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Is There Really a Second Chance at Love in Romance

funny-pictures-cat-has-come-back-for-his-love

Here’s my hypothesis: The romance genre is about the one true love. The one true love is most obviously displayed in the soul mate stories that abound in the paranormal subgenre. In historicals and contemporaries, the trope is evident in the failed past relationships of the protagonists. How many widows and widowers have had a marriage that was miserable? How many heroines have never had an orgasm before the hero? How many heroes have had the one evil woman in his past that made him eschew real relationships?

I’m not being critical of this. I think I read the genre for the idealized form of the one true love, the O’Henry sacrifice, the idea that love can be so deep and abiding that it lasts for all time.   I recently read a book that challenged the one true love concept and I had a hard time buying into the HEA. The male protagonist had been in love with two women and choose one. The relationship ended badly and he took up with the other woman. He tells the second woman that he would have loved the first woman until death do them part, but for relationship problems.

When writing this piece, I thought of the Jennifer Haymore book, A Hint of Wicked, a story centered around a true love triangle. The heroine, Sophie, believed her husband to have died. After a period of mourning, she remarries her husband’s best friend and heir. Her husband returns, seemingly from the dead, after eight years.

During the story, Sophie is torn between the old husband and the new husband, loving each man and struggling up until the last couple of chapters between either one. Sophie says that the one that she is left with is the one “who understood her, who made her happy. Who completed her.” She kissed him “with a thousand times more need and passion than had ever occurred between himself and [her].” Did Sophie choose the one true love? She loved both men and was happy with both of them. One reader at Amazon commented:

Hopefully, the next woman will be the REAL love of his life–and I hope Haymore delivers a fantastic love story for him. After what he’s endured and suffered for so long, I just want him to find the happiness that he truly deserves.

Sophie’s decision left one man out in the cold, one man without his true love. He believed that Sophie was his true love. In the next book, he will likely acknowledge that the feelings that he had for Sophie do not match those that he has with the heroine of “their” book.

In romance, there doesn’t seem to be room for a character to love, fully and completely, more than once. Upon meeting the true mate, the character must justify past feelings for another as not as complete or full or passionate.

In C.L. Wilson’s Lord of the Fading Lands, the hero, Rainier vel’En Daris had one mate, Sariel. When Sariel was killed, he went insane and torched the land, killing thousands. His love for Sariel is commemorated in song and art. “Ellie couldn’t count the number of times she’d stood in front of Fabrizio Chelan’s immortal Death of the Beloved and wept at the unspeakable anguish the great master had depicted on the face of Rain Tairen Soul as he held Lady Sariel in her death swoon.” Yet, even Sariel had not been his truemate. “Sariel had joined her life with his, even knowing their souls would never follow where their hearts had lead.”

In The Arrangement by Joan Wolf, Gail is a widow. She loved her husband and they created a wonderful world together but after his death, Gail falls in love with the Earl of Savile. “This had never happened to me before. Making love with Tommy had been sweet, but I had always been content to let him be the one to initiate it. Much as I had loved Tommy, I had never burned for him the way I burned now for the Earl of Savile.” When Gail decides that she is going to leave the home that she made with Tommy.

Tonight, as I stood alone in the middle of the place where we had once been so happy, I realized that the girl I had been when I married Tommy was buried here along with him. I was a woman now, a woman who had learned to rely on her own capabilities and strengths because she had a child depending upon her and no one else to turn to.

I’d like to think that if Tommy had lived, the two of them would have matured together and the Earl of Savile would have gone on to marry someone else. That Sophie would have been happy with either man. I’m not convinced that she had one true love.

Can there be equal love a second time around, only different? Can a previous marriage or previous love been good and still make you believe in the HEA of the next, second love? What books can you think of that glorified the past relationship, making it the equal to the current one? Does the romance genre

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

63 Comments

  1. Ros
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 06:30:35

    I recently read Lucy King’s Modern Heat debut, Bought: Damsel in Distress, which I really enjoyed….and there will be spoilers in my comment, sorry.

    She has both her hero and heroine dealing with the aftermath of past relationships – for the heroine it’s a miserable relationship that didn’t work out, but for the hero it’s a marriage that was happy and satisfying, and ended with the tragic death of his wife. So King sets herself the tricky task of giving him a new love of his life, without in any way denying the previous love he felt. I think she manages this very realistically and I believed in the HEA.

    But there was still part of me that somehow wanted his previous marriage not to have been perfect, for his wife to have cheated on him or used him or something that would allow me to keep that romantic ideal of the One True Love. I didn’t want the heroine to have to compete with anyone else, even if the anyone else was dead. I like to know who I’m rooting for in a romance. I don’t mind if there’s a ‘safe’ alternative, or if it takes the hero/heroine a while to work out who their One True Love is, but I don’t want there to be more than one.

  2. Mina Kelly
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 06:41:47

    I get a little jaded with books where a plotpoint or character trait hinges of having lost their “one true love” only to insist that actually the Hero or Heroine in the current book is their real “one true love”. If there can be only one (chanelling Highlander) then it can’t be one-and-a-half. There are very few characters for whom the revelation that actually they’ve met someone they love more can be realistic.

