There. I said it. I believe in real life Happily Ever Afters.
The thing a lot of this genre's critics don't get is that we, both the readers and writers of romance, and even fantasy romance, know the difference between fiction and reality. In real life, or even if we followed our fictional characters, things would go wrong. The basement would flood, the roof would leak, or the dragons would be munching on the sheep flock. People would get their feelings hurt. Fights would happen. People would become ill, and eventually, unless your characters are immortal, one of them would die, leaving the other to grieve. That's how life works.
That doesn't preclude an HEA.
In real life, or after the romance novel ends, Happily ever After doesn't mean everything is going to be perfect. Life still happens. What it does mean is that even when the world is against you, you have someone to count upon to help you through the tough times. You have a hand to hold, arms to cuddle you in the few quiet hours of respite you can find. You're not alone.
That, my dear readers, is romance. Having someone who doesn't care that your hair isn't the same color as it was when you married, or that your waistline may have gotten a bit bigger. Having someone to say, "It isn't your fault." Or who will look at you and remind you, "We will get through this."
My husband call's Valentine's Day "amateur hour" because he has made it a point to tell me he loves me, every day for the past 30-some years. Even when things were rough, even when we were mad at each other or the kids were driving us up a wall. Romance can be flowers and fancy dinners, but it can also be in a simple touch--a squeeze on the shoulder as he walks past or a kiss on your forehead when you lean into him for strength. It can be bringing you a drink because he knows your feet hurt or picking out your favorite cookies instead of his. Sometimes it's just smiling from the background when he knows you need the emotional support.
Happily-Ever-Afters, in the real world, can't actually be for ever. Except--in the one way they can--the heart. My mom has been gone for over 10 years, and my Dad still has the 57 years they spent together to hold in his heart. Somedays, those memories keep him going. He's had a girlfriend since, but a new love doesn't negate the old. And when his time does come, may it be many years from now, he has the comfort of believing that my mom will be waiting for him on the other side. So who says love doesn't last forever?
At Valentine's Day, tell the ones you love that you love them. But it's even better if you tell them every day.
***Cindy Spencer Pape is the award winning author of The Gaslight Chronicles and Where there's Smoke.