When I used to read romance in fanfiction, HEA endings were automatically subversive. With the exception of Jack/Ianto in Torchwood, I never read canon couples. (And, not to spoil anyone who hasn’t finished out Torchwood, but the lads most certainly did not get a HEA.)
In original romance, HEA makes me uncomfortable. HEA in many ways runs opposed to the things I want to actually promote via art, via life, via every single time I express myself: be here, now. Don’t live in the future. Don’t try to know how something will work out before you commit to it. You can’t know, you can’t hedge all of your bets forever. This is, of course, the appeal to the HEA: the characters must take a leap of faith and it works out.
And yet, a tiny part of me finds my foreknowledge, when I pick up a romance novel, problematic. I know they’ll end up together. A good author makes me forget. A great author makes me stop caring about meta altogether, though this is more rare as I get older, as I watch my niece read and watch and imagine her future against a backdrop of my stories, and your stories, and all the stories she consumes.
All right. I feel like I’m feeding her a line. Well. Not me, exactly. But I’m certainly complicit. In both my writing, but perhaps more so in my desire, undeniable, for two, three, however many characters, to commit to one another, and for that commitment, that blissful held breath, to pay the fuck off. And it’s funny, because I’m basically aromantic. I don’t go through the world seeking romantic ties to other humans. Ever. (What do you call a late bloomer who never blooms?) And yet, I’m searching in my fiction for the relationships between people to enrich, to foster growth, to transcend.
I’m always looking for transcendence. I had a nasty bout of suicidal depression as a kid, and spent a week on a locked ward for my trouble. I never expected to live this long. Every single goddamn thing I do matters. Everything you do matters. I write series fiction because I am obsessed with playing things out, with layering actions and thoughts on actions and thoughts and seeing what happens. I love reading a character I’ve written two hundred thousand words in and seeing them think something they couldn’t have thought in the beginning, or do something they would have never had the courage to do. Those things give me hope for the world.
I like a happily ever after. Hell, I love a happily ever after. But I want to expand the meaning of it. I want it to be HEA if the characters break up because they should, because being in whatever their version of a committed relationship wasn’t for them, but they remain each other’s first call on a good day, or a bad one. That fucking is HEA, man. I want HEA to explode well beyond the tiny confines of the almighty one true pairing. The OTP mindset gives me a bloody migraine. Which isn’t to say that people never find someone, and love them, and live the rest of their lives with them. But if that’s the only thing you believe in, if that’s what you’re hooked on like it’s drugs, then how do you keep your mind and body and spirit open to everything else?
Sherlock and Watson and Mary? That’s a fucking happily ever after. And I don’t mean the fanfiction, I mean the BBC Sherlock canon. I mean people who spend all their time together, who have conflict and tension and love and pain. Sex, maybe, but it’s the emotional blender that makes it real. I need more than wedding bells and the couple walking off into the sunset.
I need more than characters seeking, and finding, their one and only, the one who makes everything worthwhile. I don’t believe in that like it’s air, like it’s a blue sky, like it’s wet rain. And I think sometimes that we live in a culture that holds HEA up as if it is those things. As if it is inevitable. And it’s not only not inevitable, it’s not possible for everyone. It’s not practical. (And not just for people like myself, who are romance-deficient.) So I find it problematic. And I’ll keep searching the romance shelves for configurations that please not only my lust for resolution at the end of the story, but also my very real need to feel that more than the cult of the one true pairing is represented.