    Fictionally, I prefer “soul mates” to 1TLs. It allows for a little more flexibility, including platonic relationships and polyamoury. I also like the “lightning strikes twice” element of widow/widower books where the previous relationship was happy and utterly in love. It just speaks of hope to me.

  3. DS
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 06:44:49

    Roberta Gellis in book one of her Roselynde series set up a love match between Alinor and Simon who was decades older than she was. In the second book which took place some years later, Simon had died of what sounded like congestive heart failure and Alinor falls in love with another man who had played some small part in the first book and who was, if not the same age, maybe even a little younger than Alinor.

    However I think it was interesting because she wrote that she stopped the multigenerational series at the point she did because she did not want to deal with Alinor and Ian growing infirm or dying. Take that, Simon.

    Of course Gellis wrote these in the late 70′s/early 80′s and they are as much historical novel as romance. However, it worked for me.

  4. Marianne McA
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 07:49:31

    I always liked the way the previous marriage was handled in Mary Stewart’s ‘Madam will you talk?’

    Heroine is a widow. Long quote from very late in the book – but I don’t think it contains any spoilers.

    ‘Past and present dovetailed into this moment, and together made the pattern of my life. I would never again miss Johnny, with that deep dull aching, as if part of me had been wrenched away, and the scar left wincing with the cold; but, paradoxically enough, now that I was whole again, Johnny was nearer to me than he had ever been since the last time we were together, the night before he went away. I was whole again, and Johnny was there for ever, part of me always. Whatever I knew of life and loving was Johnny’s gift, and without it [hero's name] and I would be the poorer. We were both his debtors, now and forever.’

  5. Moriah Jovan
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 07:53:07

    I’m writing one of those right now. MAN, it’s HARD!!!

    You want to give the previous wife her due, but also portray that the present wife is his beloved.

    There’s only so much of “she was the love of my youth and you’re the love of my manhood” that you can emphasize because it still comes down to making a choice.

    In the end, I decided it was unrealistic for someone to choose because of this:

    I'd like to think that if Tommy had lived, the two of them would have matured together and the Earl of Savile would have gone on to marry someone else.

    And for my hero, it boils down to: he loves both equally, for different reasons. Wife #1 would’ve matured and grown with him, but she was sick, so she didn’t.

    IMO, there are too many variables for a person to say to #2 (if #1 was fabulous), “No, YOU are my one true love.” Basically, it’s a choice between two perfect diamonds of equal value. Their weights, cuts, and number of facets are different, but they’re both perfect. How would you choose?

  6. Keira
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 07:59:16

    I like the whole one true love plot and I can see how difficult it would be for an author to eschew convention. It would take real skill to pull it off.

  7. Angela James
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 08:04:47

    Ironically, I read a really great submission last night where one of the characters had a partner who’d died. Right to the end of the book, the character continued to say they still loved that person and always would. They never diminished the dead partner or their love for them, but the belief at the end, for me as a reader, that the two protaganists of the book were in love and meant for each other still maintained.

    I think it’s hard to do, but it can be done and some authors do sell it well. Maybe so many books portray the current hero/heroine as the “one true love” is because, as readers, we’re rooting for the characters we know, and we want their partner to love them best?

  8. Susanna Kearsley
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 08:11:42

    @Marianne McA: I was thinking exactly the same thing when I read this post!

    In Madam Will You Talk?, Charity is mourning her late husband Johnny, but her attitude even in the midst of mourning is what makes the developing relationship with the hero work so well and believably for me.

    When she starts to have feelings for the hero, and he starts to have feelings for her, she tells him:

    “What was between me and Johnny was a real thing that we built very carefully for ourselves, and when we built it, it was perfect and satisfying. But because it was blasted to bits by a German shell, that doesn’t mean I’m never to try and build anything else among the ruins…One ought to build even better the second time, and I can still build.”

    I’ve always loved that speech, and the one Marianne quoted above, because they both express the human need to live and hope and love again, without denigrating the past relationship.

  9. Moriah Jovan
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 08:14:39

    Maybe it’s because we can’t imagine moving on if our beloved died? I think?

    I asked a friend of mine about this once. He was a (youngish) widower with children and his second wife was a (youngish) widow with children. I asked about the ghosts. He said it only proved that they both had such a good experience with marriage that it was easy to go another round.

    But that still doesn’t speak to the One True Love. I don’t know. I couldn’t imagine marrying again and I know I wouldn’t try (I like my solitude too much). But my husband has also said he wouldn’t try, either, and he loves being around people. He said he couldn’t imagine loving anybody as much as he loves me.

  10. Las
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 08:16:41

    This is why I have a slight preference for romances where neither hero nor heroine has been married and/or in love before. It’s not a deal breaker or anything, but I’ve yet to read one where the author just can’t resist comparing the past love to the current, and the past one always falls short. No matter how subtly it’s done or how great the book is otherwise, I’ve come across that scenario so many times that I just have to roll my eyes.

  11. Sherry Thomas
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 08:22:26

    What about Black Silk by Judith Ivory? The heroine’s late husband was never diminished, as far as I can recall, by the new romance. It was a full-bodied, complex, warts-and-all, and very happy marriage. One of the things that make Ivory great.

