What Happened on the Way to Happily Ever After?


Princes, promises, and love aren’t always a package deal

I receive a lot of emails, comments, and reviews about my stories, and I’m always grateful for feedback — especially from readers who purchased one of my books and have taken the time to pass along their thoughts.

Occasionally, I’ll read a comment expressing how some of the stories turned out differently than expected, with questions asking why they didn’t have a HEA ending. For those unfamiliar with the acronym, HEA stands for “happily ever after,” and it is, apparently, the most desirable conclusion for a story. The expectations of those who read romance novels, watch chick-lit movies, and listen to heartbreaking country music are prime fodder for HEA novels.

From the time we’re young, fairy tales, fables, and myths promise us a life in which we find our perfect mate. The storyline is predictably familiar: After a short period of getting to know one another — perhaps sharing nothing more than a phone call, a cup of coffee, or a light kiss on the lips — the comforting blanket of love will envelope us, the shatterproof protective bubble isolating us from the realities of a job, a mortgage payment, and dead car batteries.

In other words, we live happily ever after.

I have a cousin who desperately wanted this fantasized misconception to be true. Several weeks after her wedding, she shared her optimistic perspective of romantic relationships with me by suggesting that one day, I would also find my prince, and together we’d live happily ever after.

I remember smiling and wondering how long it would take before I received her hysterical phone call — the one she would make right after discovering her “prince” had dumped her for a stunning virgin goddess whose daddy had just died and left the family castle with all its regal holdings to his only daughter.

Just so there’s no misunderstanding, I’m aware happy endings are possible. But by their very nature, they push happiness and contentment into the future. Sometimes, the distant future. It just seems to me in the huge expanse of time that exists between the void of a lonely existence and the ecstasy of finding a love that lasts forever, there’s a lot of living going on.

The more authentic experience? It’s one that not only acknowledges the battle scars collected from meeting life head-on, but celebrates them. The overly-trodden path followed by those in search of the coveted HEA is typically filled with frustration, disappointment, and disillusionment — inevitable stepping stones laid throughout the landscape of life.

Maybe someday I’ll consider subscribing to the conventional romance formula by insisting my characters conform to the common but naïve and hopelessly impractical expectations of some of my readers. But for now, I’m letting my guys and gals experience the rather bumpy and unpredictable road less traveled.

And that means allowing them to make a few mistakes, learn a life lesson or two, and decide for themselves when — or if — they are truly in the presence of the love of their life.