Nancy: Love for the Long Haul

kiss-on-windowBecause most of us here on the blog write (and read!) a lot of romance, the week of Valentine’s Day presents an opportunity to talk about that core component of a romance story: love. More specifically, believable, happily ever after (HEA) love.

I thought about HEA love this past week when Maria V. Snyder posted on her FB page about the need for Valentine’s Day cards for 25+-year relationships, cards along the lines of “you annoy me and drive me crazy but I’m still willing to put up with it” or “we worked hard to mesh and I don’t want to train anyone else”. Yeah, those aren’t quite the messages we tend to read or write in our romance novels, but they are tongue-in-cheek reminders that there are real-life HEAs.

Back in the fiction world, though, that ‘believable HEA’ part isn’t always easy to write, and doesn’t always resonate with readers. For example, there was a book we eight ladies (and classmates) read as part of our McDaniel writing program that had some of us saying, ‘Nope, I don’t believe they’ll make it, doesn’t work for me’. I won’t publicly call out the book, but as one of the people in the ‘nope’ camp, I can tell you that something the hero did to the heroine in the third act – humiliating her in public – made me think those two people just wouldn’t make it long-term. They didn’t have each others’ backs when it mattered. And that killed the romance of the entire story for me. Because although the stories in romances typically focus on the falling in love part of the relationship, for most romance readers, believing the couple will remain in love seals the deal.

The way the romance story ends is important to creating the expectation of the couple’s long-term success, but savvy readers have their antennae raised to detect signals throughout the story that each person is growing and changing, and earning his or her right to the happy ending. One of those indicators is the ‘air conditioner moment‘. This is in reference to the scene from Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer when the hero, Shane, brings Agnes an air conditioner, not because she asked for it, not because it was the goal she was trying to achieve, but because it was something she needed and he wanted to meet that need for her.

That gift of the air conditioner resonates not because it brings creature comfort or makes a cute scene. It resonates because it tells us the hero sees our heroine, sees what she needs, and is willing to provide it without her asking. Yes, this is the kind of thing that can drive real-life lovers mad: the expectation that one should have the ability to know what the other needs without having to discuss it. (And I highly recommend that if you need your significant other to pick up an air conditioner for you, by all means, have that discussion!)

But again, back in fiction world, where we only have limited hours of the reader’s time, we need to short-hand the sign posts that say these people are connected, they are paying attention to each other and valuing each others’ needs. They show us the couple is developing the skill set that will get them to the point – after infatuation fades – of still wanting to put up with each other through the day-to-day annoyances and the much bigger, harder struggles life will inevitably throw their way.

The air conditioner moment is one of my favorites in a romance story, so I always try to include it in my writing. However, as I’ve revised book 1 of my Victorian Romance series, I’ve realized that while I have my hero providing something the heroine needs but does not request (or even realize she needs), I don’t have her reciprocating. That’s not unusual; in fact, after a quick perusal of some of the recent romances I’ve read, it seems we expect more from our heroes on that score than from our heroines.

Now that I’ve realized it, I’m not happy about it. I want my heroine proving her love and attentiveness in a similar fashion. That means going back to the drawing board to figure out something the hero needs, which he might or might not even realize, that the heroine can give him. (And no, despite our recent discussions on the blog, it will not be something sexual. That’s in a different chapter.)

If you have any ideas, or maybe some real-life inspiration from your own love life, please share freely in the comments! Happy Valentine’s Day, and whether or not you are in a romantic relationship, take some time this week to share some love and happiness, real-world style.

15 thoughts on “Nancy: Love for the Long Haul

  1. Interesting! Well, it does take two. And they both have to recognize the gesture as a gesture of love and respect (and anything else it contains). I once got a vacuum cleaner from my husband as a present, and IT WAS EXACTLY WHAT I WANTED. Plus, it showed that he had been listening to me. He’s also the one who gave me my first ukulele.