  12. Hydecat
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 08:31:32

    I tend to get uncomfortable with books that harp a lot on the “one true love” or “destined mate” idea. I believe that there is more than just one person in the world who can make another person happy. It won’t be exactly the same kind of happiness because of the different personalities involved, but it won’t necessarily be a better or worse kind of happiness. This is an idea I’ve grown into. When I was younger, I believed more in the idea of one true love. My mind started to change when my mother died and I realized that I wanted my father to move on and be in a happy relationship instead of mourning her forever. I like to think that he’s found an equal, though different, happiness with his new wife.

    So, plots with second chances at love don’t bother me unless the author needlessly devalues the previous relationship out of panic that the reader won’t buy the new one. “Madam Will You Talk?” is, as people have said, a great example of a second-chance story.

  13. kathybaug
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 08:57:35

    What is the O’Henry sacrifice that Jane referred to in her entry?

  14. Moriah Jovan
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 09:01:31

  15. GingerWolf
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 09:14:12

    Loretta Chases’s heroine in “Lord Perfect” loved her first husband desperately, and that fact enhances, rather than diminishes, the passionate love story that she and the hero share.

  16. Kalen Hughes
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 09:28:16

    Here's my hypothesis: The romance genre is about the one true love . . . there doesn't seem to be room for a character to love, fully and completely, more than once. Upon meeting the true mate, the character must justify past feelings for another as not as complete or full or passionate.

    God I hope this isn't true. As an author, this seems to be an area I'm drawn to explore (maybe because it's a concept that kind of irritates me, since I've personally been totally, deeply, truly in love twice in my life already). My first book (Lord Sin) has a heroine who loved her husband, but he died. She gets a second chance with the hero. I was very careful to not go the route of this new love being the “real” one. And the book I'm working on now has a similar back-story for my heroine, albeit with a very different outcome for what happened to her afterwards . . .

  17. Joanne
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 09:39:27

    I don’t believe in Only One True Love. Not in real life and certainly not in fiction.

    Stuff happens. People die or move on or change. Humans can make the choice to rise above the crap of life and no better place to show that then in romantic fiction. Martyrs are for ‘literature’ and they (mostly) bore me to death.

    Some(real and imaginary) people find themselves with a second and often a third chance at love. If they are strong enough — and brave enough — to open their hearts and take that chance and follow the more difficult path, then I say bravo.

    It’s easier, I think, in fiction, for the author to allow their character/s to wallow in the past then to face the future. I like my heroines and heroes to have that courageousness. It’s life-affirming and real.

  18. wait, nobody told me i couldn’t do that « Kate McMurray
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 09:59:34

    [...] like the thinky posts on Dear Author, and this week’s, on whether there can be a second chance at love in a romance novel is no exception. The discussion here is about the One True Love trope in romance, wherein [...]

  19. SabrinaDarby
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 10:13:56

    One of the reasons the soul mate narrative is so powerful is because it allows us to separate out love and fate. It allows love to be a bit more promiscuous while still reserving that special something for one person, or depending on the mythology of the world, for one group.

    @Sherry Thomas:

    Hmm, I think Henry in Black Silk was diminished in the end a bit, overshadowed by his taste for “little girls” and his bitterness.

    ETA @Moriah Jovan: Hmm, O’Henry… now why is that reminding me of Stay, Moriah??? ;-)

  20. Jorrie Spencer
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 10:20:16

    Er, going off-topic…

    @Sherry Thomas: I thought Henry was an appalling character and I would never characterize their marriage like that!

    I do think Henry is complex and well-rendered and Black Silk is amazing book.

  21. Darlynne
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 10:20:46

    I can definitely buy into the idea of another true love, provided the author doesn’t lessen or find fault(s) with the original relationship. Comparisons are inevitable, but if both relationships were healthy and balanced–in addition to being profound and true–then the delight comes in the differences, the possibilities that another chance at love represents.

    When J.R. Ward writes Tohr’s story, the howls from the Wellsie fans will drown out even the outrage over Lover Unbound. Ward says there will be no diminishing of that relationship and I, for one, am eager to see how she makes it work, as I think she will.

    Which reminds me of a quote from Anne Lamott:

    “You will lose someone you can't live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn't seal back up. And you come through. It's like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly-’that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

  22. evie byrne
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 10:21:34

    I think One True Love is a symbolic or mythic theme. Romances play out the longed for meeting of The Lover and The Beloved. This is why they have so much emotional resonance.

    Real life is messy, and we have big, accommodating hearts to compensate for that. Our loves take many forms, our histories are complex, full of missed opportunities, good things gone sour, difficult choices, often an evolution through many loves. A story which charts these waters is, to me, literary fiction.

    Romance is more elemental. It’s the uniting of two halves. The broken made whole. It’s early for me and I don’t know if I’m explaining this well, but basically I think this is why so many romances are about first loves, or the H/h’s previous partners were lacking in some way. The stage has to be clear for that mystic union to take place.

