"And it occurred to me, too, that if this was a great love story, I had no idea where we were on its timeline. For all I knew, we might be nearer its beginning than its end." ~ Richard Russo, from She's Not There
A couple of days ago, Marianne brought up the question of “how soon is too soon” for a hero and heroine to fall in love, in a romance novel. She got a great response from her blog readers, and I think she’s probably going to discuss it again today.
Most people who responded didn’t have a problem with suspending their disbelief and even welcomed two people falling in love over a period of days – a couple of weeks at the most. But I just can’t buy into it. Falling in lust at first sight – absolutely. But love? Love that leads to a lifelong commitment to another person? That involves discovery, a slow, fascinating peeling away of layers until you see who’s standing in front of you (or lying beside you) and want to be with that person all the time anyway.
Now, I know people who’ve met their significant other one night, thought “He/she’s the one” and ended up happily married for umpteen years. But I’m willing to bet that, in most cases, that relationship still evolved over a certain length of time…and there wasn’t a marriage proposal after a week.
Part of the problem, I think, is that the genre requires it. You have to have a Happily Ever After – it’s what the readers expect. And no, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with an entertaining story that makes us trust that true love can happen. But most of the romance novels I’ve read recently suffer from a lack of character development. As a result, the strong, sexy hero suddenly finds himself thinking he can settle down with the heroine after a couple of dates, during which she’s laughed at his jokes, maybe stood up to him in an argument, and of course walked down the sidewalk beside him with her perfectly curvaceous body. And the heroine? She’s gun-shy of relationships but somehow decides she can trust the hero after those same two dates because…well, I don’t know, exactly.
So, can a fictional hero and heroine fall desperately in love and want to spend their lives together, in a relatively quick period of time? For me, yes – but only if the author has convinced me that a complete devotion is the natural, in fact the only, outcome for these 2 people, through their character development: I have to see these 2 people grow together and toward each other as a result of the conflicts that happen in the course of the story. Then I will happily cheer for them and feel ultimately satisfied by the ending. But to put the characters together just because the genre calls for it? That’s harder to swallow.
Actually, that’s why I’m glad the genre is changing, and why the HEA doesn’t have to include an engagement but instead an interest, a serious attraction, a desire to pursue a commitment. I’m also glad the genre of women’s fiction exists. In that world, I think, the story can be more about the main character’s journey, and while love and romance might be part of it, the author isn’t forced to shoehorn in a walk down the aisle.
Finally, I’ll leave you with this poignant passage from the book I just finished reading, She’s Not There. It’s a magnificent, complicated, touching, and at times angering memoir by a trans-gendered English professor. This is a tremendous testament to love:
Years earlier, her heart had inclined in the direction of another soul, and now, against the advice of many friends and well-wishers, she’d had the wisdom to understand that when our hearts incline – often in defiance of duty, blood, rationality, justice, indeed every value we hold dear – it’s pointless to object. We love whom we love. In the past two years, for Grace, everything had changed and nothing had changed. Her heart still inclined, as was its habit…
So...what do YOU think?