This week, two rather interesting articles have been making the rounds on social media. The first is "How Romance Novels Imagine a World in Which Women Can Win", which looks at how the romance genre encourages women to want and believe they can have it all. The second was "Sometimes I Want A Romance Without an HEA" which says that while romance novels can be inspiring, sometimes it can make one's real life situation feel worse.
I can certainly understand the latter's point. I am one of those who find "inspiring" stories depressing. Hearing about people overcoming worse odds than those I myself face makes me feel as if there must be something wrong with me if I continue to have problems. If a woman can handle raising triplets after having her arms and legs amputated and still have time to earn her college degree, surely I should be able to handle the major and minor crises in my day to day life.
I could point out that I'm sure that triplet-mom has her good and bad days and there are days when she probably doesn't feel like she's been all that successful. Just like I can point to a list of my own accomplishments and remind myself that it hasn't all been universal failure.
But it doesn't change the fact that I avoid "True Life" stories in magazines, newspapers and TV specials. Because I invariably feel worse. But I don't feel that way after reading a romance novel.
If the story has grabbed me, then for a little while, I've lived through the plot along with the hero and heroine. I've vicariously succeeded against the odds, found love, found success, found the missing jade statue... whatever the goal was, I've done it. It's given me an escape from the day to day grind, a mental and emotional vacation. And it's reminded me that success is always a possibility, even when trapped in the Black Moment of the plot.
Romance without a happily ever after (or at least, a happily for now) isn't a romance. It can be a book dealing with romantic themes or exploring the darker side of relationships and love and those can be good and worthwhile stories. Heck, I can even agree, since I usually intersperse my romance reads with non-fiction and other fiction.
But the reason to read romance is to get that uplifting surge of hope, an inoculation against the challenges which take away our internal strength. That's what romance is: it's hope. Hope for the chance for mind-blowing sex, dreams coming true and eventual contentment in all (or almost all) aspects of life.
So as much as I can respect the drive behind Book Riot's plea, I must disagree. I don't want a romance without a HEA. Because it would be like having a burger without the buns or meat. In other words, not a burger at all.