If there’s one thing most romance readers are clear on in real life, it’s the idea that happily ever after isn’t what anybody should be looking for the day after she makes a relational commitment.


Engagement, marriage, moving an emotional relationship to a physical one, deciding to share a home and life with a partner; these are some of the coolest points of some folks’ existences. But they’re beginnings, not endings, as in, the “The End” on the last page of a romance book.

Yet romance novels celebrate those relational high points and create whole-cloth fantasy tales out of getting to ‘em – after our hero or heroine’s mucked up and done some knees-to-the-hardwood grovelin’.


But nobody really believes real-life love matches will be perfect forever after happily begins, we just adore the promise of it, and demand it as part of what makes any well-constructed romance novel a satisfying


So what’s a romance fan to do when an HEA reads more like an “I’m pretty content with you for now – and I’ll probably want you for a long time – but let’s not go promise each other any ever afters, let alone happy ones” harbinger of curb kicking to come?

Recently I read a very good erotic romance in which the heroine ended up with a hero who clearly felt things for her he hadn’t for a lover, yet at novel’s end was saying the equivalent of “Come live w/me, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves; you know how I am.”


Our newly sexually liberated heroine basically vowed to herself, “I can brace myself for the possibility of heartache with this kind of man. But I love him, and now that I know how to please him in bed, I’m planning on keeping him there for a long time.”

I understand why this author made these choices, they work for the novel and make it a strong one. But this more real life-like ending leaves me a little let down by the reading experience because my genre

-reading DNA seems to be hard-wired for the joy-rush pheromone surge that accompanies the solid, facile, and-they-lived-happily-and-had-perfect-sex-and-children-ever-after ending.


Truly, I don't care whether the final declaration of commitment in a romance is something along the lines of, “We love you and want you to be ours for the rest of our lives." But those polyamorous paramours probably will be a-travelin’ a trios until death does them for me to feel well and truly emotionally satisfied with the reading experience.


How about you? Can you handle a less traditional ending in a romance? Or are you an HEA purist?    

by Author Eva_Gale on ‎12-16-2009 06:03 PM

Whoa, that's a hard question. If I know going inot it that I'm not going to get and HEA then I'm ok with it but if it's a love story or there is any Almost, Could Be of Romance and you slap me with a death alla Cold Mountain I will HURL your book into the fire and hope it burns your bupkis. 


Not that I feel stongly about it or anything. :smileytongue:

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎12-16-2009 07:09 PM

Good question. I would say I'm an HEA purist in romance fiction, but I have liked books that didn't end happily. I guess it depends if I'm warned far enough ahead of time.

by 1lovealways on ‎12-17-2009 02:11 AM

HI Everyone!


Oh, I'm definitely an HEA purist.  I love my endings that way, but I can (if I have to) endure it if it's not the traditional ending.  I've read books that didn't have the HEA ending.  Sometimes the story dictates whether there will be a good ending.  I don't want to be warned in advance about it if it's going to be different.  I  want to be surprised.  


It's puts a crimp in my reading of the story if I'm forewarned.  It slows my reading of the book down, because I know the ending is not going to be what I expected. My whole concept of how I thought the story was changes.  It has to, because of the new direction the story will take.  Then I have to wrap my head around an alternate idea instead of the original one that I had.  So,  it can be interesting in the respect that you wonder how the author will achieve the alternate ending instead of an HEA.  So, I guess that's another thing that would keep me reading instead of abandoning the story.  It has to be some darn good writing to keep me interested or I have to have read most of the story to a point where I find it useless to not finish it.


I have read stories where there was no HEA, but they have been few and far between.  Sometimes when there is no HEA, it leads to another book and it picks up in there.  In other words, the author leaves you hanging.  When they do that, you hope there's another book coming to resolve the story.  There may never be another book, in which case you reconcile yourself to the ending and savor what you've read.  You may even shake your head wondering how the author could have did this.  But, in the end it is what it is, so you go on to the next book in your TBR pile.  At least I do!   :smileyhappy:

by Moderator dhaupt on ‎12-17-2009 10:18 AM

Wow Michelle, way to make us think! And right before Christmas when we're all expecting our HEA/better halfs etc.. to come up with that perfect little bauble to put under the tree.

I read a lot of genres, not just romance. So when I dive into a romance what I want is that all elusive perfect ending that never happens in real life. I mean did we ever re-visit Cinderella and prince Charming after the half dozen kids, where she's outta shape, PMSing, and royal pis-ed at his highness. Uh that would be a BIG NO!! Now don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean I don't like the un-traditional HEA, it doesn't have to end with the wedding march, but I do need to know that what they feel for each other is real and life altering enough to make a commitment, whew, that's a word many of our friends from Mars (men) don't like to hear and we citizens of Venus can't live without, well most of us any way. So I'd have to say that the guy in the er-rom that said, like yeah babe I like you enough right now that I won't mess up the sheets with anyone else. Really doesn't do it for me. But maybe that's one of the differences between mainstream and er-rom, where the heros and heroines aren't always mainstream themselves.

So to each his own.

For me personally, right after a nasty serial killer has eliminated a whole town, and it's time for a romance I really need that HEA.


But saying that It would be a pretty dull world with just vanilla wouldn't it.


by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎12-17-2009 10:25 AM

Sheesh, Eva, don't be so wishy/washy.  :smileyhappy:  That whole Cold Mountain deal in books makes me think, "Oh, you're such a coward! Afraid folks would make fun of you if you didn't choose the sentimentalist ending?  Bet you loved those 19th C paintings of the puppies chained in the middle of the raging flood, too."


