What Ingredients Create a Long-lasting, Satisfying HEA (Happily Ever After)—In Romance Novels and Movies, and In Life?
It’s Valentine’s Day and I’m a romance author who’s been happily married more than twenty-two years. So, of course I’m thinking about relationships. In particular, I’m thinking about the hallmarks of a relationship that’s destined to last. One with a HEA or happily ever after, regardless of what that looks like.
We’ve all seen couples, in fiction and in real life, where you just don’t think they’re gonna make it. They’re HEA is somehow not satisfying and believable. That’s usually because there’s something missing in the relationship.
Whether you want your HEA in book or movie form, or you’re looking for it in life, the same ingredients are required, really.
5 Ingredients for a Satisfying HEA in Fiction and Real Life
- Everyone involved has to actually like each other and enjoy spending time together. Whether you’re on vacation or just hanging out putting a puzzle together, or whatever. I know this seems obvious, but I’ve known plenty of couples who didn’t like each other and were deeply unhappy.So many alpha-holes in romance novels rescue the damsel in the distress while barely speaking, and she declares her undying love. Ummmmm not. I’ve also read and seen plenty of couples on TV or in Movies where I just didn’t see what they saw in each other.If you’re dating someone, it’s valid to ask if this is the person you’d want to be stuck with in a studio apartment during a pandemic. If the answer is yes, you’re well on your way to your HEA.
- Everyone has to make everyone else’s happiness a priority. If one person in a relationship moves through life only prioritizing their happiness, the relationship is doomed to failure. Even if they don’t split up, someone will be deeply unhappy.I’ve been in this kind of relationship, and seen it represented in books, movies, and TV ad nauseum. For me it boiled down to…He was worried about making himself happy, I was worried about making him happy, and no one was left to worry about my happiness. This is not a recipe for a satisfying HEA.
- Everyone has to be willing to recognize and own their flaws, and if needed, work on them. Nobody is perfect. It’s better when we all accept that. Even better when we can admit that to our partners, apologize, and try to do better.This was one of the few issues that tainted the HEA in the first season of Bridgerton for me a little bit. Simon needed to own up to his issues and apologize for lying and being an asshole, and Daphne needed to apologize for trying to get pregnant without his consent.None of this is ever discussed in the kind of grand gesture way that would lead to forgiveness and a healthy start to their relationship. She just learns more about his past and forgives him and he realizes he doesn’t want to be alone. Not a satisfying HEA for me at that point.
- You have to share a common interest and have fun together. What is the point of being with someone with whom you have nothing in common? And no, hot sex doesn’t count. Books and movies often make two people with nothing in common fall in love. I’m here to tell you that isn’t going to result in a satisfying HEA. Not unless it starts with lust and they discovered shared passions or life goals or dreams.
- Everyone involved has to be able communicate their wants, needs, and desires and be heard without worrying about confrontation or disdain. Communication is the key to setting expectations in a relationship. That way the other(s) involved can meet those needs or make changes (See points 2 and 3 in this article.)Nobody magically gets all their needs met. Not in real life. If they do in fiction, I don’t believe it and the HEA is no longer satisfying.
That’s pretty much the recipe: Like the person (or people) you’re in a relationship with, prioritize their happiness, admit your flaws, communicate expectations, and have fun together. That’s it. If all those things are present in a relationship, the chances of a satisfying HEA are high—in romance novels and movies, and in real life.
What do you think goes into a creating a satisfying HEA—in fiction or real life? Please do comment below.