Recently, I've been reading a lot of romance novels that finish with a wedding. It's a common romance trope. Austen almost always ended with a wedding. Fairy tales end with the prince and princess marrying and living happily ever after. As my professor used to say: the wedding affirms the social order and the end of conflict, it shows that all is right with the world again after the difficulties in the plot.
That said, outside of historicals, it's a convention which usually bothers me. The courtship process is a romance novel usually takes place in an accelerated timeline, usually only a few days. And at least half of those days are spent with the hero and heroine fighting with each other or lying to each other.
If anyone I cared about came to me and said they were marrying someone after spending a few days together, most of it in very dramatic circumstances, I would try to get them to call off the wedding. I would be afraid of the relationship imploding as reality hits.
Despite all that, I do believe in love and I believe in love at first sight. But I think it's hard to tell infatuation from love at first sight and the only way to do that is time. It takes time to know if you can live with someone (even if you love them). Do they leave their socks all over the house? Do they like to stay up until the wee hours of the morning and then sleep until noon?
Real love can handle life. It can cope with stomach flu, bad days, misunderstandings and hurt feelings. It can accept that the beloved has an insane need to listen to a Dolly Parton Christmas non-stop between November and January. It is always ready to open negotiations because making both partners happy is a priority.
That is the part I love about romance novels. Both the hero and the heroine have to earn real love. They have to face the darkest side of their soul, the parts of themselves they would give almost anything not to have to examine. Anything but their partner. They prove that they will do whatever is necessary.
I'm terrified of spiders. If I was a character in a romance novel, I would probably have to crawl through an infested tunnel to save the man I love. Because that would be the ultimate test of what is bigger: my love or my fear. Makes me a little grateful that I'm not a character because even the thought of having to do that is enough to give me the shivers.
Romance characters are thrown into a pressure cooker situation. That proves their love but I still like to see them taking time to make sure they can live together when life and death isn't on the table. That's why my books end with commitment, but not marriage.
A marriage takes time to make work, no matter how much two people love each other. And I have a lot of respect for those who are willing to put in the time and effort. That's real love.