The Greeks have 7 different words to describe love:
- Eros (sexual love)
- Ludus (playful love)
- Philia (friendship)
- Agape (selfless love)
- Philautia (self-love)
- Pragma (longstanding love)
- Storge (love of children)
Good romance novels depict most or even all of these.
1. The couple is attracted by eros. Sexual chemistry initially draws them to each other, but that’s barely enough to sustain a one-night stand, never mind a happy ever after.
Example: every romance novel ever written.
2. Romances are much more fun to read if there’s an element of ludus, typically portrayed through banter, and through what the late Blake Snyder called the “fun and games” section of a movie script, where people are chasing around and unexpected things happen. For that matter, Christian Grey’s playroom can even fulfill that need for those so inclined.
Example: The first half of Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels, where Jess and Dan spar and try to keep their distance from one another, even while attraction drags them relentlessly together.
3. In most well-constructed romance novels, there’s also philia in the form of support from the couples respective communities. This gives each lover someone to bounce things off of, and a chance to gather more objective input as problems start to mount.
Jenny Crusie is the mistress of this. Every one of her books has, or builds, a rich, positive community. In Bet Me, her RITA® award-winning romance, Minerva’s cadre of friends and family are there to back her up at every step. In Dogs and Goddesses, the three protagonists start out as strangers but go on to form a solid, supportive community.
4. In almost every romance novel I’ve ever read, in order to earn their happy ever after, the protagonist must display agape, the ability to love the other selflessly and to put the other’s needs ahead of their own.
I’m going to cite my own debut novel, The Demon Always Wins, here. Although Belial starts the novel intent on corrupting and destroying the heroine, Dara, once he falls in love with her he will do anything, including risking destruction in the Lake of Fire, to save her.
5. It may seem to run counter to what I just said about agape, but to complete their character arc, the protagonist must also learn philautia, self-love. This occurs in the form of overcoming the character flaw that is keeping them from succeeding in the quest the plot calls for them to accomplish.
In Lord of Scoundrels, Dain must overcome his horrific childhood and learn to accept and love himself to truly become a couple with Jessica.
6. Finally, the happy ever after ending is a promise of pragma, long-term love.
In a country where the divorce rate runs between 40 and 50%, pragma is what every couple dreams about. It’s also what romance novels, by definition, offer their readers. The two rules for romance novels are: 1) They must contain a central romance and 2) They must have a “satisfying and optimistic” ending–the promise of a future together for the couple.
7. Finally, the desire for storge, love of children, may explain readers’ love of epilogues, which often feature the children of the couple making an appearance.
Romance writers: we do it all.