sometimes choose the down-swing. And that’s fine. There is room for all kinds of stories in this world.
But we shouldn’t be mocked or derided or considered “unrealistic” because we choose to end our books with the characters happy and in love. It’s such an everyday occurrence. (As are orgasms, FYI, so they aren’t unrealistic, either).
So, next time someone tells you that Romance novels are unrealistic, ask them whether they are happy.
Because surely, surely, only a miserable bastard would be rude enough to expend effort mocking people’s reading tastes. And that’s a sad life.