“…And they lived Happily Ever After. The end. Until tomorrow.”
by Jessa Slade on May 25th, 2009

Cheers for the living; tears for the dead ~ Memorial Day 2009

Currently working on: Sledgehammering
Mood: Sledgehammery

My XY wanted to know how I could write a post about believing in Happily Ever Afters.  “In real life, everybody dies,” he said.

He’s fun at parties, I swear.

Yes, I explained, people die.  But if they lived a full, satisfying life, reaching their potential and connecting with the people they loved, that counts as an HEA (Happily Ever After).  Most books don’t follow that entire progression, because we can’t all be turn-of-the-century Russian novelists (they didn’t believe in HEAs anyway) burning through paper pulp like weak vodka Jello shots.  The best we can do is show — in 400 pages or less — that our characters met and overcame their roadblocks, and walked away with the skills to continue down that path, whatever else might come along — whether we see that in the next book in the series or just imagine it.

I read a thread in an online romance reading community that asked whether the readers felt that romance skewed their perception of what “real” relationships should be like.  I was shocked at the number that said, yes, reading romances made it harder to maintain a real-world relationship because their expectations were too high.  HEA was one of the alleged culprits.

Which made me think those readers had my XY’s interpretation of HEA:  That somehow HEA meant you’d never have another fight, always orgasm simultaneously (in his defense, I’m extrapolating my XY’s beliefs a bit) and never die.  Whether you’re a vampire or not.

Instead, I think an HEA is built on three elements, and all of them have real-world applications, not just in our romantic relationships but elsewhere too.

1. Communication
Romance novels are a uniquely female pleasure, I think, because of all the words that go into building the relationship,  culminating in the “I love you” moment. As anyone with a Y chromosome in the vicinity knows, relationship words aren’t always the easiest for the male persuasion to muster.  But romances also understand the value of the gesture — grand or small — that reveals the truth behind words unspoken.  Whether with words or action, romances teach that only by reaching beyond the confines of themselves can our characters begin to seek their HEA.

2. Compromise
Half of communicating is receiving what the other person reveals.  With that new understanding, our characters — female and male — are able to progress past the prejudices and limitations that have held them back. Compromise gets a bad name because it sounds like giving up, giving in.  But anybody whose read about the bad boy alpha hero oh-so reluctantly giving his woman a place on the mission team — only to discover that she’s crucial to his success — knows that compromise is the heart of the HEA.

3. Commitment
Whether it’s an HEA or HFN (happy for now) the dedication to the cause completes the Ever After.  Or should we say Even After?  Because that decision to stay the course – regardless of annoyances, tribulations and assorted escalating bad guys — means we can believe that our hero and heroine remain true to each other and themselves.


How would you describe Happily Ever After?  Is it reserved for fairy tales?  Or does everyone deserve it?  Would HEA be better described as Hopefully Ever After?

10 comments to ““…And they lived Happily Ever After. The end. Until tomorrow.””

  1. 1

    I definitely believe in HEA as I witnessed it in my parent’s relationship. That’s not saying there were no hard times or arguments, but their commitment to each other and our family was strong and it endured. And yes, everyone deserves a HEA, although I sometimes think they already have it, but don’t even realize it. Life gets so busy, I think it’s easy to forget to look around and appreciate what we already have. Maybe you’re already living your HEA and don’t even know it!

    As for “happily ever after,” I like the way Tolkien wrote it: “And he lived happily ever after to the end of his days.”

  2. 2

    HEA is not about deserving it. It’s part timing/luck and part connecting with the best possible person for you, one who will grow and change with you.

    I think HEA is possible for most people, but we handicap ourselves with unrealistic and shallow expectations.

  3. 3

    I actually see it as Happily Right Now, because I firmly believe that to be happy you have love who you are and who you’re with right now. I don’t believe in fairy tales, but I believe in the power of love.

    I definitely think the HEA/HRN needs to be earned through proven teamwork and commitment. There needs to be evidence that the couple can weather all sorts of problems,because my assumption is that road ahead will be bumpy and that there will be trying times.

    I’m quite happy with a suggestion of a happy future together, as apposed to the church bells and white dress.

  4. 4

    As long as the novel ends with a happily at that time, then I’m fine with it. Relationships are tough work in real life, but happiness can be achieved if we can strangle the second-guessing. And while some relationships are happy enough without the trip down the alter, I say it doesn’t matter :-) If at the end of a book, you have a smile on your face, then the author has done their job and let you escape your own reality, whatever level of happiness that may be.

  5. 5

    Hopefully Ever After - I really like that, Jessa. We can’t control a lot of what life throws at us, but we can love, and do our best, and hope.

  6. 6

    Hm. I’d be interested in a reverse poll of guys to see if media had any impact on their expectations of relationships. My first instinct would be no, but I bet more gets through than they realize.

  7. 7

    Zita, bonus points for quoting Tolkien :grin: Although sometimes I wonder if he even knew there were women around, and for some reason I’m prejudiced about HEA/HFNs involving twu lurv.

    I’m always terrified, Annie, at how much of life is luck. I don’t consider myself a particularly lucky person, so I compensate with, as you said, growing toward my HEA.

    some relationships are happy enough without the trip down the alter

    Sandra, can I quote you to my mother?

  8. 8

    Sure, quote away! :-)

  9. 9

    I think some of us are romantics, and we believe love can conquer all. And some were taught from a young age not to be so dreamy and impractical. I think those are the people who deny themselves the impractical hope of magic, and settle for the “realistic” relationship with the guy with the good job whom their parents like. Then they wonder five years later why their relationship isn’t strong enough to withstand the weather.

    I fell for “realistic” the first time and it didn’t last. The second time, I went for the fairy tale, against all odds, and married the man no one thought was right for me. Nine years and two kids later, we work together, we’re best friends, and we’re more in love than ever. Oh, and we’re both romance writers. So if the belief in a HEA is a bad thing, someone forgot to tell us :-)

    I think the problem is just the opposite. Perhaps people who don’t believe in HEA are more willing to “settle.” And that’s never a recipe for success. It’s too bad, because everyone deserves a love that lasts forever.

  10. 10

    [...] you even know what a laurel looks like? Following up on my post Monday at Silk And Shadows about Happily Ever [...]

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