Long before I started writing romance, I was (and still am) an avid romance reader. I’d like to share some of my favorite elements from romance novels and the reasons why I think they work so well.
I’ve known that I wanted to blog about this trope for awhile but it’s taken me quite a bit of time to pin down my thoughts. I’ve always really liked the idea of a reconnecting or second chance romance, because I like the idea that if two people have been in love and things aren’t going well, there’s a chance to reignite the spark between them. However, that said, I often find actual second chance/reconnecting books are hit and miss for me. Upon reflection, I decided to share what I consider the essential points for making a second chance/reconnecting plotline work. (This is my opinion only, other people may prioritize different things.)
For me, the most crucial thing as to whether or not a second chance plotline clicks for me is the reason why the couple needs to reconnect in the first place. Any hint of abusive or controlling behavior is an automatic no-go from me. Even if the former abuser or controller is super sorry and has done extensive self-therapy work, as a reader, I remain skeptical. For the curious, I also apply this to first chance romances. A grand gesture does not negate abusive behavior in my opinion. (If you have half an hour to spare, ask me about the novel I read where the hero kidnaps the heroine because he doesn’t like the building she lives in. My response will be colorful and involve many, many shouty moments.)
However, I will admit that I draw a fine line between being an abuser and being protective. Protecting the love interest is a worthy, heroic motivator, but how it is carried out is epically crucial. Swoop down to save the one they love, awesome. Tell them they can’t leave the house because bad guys are out there, less so. I’m also much more forgiving of characters who are socially awkward or who truly believe they don’t deserve their love interest. But I will die on the hill that main characters who are mean to their loved ones in order to drive them away “to keep them safe” are being jerks and need to seriously work on themselves.
Most of the second chance romances that I’ve enjoyed are where the couple was together as teenagers or young adults and split because adulting is hard or because they wanted different dreams, or some other unavoidable circumstance that wasn’t entirely in their control. To have a couple like that reconnect later in life is like catnip to me, especially if they recognize that they needed that time apart to become fully-functional adults. I will also tend to enjoy stories where the couple split because of a lie that a third party told, usually faking a death or a meddlesome parent/jealous friend telling one or both that the other partner wants to break up. In that case, there needs to be a really good reason why the character would believe this third party and another good reason why they wouldn’t ask the love interest about the truth of the situation.
I have read some stories where the couple is married (or otherwise committed) and they’ve drifted apart from each other due to their various responsibilities. Usually, it’s one of them has a job which requires long hours apart or there’s a caretaking situation with an ill relative or child. Sometimes it’s just burnout from trying to be an adult in the modern world. I really love this as a concept and I wish there were more stories of married couples rediscovering their happily ever after. However, most of these types of stories I’ve read ended up being part of the inspirational genre where recommitting to their particular Christian church ended up somehow solving all the actual relationship problems. I’d like to see more of these types of stories where the couple reconnects through couples’ counselling or by one partner making efforts to understand and support the other’s burden. That’s something that I think would resonate with a lot of romance readers. Or maybe it would just resonate with me.
Recently, I heard romance described as “significance fantasy” which was defined as a fantasy of being treated as if one’s needs, experience, and desires are important by another person. That was a Keanu Reeves gif-worthy “Whoaaa” moment for me. Because so often, our experience is dismissed, we’re told to shelve our desires, and to find a way to live without our needs. Having that centered and made a priority is a very heady fantasy. Maybe that’s why I love the paranormal-powers-that-will-tear-the-universe-apart-if-the-one-I-love-is-harmed stories. Because I assume that if they’re willing to rip apart the fabric of space-time, then surely they will manage to put their dishes in the dishwasher instead of the sink. (Perhaps it’s naïve of me to so assume, but I remain hopeful.)
In the end, I think significance fantasy sums up why some romances work and some HEAs aren’t believable. There needs to be that “I am all-in on my partner’s happiness” moment, with the caveat that it should be a healthy all-in, not a sublimating one’s own desires into one’s partner’s. At the end of a romance novel, the main characters should be able to achieve or experience more with their love interest than they would have on their own and the same should also be true for the love interest, whether this is their first time at the HEA or the second.
I write paranormal romance full of suspense, action, and adventure. My first book with Soul Mate is Deadly Potential (Federal agent Ben will do anything to protect songwriter Katie from a supernatural stalker who can hide in plain sight), available on Kindle Unlimited. Or there’s my original series about a secret society of superheroes living among us. Begin with Revelations for free!