Some people object to romances and their HEA endings because they imply that women can only be happy and complete if they are married (or in some other form of long-term committed romantic relationship). As I’ve said in discussions on the last happy ever after post, I think this is a serious objection and one worth listening to. While the nature of a romance novel requires the main protagonists to end up together, I can see no reason why important secondary characters couldn’t be thoroughly happy in single blessedness.
On the other hand, some people object to the HEA endings because they’re unrealistic. Such people point to the divorce rate, and to historic records of unhappy marriages.
So let’s examine those assumptions. In the West, we currently have a divorce rate of around 30% to 35%. So couples have around two chances in three of being together until one of them dies. We can assume that some unhappy couples will never divorce, but – given the ease of divorce in the West – I’d suggest we’d be erring on the generous side if we said that accounted for another 15% to 20% of couples. Even if we take that unlikely percentage, though, that still means 50% of marriages are happy; 50% of married couples get their happy ever after. I’d buy a raffle ticket with those odds.
Ah, you might say, but historically a lot of marriages were arranged. And arranged marriages are less likely to be happy. Not so, apparently. Happiness seems to be more about the attitude of the couple than the degree of choice over partner.
I’ll admit to a bias. I’ve been married for 43 years, and I love my personal romantic hero more each day. My sister and my brothers, and my husband’s sister and brother are all still with the first person they married. Two of my three married daughters are still married to their first-choice partner, and the third has recently remarried.
My PRH and I once coached engaged couples. One of things we learnt in our training is that couples that stay together often report that they started marriage with an image in their minds of what their old age together would be like. Forty-five years ago, almost to the day, my PRH and I went carol singing around the pensioner flats in the town where we lived. One elderly couple invited us in to sing to them, and we were much struck by how tender they were with one another. As we left, I said to PRH and he to me: that’s what I want – that kind of love when we are old.
I still love to see happy couples celebrating their love for one another in their old age. I still want that for my PRH and me. And I want to write books where the reader believes the protagonists have that kind of future, and where they have older couples they can admire whose marriages are still strong and passionate after decades of loving. I’m taking my theme from the first three lines of Robert Browning’s poem:
Grow old along with me!The best is yet to be,The last of life, for which the first was made: