A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

Love Wins

on April 7, 2022

This post by K.J. Charles reminded me of a piece I’d written for “Heroes and Heartbreakers,” so here’s a repost.

Romances have a happy ending, that’s a given—no arguments, dammit!—but those endings in older books can seem pretty whack to someone reading them now. In the early days of Mills and Boon/Harlequin, sometimes all you needed to demonstrate an HEA was a marriage proposal: no matter what hero awfulness came before, that proof of commitment was enough. This often went along with the assumption that the heroine’s life would be absorbed into the hero’s; her primary job becomes wife and mother, and love is all she really needs.

Modern romances are still about love conquering all, of course, but they also acknowledge that women have ambitions and dreams, that actions have consequences, and that matching up the lives of two distinct people might not always be so simple. Lately, I’ve been enjoying a trend towards plots relying less on grovels or grand gestures and more on conversations, compromises, and life changes. The best of these books feature heroes and heroines who genuinely want the ones they love to achieve their dreams and are willing to cooperate.

Cooperation is initially a challenge for Evie and Carter in Christina Lauren‘s Dating You/Hating You: their fledgling relationship hits a huge snag when they’re set up to compete for the same high-pressure job. It could have been curtains for love, but intellectual honesty and integrity save the day.

It’s time for us to cut the shit. I don’t know what kind of game Brad is playing. But I get that I’m coming out favored because I’m a guy. And that’s fucked up. I like you. I liked us. I don’t know how to manage this weird competition. I need you to tell me how I can fix this.

Carter is not so much Evie’s knight-in-shining-armor here as someone waking up to his own complicity:

“I went to Brad to talk about how things went down with you and him.”

I groan. “Carter, you don’t have to fight my battles for me.”

“I know this…. But… I had to say something. I couldn’t not. The way he acted was completely unacceptable.”

Well. He gets a kiss for this.

Going Nowhere Fast by Kati Wilde is a bit more Cinderella-ish: Aspen is seriously broke and Bram is seriously rich. He can (and does) easily solve many of her problems with money, and offers her a future in which his wealth will continue to grease the wheels. But it can’t solve his lack of trust, or his tendency to lash out at her. When he realizes he’s badly hurt Aspen, he has to do more than apologize; he has to seriously work through his issues with professional help so he can offer her a genuine relationship, not just a piggy bank.

Counseling is also one of the answers for Helen in Ruby Lang‘s Hard Knocks : her trauma and anger over her father’s brain injury are tearing her apart and destroying her relationship with hockey player Adam. For his part, Adam also needs to do some thinking and make changes, realizing that his dreams of being a sports success have very little to do with what he actually wants out of life — especially a life that includes Helen.

Dealing with conflicting dreams in romance is sometimes as simple (or as complicated) as realizing that things can be different than you expect. In Roan Parrish‘s In the Middle of Somewhere , Daniel has a chance at the job of his dreams, but he finds it hard to believe that his boyfriend Rex could love him enough to leave a cherished cabin in the woods for a city. Daniel grew up so deprived of love he has to ponder what the words even mean after they’ve said them:

Maybe the point of I love you is that it is a tether. A connection so you can find your way back to someone even when shit seems huge and unmanageable on your own.

Daniel accepts their love and finds faith in it. As the book ends, we don’t even know yet where they’ll wind up, but we know they’ll find a way to stay together.

In Live by Mary Ann Rivers, Destiny’s lover Hefin has a long journey he has to make, but she feels bound to her home by numerous threads of love and responsibility:

“I want to be two places at the same time. With you, and with where I understand myself the best…. I can’t decide which one I would grieve less. And I’ve done so much grieving, I can’t stand to do any more… In my most selfish moments, I demand that you stay here and just stop this decision from happening. But then I would grieve that too.”

The story almost ends with a “Gift of the Magi” ending: lovelorn Hefin is just about to give up and return to Destiny in Ohio, when she arrives in Wales, having realized that,

…everything she needed was already all down inside of her, no matter where she went. Her name in the concrete of a threshold of a small brown house, her family carved into relief for generations by the man whom she loved, the people she’d known her whole life who smiled when a navy blue limousine drove down the street. All of that, all of it, wasn’t pinned to a map she would have to leave behind; it was already inside her, all the time. It’s why she cared about it so much.

I particularly enjoy seeing these kinds of relationships in a series, because we can follow how the couple continues working things out. In Sarina Bowen’s Bittersweet, Audrey makes what seems like a conventional choice: she leaves the job that could lead to her having her own restaurant to stay with Griff on his family’s apple farm. But that decision has more to do with being on the wrong path than giving up her dream; in later books we see her leaving for a time to pursue a prestigious cooking course, while Griff uses the time apart to build her a new kitchen in their home. It’s such a perfect moment for a modern romance, one in which lovers still have autonomy, support each other, and don’t fear temporary separation because they know they will always come back together. After all, it’s built into their HEA.


3 responses to “Love Wins

  1. azteclady says:

    Thing one: do you have the date this piece originally came out?

    Thing two: I usually hate on epilogues because, nine out of ten are about MANY BABIES. If we have more epilogues that were, basically, “and this is how they’re still accommodating one another’s needs/caring for each other/bringing joy to their life together”, I’d generally like them a lot more.

  2. willaful says:

    My records say 10/11/17. Why do you ask?

    I literally have a tag for “happy baby epilogue,” they’re so common!

    • azteclady says:

      Date question: Just a matter of framing conversations in time, in my head, and whether things are “the more things change, the more they are the same” or tracking actual progress. (it’s a thing in my head, I’m not sure I’m expressing it well).

      Epilogues: Baby epilogues are the worst, especially the magic “she was barren but his magic wang cured her” babies.

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