Posted by on 31st October 2020

Why Do Happy Endings Matter So Much in Romance?

Like clockwork, somebody always pops up on social media arguing that you don’t need a happily ever after or happily for now (HEA/HFN) ending to have a romance. It would be easy to argue in return that this is simply the way the genre is defined. But that doesn’t get to the heart of why romance readers and authors will defend the HEA/HFN to the death.

Still, we’ll start with how the industry categorizes genres…

Love stories with a happy ending are categorized as romance. A book that has a primary love story with an unhappy ending is usually either a love story, or a tragedy (see perennial favorite examples of anything by Nicholas Sparks and Romeo and Juliet).

Of course, any book from any genre can have a love story as a main or secondary plot thread. They’re still not romances without that HEA/HFN.

These are accepted and agreed upon genre definitions within the industry, by authors, publishers, and booksellers. However, to at least a few people, this doesn’t matter. They will argue to the end of time that a love story that ends in tragedy should be considered a romance. Usually with the caveat that it’s “just how they feel”.

Unfortunately, feeling something is right doesn’t make it right. This also does a huge disservice to both romance readers and the power of a happy ending.

Most romance readers enjoy these stories in large part because the happy ending is guaranteed.

Romance novels provide an escape into a story where you know that, no matter what happens, it’s all going to end well. You can be confident you will feel happy and uplifted by the time you’re done reading—no matter what trauma the characters go through along the way.

That’s a hell of a promise. Especially for anyone dealing with difficulties, trauma, or depression. And especially right now, when our world feels like a shit show inside of a dumpster fire in the middle of a pandemic.

To leave out the HEA/HSN breaks a core promise to readers that by the end of the story everyone is going to end up happy and loved and in love. That promise is why so many romance readers are so invested in the genre.

We hear so much every day about couples divorcing, and the inherent unhappiness of being married, or single. We hear about women having to give up their careers and passions to raise a family. We hear about people of all persuasions who feel unloved and unlovable.

Where else in life can women and marginalized folks (whether they’re LGBTQ+, a person of color, or have some kind of disability—visible or not) get everything they want and deserve? Nowhere.

In romance, every person can be deserving of respect, love, and a happily ever after.

These days, romances come in every possible genre and subgenre. You can find western romance, historical romance, sci-fi romance, contemporary romance, romantic thrillers and more. The one thread that makes them all romance is the guarantee of the HEA/HFN ending.

To not use the HEA/HFN as the defining feature of the genre does a disservice to readers, authors, publishers, and marketers. It makes it incredibly hard to market, sell, or find the books romance readers want. For some, these stories contain the only happy endings they know.

So, if a story doesn’t have an HEA/HFN it’s simply not romance. Nothing wrong with that, as long as each book is categorized properly. And like most other, avid romance readers and writers, that’s a hill I’m willing to die on.

What are your thoughts on the happily ever after in romance? Please do share in the comments below…

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