Hopeless Romantic

Katherine Longshore 4 Tuesday, May 20, 2014
I am and always have been a hopeless romantic.  I'm a devout believer in the power of love, in the hope that love will conquer all, and in soul mates.  My favorite movies of all time include A Room with a View (I also love the book!), Say Anything and An Affair to Remember.  (see AMC's list of The 50 Greatest Romantic Movies).
The Cupids Disarmed, by Francesco Albani

I'm also a realist.  I know that relationships require work as well as love, that some days (or months or even years) are better than others and as much as I believe in The One, I also believe we have more than one soul mate.  I also know that everything doesn't always work out the way we might think we want it, too.  Thus my love for such hopelessly romantic films as Casablanca, Brief Encounter and Gone With the Wind (another book I adore). (Check out Time Out's list of the 50 Most Romantic Films of All Time.)

I love to read (and write) YA romance especially.  All those firsts--first love, first kiss, first sex.  All that wonder and joy and heartbreak.  I think that every time we fall in love, it feels that way, but there's an indelible magic in experiencing it with no backstory and nothing to compare it to.

Last week, I attended the Romantic Times Booklovers' Convention in New Orleans.  I wanted to get a different and fresh perspective on the industry, learn a little bit about how an entirely different group of writers approaches the craft, and get a chance to meet some of my author idols and author friends I've only known online.

To say the event was overwhelming is an understatement.  There were thousands of people.  Hundreds of events.  Readings, workshops, panels, parties.  Not to mention the enticements of the city (beignets at Cafe du Monde being high on the list).  But I fulfilled every single one of my goals--exceeded them, even.  I made friends with authors I'd never even heard of, met fans I never knew existed and learned a bucketload about the industry.

I attended a YA author panel in which a member of the audience asked about romance novels where the two members of the romantic couple don't end up together.  In the case she cited, the girl decided that she wanted to work on being herself as a separate person before she thought she could commit to being part of a couple.

The panel agreed--decisively--that such a story isn't a romance novel.  In a romance, the couple always ends up together, they said.  There is always an HEA (happily-ever-after).

Imagine my surprise.

For all these years, my books have been miscategorized as "historical romance".  I don't believe that a happily-ever-after depends on a couple being physically together and madly in love.  Especially as teenagers.  I look back at my own life and am unbelievably grateful that I didn't get an HEA like that at the age of 16 or 18 or even 25.  If I had, I wouldn't have done so many of the things that built me into the person I am today--foremost of which was spending years traveling alone and making my own choices based on my own desires.  I know that many, many young women already have a strong and inviolable sense of self, and wouldn't subjugate that for another.  I wasn't one of those women, and it took years of sometimes self-enforced independence to become one.

This is why I have never written a "ride off together into the sunset" ending.  I can't say I never will--nor can I say that I don't adore reading them (see my first paragraph above).  Perhaps, it's just that my characters still have some growing of their own to do.

I went to the RT convention believing that the definition of a romance novel was the one I've seen repeated countlessly by the RWA:  Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.  I believe that an ending in which the characters don't end up together can still be "emotionally satisfying and optimistic".

Today, digging around on the RWA website a little more, I discovered this:  An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.  Notice it still doesn't say explicitly that the characters have to end up together.  But the point is taken.

I'm not a romance writer.

But I am a hopeless romantic.

What about you?  What are some of your favorite romantic books and movies?  Do you need a happily-ever-after to be satisfied?


A Room With A View definitely tops my list as well. I remember seeing it in the theater and try to watch it often. I do need a happily ever after I am afraid, with an exception here and there. I feel that real life sometimes gives me the unhappy ending, I need my books to provide me with an escape.

What a good question, Katherine! Now that I think about it, if I'm reading a love story - I want the couple to be together in the end. If the love story is part of a mystery or another type of story, then I'm not looking for the HEA.

You're absolutely right, Laura, that life doesn't always give us the ending we want, and it is nice to find it in the books we read!

I can remember throwing A Farewell to Arms across the room when I was a teenager because it didn't end the way I wanted it to. But these days, I feel satisfied if the ending feels true--whether or not it's an HEA.

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