Don’t worry. I’m not going to entertain the debate around the definitions of romances and whether unhappy endings can ever be part of the romance genre. Have you read a romance with the lovers not uniting? As you’re probably aware, some of the greatest love stories of all times are tragedies, from Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Abdul Halim Sharar’s Anarkali, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Virgil’s Orpheus and Eurydice, and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, to name a few, where one or both lovers die in the end, always unhappily. The topic of my rant today is the difference between Happy Ever After (HEA) and Happy for Now (HFN) endings, or more specifically, why I favour the former.
Just for those uninitiated – the very small minority, I’m sure – let me explain the difference. HEA’s are typically accompanied by marriage, often babies either by direct reference or the actual event – epilogues included. HFN hint at a future happiness, but there’s usually no mention of marriage or a possible permanence to their togetherness, while there may just be an implication of a more permanent future together.
Why, you might ask, do I prefer permanence over only the hint of one? The answer, surprisingly, is far more complex than I realised. It required introspection. It required examination of movies that I preferred to watch, books that I preferred to read and my general reaction to ambiguity in endings, causing untold misery. To me.
Let me explain my misery.
Have you secretly laughed at those who flip to the last page of a book before reading it? Or those who insist on reading the synopsis of a movie before watching it? Or even those who steadily avoided movies and books with cliff-hangers? I’m one of those. To be fair, I don’t avoid movies, books or even television dramatic series of that ilk, but I do hate them with a ferocious passion.
Let me start with the last bit first. Modern day serials or soap operas of yore, quite understandably, avoid permanence because they detract from the suspense and drama that is essential to keep the audience tuning in to the next episode. It’s laughable how they create artificially and horrifically contrived obstacles in the paths of lovers. Just one example – Rachel Zane and Mike Ross. The writers had to have Mike leave his phone at home. His so-called best friend whom he has betrayed, listening to a voice message, left by a drunk Rachel and Mike developing scruples. All the characters behaving uncharacteristically, simply so that Mike can decide to deny his love and sleep with another. Huh?
Let’s shift gear and move to the opposite end of the spectrum. Love stories of yore were almost all universally tragedies barring a few exceptions like the Arabian Nights. Perhaps those stories couldn’t be considered great without the tragedy. Real life’s greatest love stories weren’t that different, like Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII or Anthony and Cleopatra.
Moving into overdrive, let’s come back to the present with a resounding thud and without Marty McFly’s DeLorean. In my last blog, I’ve extolled my love and discomfort with Romcoms – the majority of which have HFN endings. Unless they have a HEA ending, they always leave me with a sense of dissatisfaction. I can’t explain why. Is it because I’m happily married? Or is it because I grew up reading M&Bs, Harlequins and Silhouette romances that all guaranteed HEAs? Or that aforementioned vague sense of dissatisfaction that’s indicative of a deeper fixation – a part of my inner self?
As to the remaining genres that contain love stories that may or may not be central to the plot, I shudder with horror. For example, I can’t even think about noirs without shivering in distaste, let alone allowing myself to watch one. The Postman Always Rings Twice – all versions, remains one of my favourite movies but I haven’t ever watched them again after the first time. I’ll confess to watching Roman Holiday several times, and still feel that ache in my heart and a lump in my throat as Gregory Peck wanders the empty grand hall of the Roman palace. I’m still waiting for a remake where they find a way to get together.
Which is why I write romances with HEAs. I want to find a way for two improbable people to unite against impossible odds.
Sigh. With a saddened heart (and in the hopes of seeing Roman Holiday remade with a happier ending – I’ll even settle for HFN), I bid you goodbye, but only for the moment.
Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. Talk soon.