Happy Endings

When I was a little girl I loved fairy tales and nursery rhymes and short stories. My mother had an old set of encyclopedias and each one contained a story: Rumpelstilskin, The Little Match Girl, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, The Little Princess, and my absolute favorite, Beauty and the Beast, among others. Now, since this was sometime in the early 70s, these stories were often brutal—no guaranteed happy endings. Every time I read The Little Match Girl, I cried bitterly, miserable that she died at the end. I didn’t care that she was finally in heaven with her grandmother. And that’s what started my love affair with happy endings. I resolved to only read books that ended well and as I grew older, my fascination with romance novels began.

Of course, I couldn’t very well adhere to that resolve completely. I would never have enjoyed Macbeth or Cry the Beloved Country if I had. Even so, most of my leisure reading was still spent on romance novels (with a little sci-fi and fantasy thrown in for variety). Most of those ended happy. I read thousands of them, loving every minute of tension between the characters because I knew, without even peeking under the back cover, that true love would win out over everything. It always did.

Recently I’ve been wondering about happy endings in real life. Why do we spend so much of our time reading romance novels, enjoying the falling-in-love, the sexual tension, and the happy ending? It’s because what’s happening in the real world is anything but happy. Life happens. We read to escape, to laugh, to remember what it feels like when you catch someone’s eyes across the room and realize: oh, I want to meet that person. In Beauty and the Beast, love conquers all.

Every romance novel is required to have a happy ending. It’s actually specified in the contract when you sign it. As an author, I find that amusing. As a reader I find it comforting and wonderful. Those novels make me happy and when I’m happy I’m a better person. The people around me notice and because happiness is contagious, my reading tends to make them happy, too. So the next time someone tells you about how awful their life is right now, hand them your favorite romance novel. Tell them it’s good for the heart.

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