    Me, I was raised to show love through food, but it turns out that my husband is pretty picky and capricious. What’s good this week isn’t necessarily a kind and loving gesture the next week. It’s very difficult to shop for him, too. But massages are welcome (at least 90 percent of the time).

    I notice in a lot of romances, the hero is the heroine’s reward for figuring out what she really wants from life. Some romances don’t bother to define the guy beyond that. And sometimes that’s very enjoyable. The woman can be portrayed as a getter instead of the Nurturer-in-Chief once in a while.

    (-: But in the best romances, everyone is winning by the end.

    I just saw something on the internet about guys talking about the best Valentine’s present they’d ever gotten. Most of them were like, “I don’t think I got anything for Valentine’s day last year.” The last guy, though, had a big grin on his face. “Can I say this? Can I say this? I got sex last year for Valentine’s Day.”

    (-: So maybe simple is best.

    • I think you’re right, there’s a sense in romance that the girl giving herself to the guy is proof enough of her love. And maybe there’s something to that, given the amount of trust required for women to feel they can safely be vulnerable. And then there’s the guy who is so happy he got sex last Valentine’s Day…and the old saw about birthday sex for men. But I’d like to think sex is a lot more frequent (and frequently exciting!) than that, so it makes me kind of sad for relationships where there is so much emphasis put on the sex that happens those few times a year. Then again, he was possibly just being cute/funny.

      Also, your point about nurturer-in-chief is a good one. I know that when I feel like the caretaking becomes too one-sided in my marriage, I get really cranky. Those ‘air conditioner’ moments from my husband are probably what save his bacon in those cases. So maybe I shouldn’t stress too much about my air conditioner-less heroine. I will have to cogitate :-).

  2. In real life I’m a big fan of the tongue-in-cheek style message. On our eighth wedding anniversary, my husband sent me roses from the Queen’s florist, delivered to me at work. My PA was even more thrilled than I was, until she read the card. “Only eight years. Seems much longer.” She was appalled, but I laughed myself sick. Our most recent anniversary (a couple of weeks ago) was no. 32. I got him a card that read “Let’s get old together. You first.” because he’s a few months older than me. I’ve worked that joke for most of our marriage.

    I think over the years we’ve both been pretty good at air conditioner moments, though mostly they’ve been about making life changes rather than getting things.

    • “Let’s get old together. You first.” I love that! As the slightly older one in my relationship (we were high school sweethearts and my husband likes to point out that I’m a WHOLE academic year older), I will have to steal that from your husband. I will, of course, give him due credit :-).

      Belated happy anniversary! 32 years is awesome! Interestingly, that’s the same year my husband and I started dating, and the year his younger brother, who was in middle school, met the girl whom he would date and marry nearly 20 years later. My husband always says 1985 was a good year for the Christensen men. After all these years, I’m glad he still thinks so.

    • How funny that I was looking for a tongue-in-cheek-style Valentine’s card for my husband this year, but it just didn’t seem right. I think if I had bought the real (sappy, lovey) deal along with tongue-in-cheek, it might have worked, but I was pressed for time, so stuck to the lovey-dovey.

      It’s all well and good to have loving moments, but sometimes you need to cut loose and have fun!

      My neighbor and I were talking about our husbands the other day and the best compliment we could come up with (we were griping) is that we’d only be married to our husbands. They drive us nuts, yet we love them. But if they suddenly vanished? Neither of us would remarry. EVER.

      • My mom and dad had a good marriage, she once told me, but my dad died when he and my mom were 45. Ten years after that, her doctor asked her why she hadn’t remarried, and she said, “Who’d want to?”

        • I think this gets back to that David Mitchell Soapbox thing again. From a strictly rational and objective viewpoint, which would you rather live: a life that’s fairly even with small pleasures and not a lot of angst and drama and tragedy, or a dramatic life with dizzying heights and terrifying depths of emotions? Even if I imagine that the dramatic life averages out to 25 percent better than the steady-lady life, rationally I would choose the steady life, because I don’t like drama in my life. I’d be willing to give up some sheer bliss.