  23. CupK8
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 10:44:05

    China Bride by Mary Jo Putney was the first romance I read involving a second love-of-a-lifetime that really worked for me. I like variety. Previous loves are another obstacle, and each author handles it differently. But I do prefer if they don’t make the previous love lacking in some way, unless the hero/heroine can avoid bitterness about it. That I can definitely relate to.

    After I finished China Bride, I knew that while the hero’s first love would always be dear to him, his second love fulfilled him in different, though just as equally special, ways – especially after all that happens to him in the novel.

  24. Janet W
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 10:55:54

    Carla Kelly’s Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand — the heroine is thoroughly and completely in love with her first husband and equally so with her second … my favourite of Carla Kelly’s books and it’s a hard decision because she is one fine writer!

  25. Anonymous
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 11:03:38

    Here's my hypothesis: The romance genre is about the one true love. The one true love is most obviously displayed in the soul mate stories that abound in the paranormal subgenre.

    For me it’s not about the ONE true love. I read and love the mate stories for the security of knowing the guy loves the women unconditionally. There’s no real fear of rejection or that you won’t measure up. It’s a sure thing–he loves you and somehow, someway the relationship is going to work.

    It also allows the author to skip the dating stage needed in contemporaries and dig into the relationship–the part I like. As a bonus (for me) most of the mate stories don’t have ex’s, dead spouses and people with chips on their shoulders to deal with. There’s no need or reason to have that sort of conflict when you bypass the dating stage so if it is included for some reason it’s made meaningless. It’s not that past relationships need to be white washed in order for the mate scenarios to work there’s just no need for the doubt and uncertainty those situations produce.

    Can there be equal love a second time around, only different? Can a previous marriage or previous love been good and still make you believe in the HEA of the next, second love?

    Of course. I see it used (what seems like all the time) as a secondary relationship in stories just because, I think, to have had love and lost it usually puts the characters in the next age bracket. And I’m good with that because even though I’m pushing 40 myself I still prefer my romances with characters in their 20′s or early 30′s with their whole lives ahead of them and all the potential that implies.

  26. Anon2
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 11:09:29

    Here's my hypothesis: The romance genre is about the one true love. The one true love is most obviously displayed in the soul mate stories that abound in the paranormal subgenre.

    For me it’s not about the ONE true love. I read and love the mate stories for the security of knowing the guy loves the women unconditionally. There’s no real fear of rejection or that you won’t measure up. It’s a sure thing–he loves you and somehow, someway the relationship is going to work.

    It also allows the author to skip the dating stage needed in contemporaries and dig into the relationship–the part I like. As a bonus (for me) most of the mate stories don’t have ex’s, dead spouses and people with chips on their shoulders to deal with. There’s no need or reason to have that sort of conflict when you bypass the dating stage so if it is included for some reason it’s made meaningless. It’s not that past relationships need to be white washed in order for the mate scenarios to work there’s just no need for the doubt and uncertainty those situations produce.

    Can there be equal love a second time around, only different? Can a previous marriage or previous love been good and still make you believe in the HEA of the next, second love?

    Of course. I see it used (what seems like all the time) as a secondary relationship in stories just because, I think, to have had love and lost it usually puts the characters in the next age bracket. And I’m good with that because even though I’m pushing 40 myself I still prefer my romances with characters in their 20′s or early 30′s with their whole lives ahead of them and all the potential that implies.

  27. TKF
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 11:30:17

    I read and love the mate stories for the security of knowing the guy loves the women unconditionally. There's no real fear of rejection or that you won't measure up. It's a sure thing-he loves you and somehow, someway the relationship is going to work . . . It also allows the author to skip the dating stage needed in contemporaries and dig into the relationship-the part I like.

    Whereas I loathe the “fated mates” set up because I think it taints the entire idea of both love and romance by making the whole thing inevitable. I find nothing romantic about being “fated” and bound to someone. For me, the romance is bound up in the choice, in the ability to make a choice. It's about overcoming obstacles and problems. It's ABOUT the whole “dating” part. Remove the one and skip the other and I'm truly not convinced that the guy loves her, because I haven't been shown that he loves her, just that he can't live without her due to biology or fate, which simply isn't the same thing.

  28. K. Z. Snow
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 11:33:55

    Don’t you all remember the romance line called “Second Chance at Love”? I remember it from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Every one of its releases centered on this theme. (It had a really wonderful editor-in-chief, too, whose name escapes me right now.)

  29. Bianca
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 11:38:27

    @Joanne: THIS, 1000x this. I wish romantic fiction would let go of the idea of needing to diminish or villainize dead wives/husbands/lovers. When I see that in a book, I feel, 90% of the time, it’s just lazy shorthand in lieu of actual chemistry and relationship development between the characters.

    On a side note, I actually find myself drawn to stories about widowers, because I love the idea of people getting a second chance at lasting love. It’s very hopeful.

  30. Camille
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 11:40:40

    If the the conflict in the story is about choosing between lovers, then there really does have to be something true about both loves, or the choice doesn’t have much value.

    Me, I like non-standard romance tropes. To use movies for an example: I liked “Georgie Girl” where she picked the guy who gave her the life she wanted over the passionate handsome guy. I like “Casablanca” where they give up True Love for something more important. And I like “Say Anything” where simple loyalty proves to be an actual true love.

