Romance novels, as author Linda Lee asserted in her guide to writing them, depict romantic love in a manner that "is idealistic, in that it is the perfect, true, and lasting love" (2). Of course there are romances in which the lovers have divorced each other or parted in some other way, but since they are then reunited such plots still suggest that
Love does last. It's...it's like the creek that flows from Devil Lake. Sometimes it's fast, sometimes slow. Some years it thunders over the spires at the edge of the mesa, and then later it seeps out through the layers of rock. But it's always here, bringing life to the desert. Even in the darkest part of winter, when the snow covers everything, the creek runs underneath. (Jade)
True love, then, lasts at least as long as life; Marilyn Lowery, however, goes further, claiming in How to Write Romance Novels that Sell (1983) that romance novels tell their readers “that true love lasts forever” (18). This is certainly true of some romances. Jeffery Farnol’s Sir John Dering (1923), for example, includes the following poetic declaration from one lover to his beloved:
must needs come
to us soon or late,
yet do I know we can
never die since Love
is immortal. So by
thy love shall I live
on beyond death
with thee for
Almost seventy years later, we can find a heroine expressing much the same conviction to her hero: “having found you, I know I shall never truly die, because our love is too strong ever to end” (Dolan 225).
Belief in love's existence beyond death seems to express a
Desire for transcendence, not just of the self but of the self’s mortality, [which] has motivated the will to faith since the first syllable of recorded time; and, if love is a faith, we ought to find that some of its devotees see it as a hope in confronting—or avoiding—the problem of personal death and annihilated consciousness. (Polhemus 81)
Even Nathaniel Roy “an atheist” member of the National Secular Society who is certain “there is no life after death” and is one of the heroes in K. J. Charles’ An Unnatural Vice (2017) finds that after his first visit to Justin Lazarus, whom he knows to be “a disgraceful fraud” of a spiritualist, he “wanted to believe” and
had lain awake all night imagining what if. What if he could speak to Tony once more? What if there was a way? What if there was an afterward?
There wasn’t, and he knew there wasn’t, but the longing was sharp and painful.
Tony was Nathaniel’s lover and it seems significant that it should be the desire for love to be eternal and persist after death which pushes Nathaniel to query his convictions regarding the spiritual.
Although some paranormal romances ensure the durability of love by granting their protagonists extended, interdependent lifespans, most romances implicitly accept that, as the protagonists of L. A. Witt's The Walls Between Hearts (2019) state quite explicitly, "No one lived forever. To fall in love, to find a happily ever after, meant knowing that one day, someone was going to have to let go." Like Chris, the hero of Alice Wootson's Aloha Love (2005), who has just survived a helicopter accident with his heroine, romance readers and authors are aware that
"[...] anything can happen at any time. We could have been killed. Just a few weeks ago a chopper went down and members of several families died."
"I know. I also know that today, somewhere, many more people were killed in car accidents. And others in robberies, and still others for various reasons. Whoever said that tomorrow isn't promised was speaking the truth. We can't focus on what might happen. That could drive us crazy." (118)
Rather than dwelling on “what might happen” in a way which “could drive us crazy,” many romances choose to emphasise possibilities which are more pleasant. As Charles Garvice, a best-selling author of romance novels at the start of the 20th century explained: "why choose only nasty experience? ... I [...] have drawn from life. Only I have tried to see the sweeter side of life; it's just as real and a great deal more pleasant" (Waller 690).
However, some romances do explore the possibility of the death of a beloved and acknowledge that the pain of bereavement raises questions about both love's durability and its goodness. Witt's novel, for instance, charts the development of Terry's third true-love relationship (the previous two having ended in the deaths of his partners). The plot acknowledges and answers doubts about love's durability and goodness through Terry's epiphany that he "would give literally anything to have been spared the pain of losing them. Literally anything except the time I had with them. I can't imagine giving that up." That time was too good to give up, and since he has the opportunity for more such goodness with Gene, "the fear of the end shouldn't make me avoid all the good things in between." Indeed, Terry even entertains the possibility that "Maybe the grief I've had in my life isn't all bad because it means I had someone worth grieving." Like one of K. M. Jackson's protagonists, he reaches out for love because while "Nothing is promised and we can't control what life throws at us [...] what we can do is take the time we have now and not waste it, use it while we can and enjoy it loving each other" (Jackson).
Although Lynne Pearce, in an exploration of "Romance and Repetition" (2011), found that in the "canon of classic romance," the preservation of love's durability was achieved by either "focusing on only one relationship for the duration of the story and then bring[ing] the romance in question to a clean and definitive ending in marriage ('the white wedding')" or "If previous relationships did feature for one or both of the parties, they are very manifestly not 'the real thing' and explained away" by discrediting the emotions (as not-true-love) and perhaps also the beloved (as not worthy of true love), this is not the case in Witt's novel. Rather than discrediting the previous relationships, this romance stresses durability of true love to endure till death parts lovers and, even so, it is clear that in some ways the love Terry feels for the men he loved and lost did not end with their deaths. It lives on in his memories. This form of durability is made explicit in Radclyffe's Fated Love (2004), in which it is made clear that Honor moves on towards a new relationship while still loving her deceased wife "Forever and always" (203) and it discredits neither relationship because, as Honor explains to her young daughter, "Everybody we care about is very special to us [...] But we care about each person a little bit differently, too. [...] So I can care about both of them a lot" (207).
Moreover, given that, as discussed in the previous section, love's goodness flows outwards from the central relationship, the consequences of this flow can persist even after death, as it does in the loving relationships Terry continues to have with his deceased husband's biological child, Aaron (who is also Terry's adoptive son), with Aaron's wife, and with their daughter.