wait, nobody told me i couldn’t do that

I like the thinky posts on Dear Author, and this week’s, on whether there can be a second chance at love in a romance novel is no exception. The discussion here is about the One True Love trope in romance, wherein it’s so common for characters to have been in relationships before, but for those relationships to have been not so good, or, for example, you have a widower who thought his dead wife was the love of his life, but the love he feels for the heroine in the novel is so much better. So the question is left hanging: is it possible for a romance hero(ine) to fall in love twice in his/her lifetime?

In romance, there doesn’t seem to be room for a character to love, fully and completely, more than once. Upon meeting the true mate, the character must justify past feelings for another as not as complete or full or passionate.

Maybe this is true in a lot of the genre, but I don’t think it’s true in life. People fall in love more than once in a lifetime.

I bring this up because I don’t think I had ever seen this particular trope spelled out for me before, which is weird because I read a lot of romance and should have put it together sooner.

But I didn’t. In In Hot Pursuit, for example, Noah loses his partner Josh in the early pages of the novel. Noah and Josh had a solid, loving relationship. Josh is killed very suddenly, leaving Noah bereft. Noah then meeting and falling for Harry in no way invalidates (to me, anyway) his relationship with Josh, doesn’t make the past relationship any less solid and loving.

Nobody told me that I couldn’t make Noah fall in love twice.

It’s an interesting thing to think about, about the genre and the idealizations therein, about what authors can and can’t get away with and still pull off the HEA (or HFN), about how fiction has its own rules. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a writers group workshop where someone criticized a plot point for being too unrealistic, and the writer said, “But that happened to me in real life!”)

I like complicated stories, where there is no easy path to the Happily Ever After One True Love Babies and Weddings Epilogue, if you get what I mean. But I want a hopeful ending, too. I’m a sucker for a story where two people meet and it sure looks like they’ll be together for all eternity when you turn that last page, but what about the characters who lose their soulmate? I mean, shit happens. There are accidents and illness and things go wrong and these are the facts of life. Is the partner left behind expected to spend the rest of his life mourning? I prefer to think there are second chances.