    I think your separation of “heart” and “soul” is a good one to describe the issue. Choosing between sex appeal and friendship have so many more permutations than simply going for the One True version of both.

  31. LauraB
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 11:41:20

    Jeaniene Frost’s newest has a strong thread of SC@L. Rather than being threatened by previous beloveds both protagonists embrace those relationships and see them as something that is equal to their current relationship. That somehow the past love and the current love aren’t in tension, that loving another as passionately does not diminish the power of any love felt for another.

    I liked this, but honestly the majority of the book was kind of meh for me. Spade is no Bones.

  32. Susan/DC
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 12:02:26

    I think One True Love is a symbolic or mythic theme. Romances play out the longed for meeting of The Lover and The Beloved. This is why they have so much emotional resonance.

    Real life is messy, and we have big, accommodating hearts to compensate for that. Our loves take many forms, our histories are complex, full of missed opportunities, good things gone sour, difficult choices, often an evolution through many loves. A story which charts these waters is, to me, literary fiction.

    Romance is more elemental. It's the uniting of two halves. The broken made whole. It's early for me and I don't know if I'm explaining this well, but basically I think this is why so many romances are about first loves, or the H/h's previous partners were lacking in some way. The stage has to be clear for that mystic union to take place.

    I certainly agree that there is a mythic quality to One True Love, but I disagree about what makes a story romantic. I love the idea of the messiness of Real Life affecting the hero and heroine (it’s how they became broken or incomplete in the first place). I love knowing that their hearts and minds are big enough to grow and change and accommodate all that messiness.

    In both RL and books I despise the need to raise someone up by putting someone else down. That’s one reason I loved the Mary Stewart, Carla Kelly, and Loretta Chase examples provided above. I completely believed in the HEA in all these books because the heroines were so honest about both themselves and their heroes, first and second. Bathsheba, for example, was well aware of her husband’s flaws, but she loved him whole, and that capacity will serve her well with her new love.

  33. Lada
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 12:24:27

    Rachel Gibson’s “Daisy’s Back in Town” and SEP’s “Dream a Little Dream” both involve characters who have more than one believable true love.

    I too am looking forward to how JR Ward creates a believable second love for Thor since we’ve been told from the start that the Brothers mate for life.

    Nalini Singh has a hint of this in what she’s doing with Hawke although he wasn’t yet mated before his supposed OTL died. Bet it’ll be a big part of the conflict in his story though. :-)

  34. becca
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 12:26:24

    In one of Nora Robert’s books in the In The Garden trilogy, a woman has a happy marriage and two sons by her first husband, who dies tragically in a plane crash. She finds an equal – but different – new love in the course of the book, without ever having to slam the first husband as being “less than true”.

    It’s one thing I like about Nora’s books: she can do this believably. In Birthright, a woman has to choose between her birth mother (from whom she was kidnapped as an infant) and her adoptive mother… and finds a way to love both of them equally, without having to make one or the other “less than”.

    Love is not a zero-sum game, and Nora seems to recognize this.

  35. Jody W.
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 12:54:45

    Those cats are totally trying to kill each other.

  36. Elyssa Papa
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 13:18:35

    I hate when the dead/divorced/former spouse or lover is denigerated so new love is validated and seen as the “real thing.” It really annoyed me when a recent contemp romance did this.

    But if former lover/spouse was a major Chachbag/abuser/murderer, then by all means, rake that character over the coals.

  37. Anthea Lawson
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 13:25:00

    Julia Quinn’s When He Was Wicked — The hero watches as his best friend marries the woman he’s lost his heart to. The newlywed couple is very happy – until the husband dies unexpectedly. Lots of angst follows, and I think Quinn dealt with the aftermath very well, recognizing it DOES take time to get over loss. Years, in fact.

    This is a darker, more angsty book than the usual Quinn. Friends who don’t care for her “lighter” fare really enjoyed When He Was Wicked, fyi. Me, I like both~

  38. Ridley
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 13:41:27

    This opinion is in itself a spoiler, but I thought Broken by Meghan Hart was one of the best second chance novels I’ve read. Her love for Adam wasn’t diminished, or less special, when she decided to take up with Joe. Granted the book isn’t about she and Joe making a go of it, but it is about Sadie, her heart and coming to grips with how her heart is being pulled in more than one direction. She wonders herself if admitting she wants Joe means she didn’t love Adam enough. I felt Hart just accepted that Sadie changed and moved on, but her life with Adam had always been the real thing, until it stopped.

  39. MaryK
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 13:58:23

    One of my favorite Susan Napier’s, In Bed with the Boss, is a second-chance-at-love. I don’t think her first husband was denigrated at the end. I’ll have to re-read and check that out. :)

  40. El
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 14:22:19

    I also immediately thought of Madam, Will You Talk?

    Also, Nora Roberts does this more than once–twice in the In the Garden trilogy–both Stella and Roz completely loved their first (late) husbands and love the respective heros. In Birthright, Lana’s the same. I’ve always really liked that.

    All three have sons by the first marriage–I think that readers often really really want the kids to have had a loving father, so that makes it okay.

    Charity, in Madam, Will You Talk, didn’t have kids, but was a war widow, which I think might be another way of making it okay that the first love was true.