          But in fiction, the steady-lady life is not a lot of fun to write about, and I think readers would prefer the drama. All the tragedy is vicarious, and one can take a break and have a cup of tea or do something calming, then get back to the book/movie/whatever. Or even flip to the back of the book and read the ending to make sure everything comes out OK (something I often did as a kid).

          From a rational point of view, I’d never marry again if I was widowed. But . . . I suppose if I were lured by irrational happiness, lust and desire, I might be tempted to marry again. I’d forget all the pain-in-the-ass moments and remember all the nice things, I suppose. Cupid really is a stupid bastard, LOL. Or should I say, a vector of stupid?

    • “Seems much longer”—I laughed myself sick right here. That is HILARIOUS. Like, book-worthy hilarious.

      I don’t have any experience of marriage, myself, but one thing I’ve noticed in couples that have lasted a long time—the people who stick together laugh together. That might not be a universal trait—just a trait among the people I know. But laughing is important, I find.

      • Ohh, I love this observation, Kay. Now I’m thinking of ways to show my h/h enjoying some laughs together, having the same sense of humor. That’s definitely an indicator for me in stories and IRL!

  3. This may be a good opportunity to look at the Languages of Love by Gary Chapman. For example, my husband’s love language is physical touch, whether it’s straight-up sex, snuggling in bed, or sitting so close on the couch that my arm falls asleep because it’s pinned under him.

    My love language, on the other hand, is acts of service. Do something for me with out me asking (and without expecting praise — that’s the big one) and I will love you forever. (The other love languages are receiving gifts, spending quality time, and words of affirmation.)

    It took awhile for us to figure that out in each other, and we still don’t have it nailed. The introvert in me means that when we get to the end of the day, I’m about as hands-off as you can get. Don’t touch me. Don’t talk to me. Leave me alone. Of course, that’s when my husband is at his most snuggly. LOL.

    Perhaps thinking about what your character’s love language might be will help you figure out if your hero needs to do something for her and what that might be.

    All that said, I think how your character’s actions (both H/H) are interpreted by the reader will be dependent on their love language (a little bit, anyway). I’m thoroughly unimpressed when the hero gives the heroine gifts of jewels (or whatever), but there may be other readers out there who think that’s the cat’s meow.

    I guess my point is, whatever your characters do for each other, make us understand its value to the recipient, so we get the full emotional impact of their action.

    • “… whatever your characters do for each other, make us understand its value to the recipient, so we get the full emotional impact of their action.” Yes, this. This is part of Lisa Cron’s Story Genius approach. Don’t leave everything for the reader to decipher through her own lens. Be clear about what it means to the character. I think the reaction scene showing Agnes’s internal musings on the air conditioner does a great job of that, IIRC.

      And looking at different languages of love…great food for thought. I could see h/h with different languages learning to decipher each others’ codes as part of earning their HEA.

  4. Pingback: Kay: The Art of Love – Eight Ladies Writing

  5. I’m not sure which one of us came up with the air conditioner moment. Jenny wrote the female POV, Agnes, and I wrote the male, Shane’s, but we bounced story back and forth.

    We originally also had Xavier’s POV in there, but cut it. I need to dig and find if I discover those cut scenes.

    I’m considering writing a book featuring Shane. Not sure if it will be a prequel or a sequel, although I’m leaning toward the latter. I’ve been wanting to write a Grosse Pointe Blanke story and who better than Shane? Already checked with Jenny and she’s good with me doing that, although I won’t even attempt Agnes’ POV. The voices are distinct!
    Plus there’s a great supporting cast that already exists in Carpenter, Lisa Livia et al.
    Nothing but good times ahead!

    • Shane in a Gross Pointe Blanke-esque story – yes!!! There are lots of Shane fans here on the blog.

      I love that you and Jenny bounced story back and forth so much, it’s hard to know who started which ideas. The ‘He Said, She Said’ blog the two of you wrote…has it been 10 years, or something like it?…was, IMHO, one of the best things on the internet. EVER. Lots of fabulous things came out of that collaboration!

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