Breaking the Rules: Romance and the Happily Ever After

Warning:  I’m about to make myself largely unpopular with most of the Romance community.

Why?

Because I want to talk about not just bending the rules, but flat-out breaking them.

Of all the areas of fiction that fill library, bookstore, and now internet store shelves, Romance has the biggest market share.  And, at least in terms of the internet, it’s growing rapidly (though this has more, I think, to do with Erotica slowly being lumped under the “Romance” label – and, well, let’s face it, people will ALWAYS pay for a chance to peek into someone else’s sex life – human beings are by nature voyeuristic).  But of all the areas of fiction, the one most in the need of a good shake-up is the Romance industry.

Yes, yes, I know.  You can point to numbers and statistics and claim that Romance is just fine as it is, because blahdity-blah number of units are sold each year, and so on and so forth.  But, if you look a little deeper, you’re going to see something I’ve noticed – that most of those units are being sold to the SAME people.  The die-hard escapists.  The hopeless (or hopeful) romantics.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  There’s nothing wrong with either of these groups (I happen to be very much in the “hopeful romantic” category, myself).  But what I want to know is – what about the OTHER 95% of the reading population?  What about the people who want to know that human beings can connect to one another on more than a physical level, and who also want to see that life’s an adventure, not something to be escaped?  What about the readers who are far too aware of the real world to ever be able (or willing) to escape it?

There’ve been a lot of Romance crossovers in recent years.  Now, there’s Paranormal Romance, Romantic Suspense, Urban Fantasy Romance, Science Fiction Romance, etc, etc, etc.  And this is a good start.  But there’s still a fundamental flaw in the picture.  The Happily Ever After.

Do I wish life was a Fairy Tale, full of HEAs and jaunts around Neverland on a handful of pixi dust?  Hell, yes.  I wish no one ever had to die because someone had a boneheaded idea of fighting to prove their superiority.  I wish people didn’t suffer and die from brutal disease.  I wish we could all ride off into the sunset, and just fade from view at a certain point.

The hopeful romantic in me wishes that love lasted, that everyone felt cherished by someone, and that no child ever suffered pain or hardship.  The romantic in me wishes like hell that abuse, neglect, and torture never happened, and that hate, prejudice, and terror were never born in the human mind or heart.

But the reality exists.  And ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.  So, I’m challenging the Romance industry to take a good look at Happily Ever After, and ask yourself – do you really believe it exists?

Personally, I’m more inclined to believe in Happily For As Long As It Lasts.  And I’m more inclined to believe that some passions, some romances, just aren’t meant to be.  Sometimes, no matter how much we give, how deeply we love, it just never gets a chance to happen.  And maybe the real story is in the love lost, rather than in the sunset kiss.  Maybe the real romance is in what might have been, rather than in “Happily Ever After.”

So, my challenge stands – Take a step outside the box, and ask yourself why this is the unbreakable rule.  Because, speaking from personal experience, the greatest love in life is sometimes the one that never had a chance of surviving.