Every now and then a discussion crops up in Romance Blog Land about the definition of romance and how it shouldn't have to include a happily-ever-after.
Why do we keep having this argument? I'm sorry, it's probably the librarian in me rearing her ugly head, but it just seems really stupid. And pointless. Did I mention pointless?
You don't see mystery readers (or authors) sitting around discussing, "I think the books would be better if they didn't include a resolution to the crime." Or fantasy readers (or authors) sitting around saying, "I'm bored with the fantastical elements. Can we lay off the wizards, fairies and world-building and just get books about soccer moms and lawyers?"
Listen, genre fiction (all genres) by their very definition include some type of formula. In romance novels, that formula includes happily-ever-after. Boy meets girl, boy and girl overcome obstacles, boy and girl ride off into the sunset.
Last time I checked death is not, nor will it ever be, happy. Even when the person is really old, very sick or terminally ill, we don't go out and throw a big party saying "Yippee! They're finally dead! Hooray! Yippy Skippy!" We're relieved their suffering is over, but we still mourn. So while I think there is room in the fiction lexicon for tragedies, there is absolutely no room for them in modern romance novels. Again, repeat after me, "Death is not happy unless we're talking about Hitler."
I suspect where the problem comes in for many romance readers is the definition of what a happily-ever-after entails. While there are a few (very few exceptions), 99.9% of the time it means marriage and kidlets. Now, I read a lot of historicals. Frankly, if the book doesn't end in marriage it's a real surprise because back in the day (unless you wanted to be called a whore and stoned to death), this is what you did. You met a man. You married him. You had children. That's what women did. Hell, there weren't exactly a ton of options.
But in contemporaries? I'd like to see it spiced up. I'm sorry, when the macho Alpha hero with commitment issues is proposing after knowing the heroine for one week, my eyes roll back in my head. Like how believable is that? No sex is that good. I'd like to see more let's date a while, move in together, take it slow. This is a criticism for a lot of readers. They want less tradition in their happily-ever-after. Or do they?
I've been with The Boyfriend for almost 10 years. No, we're not married. No, there are no plans to marry. We're very happy. We love each other. We are very committed to each other. But the minute I talk about my personal life to another woman, I can practically see the gears turning in her tiny pea brain. "I'd force him to marry me. I'd have left him years ago. I'd nag him to death until I got that piece of paper and a big shiny diamond on my finger."
Frankly, I think the reason so many marriages end in divorce is because people get married in the first place because they think they should. Like it's expected of them. Like they wake up one morning and say to themselves, "Well I'm 30 years old, it's time for me to get married." But what do I know?
So when readers say they want more non-traditional happy endings in their romance novels, I don't always believe them. Or I chalk it up to the divide between online romance readers and non-online romance readers. Sure online romance readers say they want endings a bit more modern, but what about those oodles of women out there who aren't on blogs, message boards, and hiding their stash of Harlequins in the bedroom closet? My guess? Not so much.