Last month, my brother married a terrific lady who I am lucky to have as a sister-in-law. The two are so perfect for each other that it’s hard to not believe they were meant for each other. This wonderful union started me thinking about the proverbial Happily Ever After (or HEA) and my love/hate relationship with romance novels.
I spent many years doubting the existence of real HEAs. I was convinced that the whole concept was a myth perpetuated by Disney films and romance novels. And, yes, I was one of those people. I turned my nose up at the mere thought of reading romances. But can you blame me? My mom and dad got divorced when I was four, and between the two of them, I’ve had five stepparents. If that weren’t bad enough, when I looked around at my friends’ parents, I saw even more broken families or couples that stayed miserably together for the sake of the kids.
Yet, despite the jaded cynicism, there lurked a rose-colored-glasses optimist. This Little Miss Pollyanna in my psyche seemed to always steer me in the direction of stories with happy endings and the occasional dreaded romance novel. (Whenever I was caught reading said novels, I was quick to explain that I had run out of better books to read.)
When I started writing and realized all the stories in my head were love stories, I was forced to admit the truth – I love romances and the promise of the HEA. I was also forced to take a long hard look at what I believe and why. How could I write believable characters with believable happy endings unless I did indeed see the reality of HEAs?
After stripping away the emotional baggage of coming from a broken home and burning away the illusion of everything being light and happy, I was left with the realization that both good things and bad things happen. There are relationships that end in divorce or are cut too short by tragedy. There are people who settle for an unhappy relationship because they’re afraid of being alone. There are people who are desperately seeking Mr. or Mrs. Right. But there are also people who have found their soul mates as well as people who have found their HEA in a life of being single.
It has taken a long time, but I have finally learned that regardless of where a person is on the spectrum, HEA is within their grasp. Sometimes it means making difficult but necessary changes. Sometimes it means just altering how you perceive things. Instead of seeing the glass is half-empty, allow yourself to see that it’s half-full.
I’m going to go on a bit of tangent, but I promise it’s related. Fifty years ago this week, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In August of 1963, he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and shouted out to the world his dream – his vision of a perfect world. A utopian world. All these years later, have we achieved his dream? Of course not. Is the world a better place because he stood up for his dream? Absolutely.
Since then, through the perspective of time, we can look at all the ways in which we as a nation have failed. Or we can look at all the ways in which we’ve succeeded. It’s the same in our personal lives. Do we wallow in our bad luck and misfortune? Do we succumb to settling for less or accept that tragedy is inevitable? Or do we find the courage and strength to dream, to hope, to love?
And that, my friends, is what a romance novel is all about. That is why, despite my embarrassment, I’ve always been drawn to a good romance, and why I’m compelled to write them. They are a lesson on how to choose happiness despite the obstacles, a map to finding our own Happily Ever After.