    I actually wish there were more cases where the first love wasn’t diminished in contrast to the second love.

    Mercedes Lackey got around it in a life-bonded pair by having the hero, who started with an older lover, end up with his reincarnation in a younger lover. I’ve always thought that was silly, but hey…

  41. Elise Logan
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 14:38:17

    While I think there is definitely a “one true love” bias, I don’t think it’s universal. The popularity of menage – particularly ones where the menage is intact for the HEA – indicates a good bit of wiggle room in the idea of a “one true love.”

    It doesn’t throw me out at all – it is my experience that one can love many people, in differing ways but with similar intensity. It isn’t a far stretch for me to believe that there are multiple possible loves for an individual.

  42. Liz
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 14:51:38

    (Really sorry if this turns out as one big block of text!)

    My main objection to the H/h having
    previously had happy relationships is the shadow – of sadness, I guess – that it casts over the story of the H/h. Something terrible must have happened to end that first, happy relationship.

    I read romances for the HEA, and don’t , really, want it to be toooo realistic. The idea that a couple deeply in love could be forever wrenched apart (usually by death) is anathema. It scares me. Of course it's real, but horrible things happen every day – I read books for the warmth, for wrongs righted, for the HEA, for the best bits of life. I don't want that tainted by the characters' residual pain at what went wrong the first time around, and I love the “one true love/soul mate” and the “villainous first wife/I never had an orgasm until I met you” devices because they maintain the inviolable security of the HEA. If you acknowledge that there used to be another, different, beautiful relationship, but that went horribly wrong, who's to say it won't go the same way for H/h?

    As Joanne says, I don’t believe in “One True Love” in life, but on the other hand, we don't enter into relationships as if, on an emotional level, that relationship is anything other than our one true love. I want the two characters I'm rooting for to ultimately find happiness that isn't qualified by all the real-life considerations and baggage that color and shade real life – they deserve their own moment in the sun, no long shadows to taint it.

    All that said, I really want to read “Madam will you talk” now.

  43. Moriah Jovan
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 15:19:59

    @Liz:

    The idea that a couple deeply in love could be forever wrenched apart (usually by death) is anathema. It scares me. Of course it's real, but horrible things happen every day – I read books for the warmth, for wrongs righted, for the HEA, for the best bits of life.

    I go back and forth, I’ll admit. One thing I always come back to, though, is a great uncle of mine who nursed his wife through a really debilitating illness, and then she died. They were late 60s maybe? I don’t remember.

    Anyway, through a weird set of coincidences, my g’uncle met up again with his high school sweetheart and they got married and it was sooo sweet.

    He lost the wife he loved, but he regained a woman he’d loved before her.

    @SabrinaDarby:

    ETA @Moriah Jovan: Hmm, O'Henry… now why is that reminding me of Stay, Moriah??? ;-)

    Don’t give it away!!! ;)

  44. MaryAnn
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 16:34:33

    Bathsheba in Lord Perfect (as previously mentioned) and also Beth in The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie were happily married before being widowed. I found it interesting that in both cases the heroines had fulfilling relationships and sex lives with their first husbands. However, both Bathsheba and Beth had first husbands that could not provide for them financially in the way their second husbands (easily) could. In this way, the second marriage provides something very important that the first marriage did not provide.

    I like widowed heroines a lot but unfortunately they tend to have cliched back stories. There is NOTHING more irritating than a virgin widow.

  45. Susan/DC
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 16:49:32

    I read romances for the HEA, and don't, really, want it to be toooo realistic. The idea that a couple deeply in love could be forever wrenched apart (usually by death) is anathema. It scares me. Of course it's real, but horrible things happen every day – I read books for the warmth, for wrongs righted, for the HEA, for the best bits of life. I don't want that tainted by the characters' residual pain at what went wrong the first time around, and I love the “one true love/soul mate” and the “villainous first wife/I never had an orgasm until I met you” devices because they maintain the inviolable security of the HEA.

    This is an example of how we are all so different — not right/wrong or better/worse, just different. For me the OTL and soul mate tropes most definitely do not make the HEA inviolable. Unless you’re talking immortals in a paranormal, belief in only one possible match for each person doesn’t guarantee the HEA, it just means that if s/he does die, the hero or heroine will be left alone with no hope for another relationship. I therefore take comfort and find warmth and the best bits of life in second chance at love stories. As the “Madam Will You Talk” quotes show, Charity is enriched by her memories and experiences, not tainted by residual fear.

  46. SonomaLass
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 17:02:07

    I loved Jennifer Haymore’s book because it took on this issue. If her husband hadn’t been presumed dead, she would never have explored the relationship with the other man. Because she did, she grew and changed, presumably in different ways than she would have if she’d remained in her first marriage, so that even though she still loved her first husband, she ended up picking the other one. I like how this explores the idea of a relationship shaping who we are — that a different partner leads us to a different place over the years. That rings true to me.

  47. Sandy James
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 17:15:03

    @Elyssa Papa:

    I hate when the dead/divorced/former spouse or lover is denigerated so new love is validated and seen as the “real thing.”

