Happily Ever After

There are dozen of reasons to read romance novels. Maybe hundreds. Entertainment value, for one. Spicy love scenes, for another.

They also show what a good relationship looks like, and tell us what we should demand of our lives and our partners. They teach us we need to love ourselves before we can love others, and show how building a life of our own will help us find our forever love.

Those are more than enough reasons, but yesterday I found another one.

I spent the day curled up in my recliner with a good book. A long reading session with someone else telling the story is always a treat, but this was a romantic suspense novel, so as I inched toward the ending, I twitched and itched with the knowledge that something bad was going to happen. I could feel the plot racing toward the black moment, and with a serial killer lurking in the background, there was no doubt the heroine was heading into danger.

I’m a deep diver when it comes to books and movies. I immerse myself in fictional worlds so thoroughly the plot becomes my reality. If a jet flies overhead on the screen, I duck. If someone gets killed, I cry.

So by page 325, the heroine’s ordeal had become my life. My stomach was clenching, my heart pounding, my knuckles white on the arm of my chair.

But this was a romance novel, so I slapped down the worrywart within and snuggled deeper into my chair, knowing the characters I cared about would live happily ever after, and the bad guy would get his comeuppance. While the heroine would suffer through some suspenseful scenes, she would prevail, because that’s how romances work: a happily-ever-after is guaranteed.

And that’s my umpty-umpth reason to read romances: they teach us to wade through tough times with courage and optimism, because happily ever after is waiting if we can just endure the suspense.

Of course, some readers turn up their nose at the genre because of that happy promise. They say romance novels are predictable. Unrealistic.

They have a point. Life isn’t always fair, and we don’t always get what we deserve, good or bad. Many people set out in life working hard for certain outcomes, only to have their dreams dashed.

That’s true, but think about the elders you know. Maybe they didn’t find the standard happily-ever-after of a soulmate, but they’re often happy after all, facing challenges with a smile and finding happiness in the life they’ve been given. Wisdom and strength, gathered over time, makes us better able to understand the world and accept its consequences. Time teaches us what matters.

So while we might not all get novel-worthy white weddings with bluebirds and confetti, we can still find peace and satisfaction in our later years. If we don’t get what we want, life teaches us to value what we have, and as long as someone loves us—a child, a friend, a pet, a partner—we can find our way to grace.

That’s a lesson I need to take to heart, so I intend to keep on reading romance novels, practicing my endurance, plowing through all the turning points and black moments and scary denouements to find the good things that wait for me at the end. I hope to live my life that way, too, with hope, optimism, and faith in a happy ending.

It’s just a better way to live.