Last day of February, last love-themed post. Although, really, all of my posts are about love in one form or another. Be sure to drop a comment below. I promise to reply!
And they lived happily ever after. The end.
The stuff of childhood fairy tales, right? Maybe that’s why so many people disregard Romance as a legitimate genre. To be a romance novel, the plot must have an HEA or HFN (happily ever after/happily for now). If the couple doesn’t end the story in love and committed, then it’s not technically a Romance. (That’s why Nicholas Sparks isn’t truly a romance novelist, don’t @ me on this.)
Why do we sneer at the HEA?
I’d suggest it’s because we don’t know what that really means.
We cling to the childhood notions of happily ever after. Two people meet, fall in love, and have a fairytale life from there out. The castle is sparkly. The ball gowns stay the same size. The prince is dashing and perpetually adores his partner. Rodents are on hand to do the housekeeping-possibly also the gourmet cooking.
I mean, that last sentence alone should’ve startled you into how unrealistic the whole notion is!
Happily ever after doesn’t mean always happy. It means that you are happy in the choices you’ve made.
But it’s so easy to sneer at Romance. At the idea of a love that works out. We don’t fill in the real-world blanks that would make an HEA possible. We don’t think about characters having hard days or big fights that require counseling. We don’t imagine the Ryan Gosling-esque hero putting on 30 pounds and drinking too much. We don’t want to think about the heroine growing weary of her routines and fantasizing about a different life. We don’t add into the narrative the hard talks these two would have to have. The questions they’d face. The work they’d commit to doing for each other. For themselves.
Happily ever after doesn’t mean always happy. It means that you are happy in the choices you’ve made. It means that you have found something that is worth working on. Something that is worth the tough days and the long hours and the big talks.
It means you know yourself. You love yourself. You know what you want–and what you deserve.
And if you think that happily ever after with a partner can happen before you have fallen in love with who you are, before you have examined who you are, then you are indeed in a fairy tale.
Love from someone else will not save you. A relationship will not fix you. Only you can do that.
If you read romance, what you very often find is exactly that kind of theme. My books all feature women who must learn to love themselves before they can claim their “HEA” in a relationship. The main characters in romance have a lot of things to figure out as they fall in love. The love story adds fun and whimsy to otherwise often deep themes. Family dynamics, self-esteem, past trauma and abuse–all frequent topics in romance books.
It’s time we stopped scoffing at the HEA and started figuring out how to really live it.
How refreshing it would be if people invested their time and energy into finding what makes them happiest. If we all stopped judging each other so hard. It’s so much easier to imagine a realistic HEA if you’ve done some HEAling on your own.
Maybe that’s why crime novels aren’t dismissed as fluff in the same way romance is. We seem to have no problem with violence and gore. But love and sex, two things innate to humanity, are throwaway topics and “mommy porn.”
It’s easier to make fun of something than to admit we feel vulnerable. And falling in love is the ultimate trust fall. Opening our hearts is pure vulnerability. If we’re not willing to pursue our own satisfaction and happiness, it makes sense we’d laugh off stories of people doing so. Anger is an easily accessible emotion. It covers up a lot of fear. Reading stories heavy on violence and murder keeps the scab over our heart wounds. It distracts and hardens those softer edges that many people aren’t comfortable showing.
It’s so much easier to imagine a realistic HEA if you’ve done some HEAling on your own.
What would happen if you showed your softer edges? What are you afraid will happen?
I understand needing to be hard. Teaching middle school for 10 years in NYC gave me a lot of hard edges. Just moving around Brooklyn/New York will toughen you up if you let it. But being in charge of 30 7th graders’ education and physical safety was quite a feat. It often felt like there was no room for slipping or relaxing. If I took my hands off the proverbial wheel, the room would slide into chaos. (It did. A lot.)
On top of that, New York is a tense place. People are easily angry. I used to sit on my apartment terrace on beautiful afternoons and listen to people lay on their car horns for 10+ seconds. (That’s a long time. Try it.) I would think, that’s no way to spend this day. I once let someone know they were biking the wrong way on a 1-way street. “Hey, this is a one-way” is what I said. “F**k you.” Was the reply.
It’s easy to get angry. But what’s the point? How does that help?
Maybe you can’t be softer at work. I understand that. But if you are going through your days frustrated and cynical, maybe it’s time to take a second look at your mindset. Things are hard. Adulting is tough. The world is scary, and a lot of it is angry.
Being softer does not mean you are weaker. It means you know all of this and still choose to live in a way that’s better for you.
What if we all did that? What if we all embraced romance–as a genre and a way of looking at life–as legit?
There’d be a lot less horn-honking. Of that I’m pretty sure.
Are you living your HEA?
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I used to be hard-edged at work. Often, I was simply a jerk, no two ways about it. You are right - anger is an easy go-to emotion. When I learned to be softer, I discovered a few important things: that everyone is just trying to do their best; that acceptance just feels better; that learning how not to be in control, how not to demand an outcome that I want, how to let others shine and be happy - allowed me to sleep better, to be a better partner to my wife, to be in more control of myself, which is more important than controlling my job. Most importantly, it has allowed me to be the best dog parent I can be 🙂
I LOVE this: "Happily ever after doesn’t mean always happy. It means that you are happy in the choices you’ve made. It means that you have found something that is worth working on. Something that is worth the tough days and the long hours and the big talks. "
I'm working on the soft edges - it helps not having to work and be always on edge/alert. I'm sort of getting reacquainted with myself...