    Agreed. My fourth Damaged Hero book is about a widower who truly loved his wife. I had to be very careful not to make his history with her seem trivial or take anything away from it and yet still make his attraction to the heroine not seem like a betrayal. I wrote in a teenage daughter to help show how important that first marriage was to the hero, and her interactions with the other characters serve as a reminder that his late wife was a very special person whom he loved.

    I believe some people are lucky enough to find love more than once. So a well-written romance should be able to realistically and endearingly portray love the second time around.

  48. TKF
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 20:18:36

    so that even though she still loved her first husband, she ended up picking the other one.

    Wha? I guess I’d assumed without reading the book that she had to have chosen the first one, since that’s the one she’s still legally married to. Choosing hubby number two makes for one big, ugly mess . . . and one very expensive divorce.

  49. Mary Anne
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 20:42:42

    I prefer “second chance to get it right with the first love” to “second time around” romances. I think the problem is that in the “second time around” tales, the second romance is the ticket the reader bought.

    One exception that comes to my mind is Susan Elizabeth Phillips “Dream A Little Dream.” The closest the first wife comes to being denigrated is the hero saying she was “too perfect” and he needed some room for flaws.

    Generally though, I think that the love the reader is rooting for needs to be shown as bigger, stronger, better. The reader bought the ticket for the real thing and will feel cheated if she ends up with a second rate substitute – we all get too much of that in the real world.

  50. Kaetrin
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 21:10:25

    I thought Robyn Carr did a pretty good job in Virgin River. Mel’s first husband was very much loved and she grieved him terribly. Mark (I think that was his name) was never villainised. Mark and Jack were presented as two very different characters but both were good. Mel would never have left Mark but, being widowed, she was available (after a while) to have something special with Jack.

    The only thing was that the sex was hawter with Jack than anything Mel had ever experienced with Mark – which probably wasn’t necessary but I still love the book.

    I think people change and grow all the time and each partner brings with them the sum total of everything that has shaped them to that date. It stands to reason that if one is with Person A, their experiences will be different than if they are with Person B – hence, the person they become will be somewhat different whichever person they are with(if that makes sense!).

    I don’t have any trouble believing in a second chance at love when it’s done right – as in Virgin River or in some of the other examples above (Roselynde and Alinor were excellent books IMO).

  51. EC Sheedy
    Mar 10, 2010 @ 00:51:34

    @Moriah Jovan:

    And a jewel of a short story! I haven’t thought about The Gift of the Magi in a long time. Must reread.

  52. Silvia
    Mar 10, 2010 @ 00:56:46

    I actually have a real story kink for heroes and heroines who have a strong love and respect for a past ‘ex’, who’s now their close friend. (I think because it makes me feel that this person is honorable and worthy of trust. Clearly they treat their partners right.)

    I doesn’t bother me at all, if they had past loves where the relationship fell apart, as long as the hero/heroine speaks of that past love positively. (I don’t like to read about a hero saying horrible things about their ex-wives or girlfriends.)

    I guess because I think that you can love someone very much, and yet still not be able to *be* with them in a lasting way. Maybe you care about each other but you just can’t co-exist and make a happy life together. And I expect the book to sell me on the idea that THIS new relationship will have all the required pieces of the puzzle and a permanent HEA will work this time. (“Great sex” does not convince me, by the way. LOL.)

    If a hero or heroine has a dead partner, I certainly don’t need the author to “prove” how much more awesome the new love is. I mean, that old love is dead! Literally. They are not a threat.

  53. Susan/DC
    Mar 10, 2010 @ 07:24:45

    Apologies for leaving so many comments, but for some reason this topic keeps drawing me back. Promise that I’ll stop now (is there a 12-step program for this?)

    Generally though, I think that the love the reader is rooting for needs to be shown as bigger, stronger, better. The reader bought the ticket for the real thing and will feel cheated if she ends up with a second rate substitute – we all get too much of that in the real world.

    This is probably true for many readers but not for me. I don’t need to think the new love is the bestest in every dimension. What I do need is to know that it is deep and true. It’s not an inferior substitute but what is right for the H/H right now and into the future. Because they are different people than they were when they entered the prior relationship, what is right today may not have been right in the past. Or the new love may speak to them in ways that the prior love did not — not better or worse, just different.

    Linda Howard’s Son of the Morning is another good example of second chance at love. We only get a brief glimpse of Ford at the beginning of the book, but he’s clearly brave and strong and loves Grace enough to protect her with his life. Then she meets Niall, but by then she’s a different person. She’s been on the run for a year and become an intrepid heroine who has outwitted bad guys and used her intelligence to decipher an ancient legend (hard to believe this book is by the same woman who wrote An Independent Wife, a misnomer of a title if ever there was one). Each of Grace’s loves is a hero, each of them is just right for her when she meets him, and neither of them is second-rate. If Howard had made Ford a conspirator with the bad guys or somehow less than he was, the book would have been less powerful and thus less hopeful and less romantic.

  54. Sherry Thomas
    Mar 10, 2010 @ 08:14:15

    @SabrinaDarby:

    Hmm, I don’t quite remember that, cuz it’s been a while since I read BLACK SILK.