Or something like that.  And then it turns out she's pregnant after that one time?  When that happens in romance, even some romance readrs cry foul.  Although, I love it because it means it's going to draw the heroine to the baby daddy or the other guy she was meant to be with, rather than symbolizing the hope of what could have been had whathisname lived and the South won the day... (although the battle scenes rocked in the movie, I must say. Super depiction of the stoopidity of war).


Becke, I think what I'm seeing isn't so much books w/out HEAs, but rather with 'alternative' HEAs.  Couples making a 'sorta' committed commitment. It's not even quite the "Hopeful Ever After" that's been becoming more popular. Or the style in which we understand that it's ok to make a commitment w/out marriage.  I find it unsettling as a reader, but I don't reject it out-of-hand, because I want to see where it heads in terms of trending. 


A way to describe the feeling is to present a similar one. Do this experiment:


Sing Happy Birthday exactly like this:


Happy Birthday to you,

Happy Birthday to you,

Happy Birthday dear person,

Happy Birthday to


Then stop. Don't sing that last note.  Feel the 'incomplete cadence?" It's crazy making, no? because we want that relaxed ending we're accostomed to, those of us who grew up w/ Western music.


That's how I feel w/out a solid HEA.



by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎12-17-2009 10:30 AM

lol, deb! all well said!  I know you read a lot of erom, so clearly the majority has very strong, commited HEA. But I see a few like this; they work in the books, but really make me think a lot, too. 


Hi, 1la!you've really hit on the same thing I think about w/ non-HEA books, although it's kinda similar to HEAs, in a way: How's the author gonna make the end come out right? In romance, it's 'how's the author gonna get them to hea after the big tear-apart. And in non-hea, it's how're we gonna get to the open or tragic ending w/out being maudlin or leaving readers feeling they've been taken advantage of.  Tricky on both counts and it'd be cool if folks understood that romance authors face the same challenges writing that authors of any genre do. : )

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎12-17-2009 11:55 AM

Remind me to tell you the story of the book that ended with the WRONG HEA and what I did with it.

by Moderator dhaupt on ‎12-17-2009 12:13 PM

Becke, I'll get the wine!! Cause this I gotta hear.

by Lisa_Kroener on ‎12-17-2009 01:27 PM

Hm, come to think about it, I'm not satisfied with a romance novel that doesn't have a HEA (although I have to admit that I've never encountered one as such thanks to all the wonderful recommendation I always base my sales on).


There are books without a HEA that I enjoyed, but they're mostly classical literature - Goethe's "Faust", for example (I know, I know, I'm a German-geek), where the romance is one of the main themes but it's not a romance novel as I'd want to read in my free time


I mean, an ending along the lines of "I plan to stay with you for a very long time but don't know if it will be forever" isn't exactly not a HEA, since it could work out for the rest of their lives, but, well, that's also the problem I have with open endings - you never really know! If I want reality, I walk down the street to my supermarket and don't curl up with a book in my bed. It's also not realistic that the rake becomes monogamous for the rest of his life because he falls irrevocably in love with the bookish spinster. But hey, I so don't want to read a book where the rake remains a rake and where the spinster remains alone. Would have the same effect, I think.



by Lisa_Kroener on ‎12-17-2009 01:28 PM

Becke, the wrong HEA? What does that mean? The hero ended off with some other girl and not with the heroine? What a thought! Ack!

by lizzy1022 on ‎12-17-2009 03:53 PM

I think it's ridiculous, a waste of paper when in a "fiction" story the hero and heroine don't get an HEA. We have enough with no HEAs in life most of the time. We turn to books to relax and drift away to an alter universe/reality were everything ends as it should; married, in love maybe kids, and happier than it seems possible.

I personally think all fiction stories should have an HEA, if not what's the point of reading them?


by Moderator becke_davis on ‎12-17-2009 07:35 PM

It was a women's fiction story that ended up being a trilogy. But at the end of book one, the heroine ended up -- not with the wonderful guy, but with someone who was only introduced toward the end of the book. AAAACCKK!

by CH73 on ‎04-17-2010 10:09 AM

 I'm Difinately a HEA purist ! I live and read for the happiness in a book and an HEA is what makes me feel so good when the book is over. I long to see couples live HEA.

by myykuul on ‎05-16-2011 11:49 AM

WHat I love about the concept of HEA is its evolutionary nature; although there is something satisfying in the notion that a couple overcoming odds and obstacles will lead to a happy existence, with or without a sleep-number bed! 


Since 1997, you’ve been coming to BarnesandNoble.com to discuss everything from Stephen King to writing to Harry Potter. You’ve made our site more than a place to discover your next book: you’ve made it a community. But like all things internet, BN.com is growing and changing. We've said goodbye to our community message boards—but that doesn’t mean we won’t still be a place for adventurous readers to connect and discover.

Now, you can explore the most exciting new titles (and remember the classics) at the Barnes & Noble Book Blog. Check out conversations with authors like Jeff VanderMeer and Gary Shteyngart at the B&N Review, and browse write-ups of the best in literary fiction. Come to our Facebook page to weigh in on what it means to be a book nerd. Browse digital deals on the NOOK blog, tweet about books with us,or self-publish your latest novella with NOOK Press. And for those of you looking for support for your NOOK, the NOOK Support Forums will still be here.

We will continue to provide you with books that make you turn pages well past midnight, discover new worlds, and reunite with old friends. And we hope that you’ll continue to tell us how you’re doing, what you’re reading, and what books mean to you.