I had an interesting discussion with a married mom not long ago. She knew I was a member of the Romance Writers of America and that my books, while labeled “fiction” on the spine and shelved in the Literature section of the bookstore, did—in fact—deal significantly with romantic relationships. My friend and I were chatting about stories we’d enjoyed and, after hearing me rave about a few romantic comedies, she confided that she was afraid to read romance novels.
“Afraid?” I asked, wondering at first if she was referring to books in the romantic-suspense subgenre.
“Yes,” she said. “Because I find my own life a little disappointing after I do.”
I didn’t know what to say to this because I usually feel uplifted after reading a romance. To me, they tell the tale of the emotional, physical and intellectual attraction of a couple, but they also show the hero and heroine dealing with various internal and external conflicts often unconnected to their relationship. Longstanding issues with parents, siblings or children, for instance. Juggling a job, a house, a hobby and a family. Trying to face a sudden illness, loss of income or crisis of faith, etc. These are often very difficult issues and, even in a romantic comedy, the characters have to juggle some problems alongside all the usual highs and lows that crop up when meeting someone and falling in love.
All romances do have happy endings, though, while real life provides no such assurance. That's an often-cited criticism of the genre, but I believe ANY fictional relationship (whether the genre is romance, women's fiction, cozy mystery or alien paranormal, etc.) is going to differ from those you find in real life, even if it's not obvious, for one very big reason: Characters in a novel are, by definition, part of a story. They’re not real, although, as novelists, we try so hard to breathe life into them... My goal is to try to craft my characters to appear on the page as human as possible—but I know the insider's game on this. Writers are always exaggerating story elements, depending on whether our narrative intention is to make the reader laugh or cry or be afraid or feel inspired.