    @Jorrie Spencer:

    Henry is appalling in many ways, but he was not appalling to Submit. And that, to me, is what makes that book so fantastic. That you and I might find life with him unbearable, but she enjoyed it.

  55. Polly
    Mar 10, 2010 @ 11:22:10

    @Sherry Thomas:

    I think that’s what ends up squaring the circle with Black Silk–Henry might have been wonderful to Submit, but the reader is privy to all the other characters’ comments about Henry’s bitterness, hang-up on very young girls, etc, so while I as the reader can accept that he wasn’t bad for Submit, it’s still not a very sympathetic sort of relationship. What reader is going to root for the old guy with a thing for young girls? Even if it was real and good, it doesn’t feel like real competition to the new relationship, for the reader (at least, for this reader). The author/story never diminishes Henry for Submit, but he’s diminished for the reader, and I think that’s what’s really key in the second time around stories, that the reader is convinced that the new relationship is better. The h/h need to be happy and planning for the future, but it’s the reader that needs to be convinced that the new relationship is better (which sometimes means the h/h think so too, but not always).

  56. Jorrie Spencer
    Mar 10, 2010 @ 11:33:25

    @Sherry Thomas:

    Henry is appalling in many ways, but he was not appalling to Submit.

    I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that :)

  57. Janet Mullany
    Mar 10, 2010 @ 12:06:12

    As usual, late to the party. My first book Dedication (2005, the only Signet Regency with two bondage scenes) had a hero who’d been passionately in love with his late wife, something that raised a few eyebrows. But think about it: A guy in his early 40s (another eyebrow raiser) who’d never had any sort of emotional involvement? Is this a monster, or what?

    For the most part I only want to read/write characters who’ve been thru the wringer by being in love a few times. It makes the stakes greater.

    On an interesting sideline, I read somewhere (Lawrence Stone, I think) that the average span for a marriage in the Georgian period was fourteen years, the natural result of death by childbirth (or papercut). So there would have been many second, third or more marriages and blended families.

  58. morelia
    Mar 10, 2010 @ 12:50:20

    I find the one true love story a bit cheesy so if I even find the phrase on a book I will usually stop reading. But I can appreciate knowing that a couple is going to be together in the end because they are meant to be together, is just that I don’t like the author to tell me that. I like a bit of uncertainty in my stories.

  59. morelia
    Mar 10, 2010 @ 12:57:04

    In real life I don’t believe in there being a one true love for person since humans are not static. Our opinions and a bit of our personalities are always changing so why shouldn’t the love of our life change too?

    Sorry for double posting but for some reason I can’t edit my previous post.

  60. ami
    Mar 10, 2010 @ 20:37:51

    I pretty much avoid all the shapechanger stories because of the fated to be with you trope. I’m annoyed that both of them have no choice in the matter and just POOF! there’s the chemistry(usually the girl resists for a bit). I was also rather annoyed at how they kept going on how Sariel was not his true mate in C.L Wilson book. Although at the same time I thought that the hero couldn’t love anyone more than his previous wife, and I felt that while the author had to go the TRUE mate stuff I still think she did a pretty believable job of making sure the Hero loved the Heroine for her, not JUST because of the bond.

    Sometimes the first love is so great you wonder how the hero/heroine can get on with another love. I mean in Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas, clearly this couple was in love and the current heroine reading the book also loved the hero, and vice versa. In the end the author established that the hero could love in different ways without belittling the previous relationships in any way.

  61. Suze
    Mar 11, 2010 @ 20:06:57

    Don't you all remember the romance line called “Second Chance at Love”? I remember it from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Every one of its releases centered on this theme.

    All the ones I can remember were a couple that had, or had almost, broken up, and the story was about them rekindling their love, so it was still the one true love. Mind you, I only remember about two books, and vaguely.

    I’m currently re-reading Crash Into Me by Jill Sorenson, which is a WONDERFUL book. The hero is a widower.

    “I’m not looking for a replacement for Olivia,” he admitted. “What I’ve always wanted is to have her back.”

    Her eyes filled with tears, and she tried to push away from him.

    “Wait,” he said. “If I had the choice, right now, to have her in my arms or to hold on to you, I’d choose you.” He cleared his throat, feeling anger and sadness building there. “And I hate you for that. I hate you for taking her away from me.”

    Sigh. Drool. Sigh again.

  62. Silvia
    Mar 13, 2010 @ 20:11:11

    @Janet Mullany:

    //But think about it: A guy in his early 40s (another eyebrow raiser) who'd never had any sort of emotional involvement? Is this a monster, or what?//

    That’s an excellent point.

    I admit that I find it disconcerting when a hero seems to have found no woman to be of serious value before meeting the heroine. It honestly doesn’t make me think the heroine is His One True Love. It makes me worry/suspect that the hero is emotionally stunted. That’s just not healthy.

  63. REVIEW: Quarterback Daddy by Linda Barrett | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Mar 27, 2010 @ 12:01:57

    [...] Alexis be a ringer for Dan’s dead wife. But after reading Jane’s opinion piece “Is there Really a Second Chance at Love in Romance,” this bit from Dan eased my mind. “No one, Ally, should settle for being second best. [...]

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