This is labeled Part 1 because I expect there will be future parts.
Our readership for Romance and all its variants has a deep skepticism about the existence and plausibility of the Happily Ever After ending, or HEA.
This is based on real life experience. Few of us know or have experienced and survived the exaggerated, dramatic, larger-than-life Events that divide a life.
Those Events come roaring into a Life like a flashflood, boiling rapids, sweeping away the person and everything they have built and identify with.
Astrologically, there are two planets that produce this effect when in certain transits -- Uranus which acts without apparent warning, and Pluto which undermines structures and passes, leaving the Events to surface later (like a Sinkhole opening up under your car -- it seems sudden, but took months of rain to hollow out the hole leaving just the thin cover you fall through.)
These outer planets move slowly through a Natal Chart. Pluto and Neptune (Romance is related to Neptune) never make it all the way in a normal lifespan.
So at birth, life is set up to hit "rapids" once or twice. The tumbling destruction can last a couple of years, or up to ten years or so. While you are inside this pattern, you can't even think that there will ever be an "End" at all -- that this is life.
And some Lives actually go on and on like that, from pillar to post, like a Soap Opera plot.
So we look around at our own life, at the lives of others we know, and see there is no Ever After -- only Happily For Now. People who thought they were Soul Mates get divorced in 5 or 10 years. It's not real, but we wish it were.
Or, if we yearn to attain this state of HEA with a real Soul Mate, we kind of hope it's not real because as life goes on, it's too late.
What if others have attained what we want, and we are locked out of happiness? That is just too bleak and painful a way to look at the world.
Many people, given a glimpse of such a harsh reality, internalize the disappointment and transmute it into anger. Carrying internalized anger often shortens lifespan.
So a lot scientific studies have investigated "Happiness" and the mental and emotional strategies of "Successful People."
There seems to be a universal yearning for an inner peace that is just beyond reach.
Here is an article referencing a wide variety of studies probing the mental condition known as "Happiness."
BTW "Happiness" is usually symbolized in Astrology by Jupiter and/or Venus.
Here is the article I found on Flipboard and spread through Facebook:
3 secrets to dealing with anger the right way, according to neuroscience
At about the same time, I got drawn into a Facebook discussion on a Romance Writer Group about whether Romance is real. Some writers said yes, and cited how many decades they had been happily married to the same guy. Others said no, and cited failed Relationships. It was a long, involved and passionate discussion.
At one point I said:
Remember that space ships and life on other planets and even cordless phones (Robert Heinlein), was all classified as "escapist fantasy" by most of the world while we (Science Fiction Readers, Star Trek Fans) went and made it Reality. Romance writers can do the same for the Soul Mate and HEA concepts.
The trick of communicating the passionate aspiration to make the HEA a reality in our modern world is in the Worldbuilding.
That connection between the Soul Mate being Real and the worldbuilding behind every novel, even Contemporary Romance needs worldbuilding, is what I go on about on this blog.
To solve that "Is it Wish Fulfillment Fantasy OR Is It Real?" dilemma for you so you can convey the ambition to Make It So to your readers, I pointed to that article cited above, DEALING WITH ANGER ACCORDING TO NEUROSCIENCE.
That article talks about point of view (though they don't know it). The best graphic I've found to explain what that article is talking about is
Writing craft requires the arduous practice of getting people up out of their circles and squares either/or mentality and into an understanding of Reality that transcends and joins the two options into a seamless whole while, at the same time it validates all the choices in the dropdown menu.
Life is not an either/or choice. Nor is it a single choice you must make from a long list of choices. Nor can anyone "give you a choice." Choice is yours, and the options among which you choose are yours to invent.
Your life is yours -- and nobody else's.
Your life is unique and you are unique. Your life is a work of art you are creating from the raw material you find around you. What raw material you can find depends on how good you get at the "reassessment" exercise suggested in that Psychology article on Anger and Neuroscience.
You attain that much coveted inner tranquility called "Happily" by "reassessing" what you are looking at and choosing an appropriate inner dialogue to describe it to yourself.
Once you have your description, that raw material becomes yours and you can craft it into a Happily that can plausibly last Ever After.
If you, the writer, can not SEE that potential in the raw material around you, it is very likely you will not be able to reveal that potential to your readers.
A great Romance, the kind of book or series of books that force readers to memorize your byline and look for more, is one that the reader finishes and turns around to start reading again.
Readers reread books because they evoke an ambience that tantalizes the edges of their everyday Reality with the promise of insights beyond human ken.
What you put into a novel is not what the reader gets out of it.
But if you put in your vision of Reality, the reader can take out of the book their own vision of Reality.
Yes, reading fiction is an adventure into the amorphous subjective world -- but in the hands of a fine craftsman, subjectivity becomes objective.
That's what happened with STAR TREK. Fans grabbed it out of Gene Roddenberry's hands, and "made it so." It was college age kids who wanted to play video games with kids on other campuses who invented ways of connecting computers. It was a guy off in Europe who figured out the idea of the "internet browser" -- software that interprets code.
Now we do this on our mobile devices.
With massive data crunching capacity, we are now exploring the farthest galaxies back to the beginning of time. We are finding planets, some that might harbor life (maybe not as we know it, but life.)
We can't say this is a direct result of Star Trek -- a silly, cheaply made cardboard set, silly-uniform TV show with pointed ears -- but that is also the way Romance works, indirectly.
Romance Genre is uniquely suited to showing (not telling) readers how to achieve that mental shift described in that Psychology article.
The most efficient way of showing readers how to think in "reassessment mode" is by using the techniques of Science Fiction Writers and Gamers, combined and repurposed.
The Romance Genre of 40 years ago is GONE -- the Romance Genre of "now" is over-emphasizing monkey-sex (not that such isn't important in correct proportion), while the Romance Genre of ten years from now is barely glimpsed.
We are pioneers in the most exciting field extant.
One of the Romance writers on that Facebook Group noted that one reason many Romance novels seem implausible is that the Relationship develops too fast, without context and time for the psychological lessons to sink in and be assimilated.
I agree the "speed" in many Romance novels ruins the effect which is, I think, why we're seeing a rise of the Adventure-Kickass-Heroine-With-Love-Story-Sidebar genre -- in Fantasy, SF, Military SF, and Paranormal (Vampire slayers etc).
In Science Fiction, the series long ago became the best selling format, even before the Multi-Generation-Novel format.
Long ago, I had a Best Selling Romance Writer come to me with a Werewolf novel she had written but couldn't sell in either romance or Science Fiction markets.
She asked why it wouldn't sell to the SF market. I told her what to change. She did. She sold it to a science fiction imprint.
Then she called me up a few years later appalled that the publisher was going to REPRINT it and was asking for a sequel. She didn't know if she should be offended and say no to that offer.
Back then, Romance didn't get reprinted and didn't have series, but Science Fiction did. I lived to see that massive shift in the Romance genre toward the publishing habits of the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre, and I am so pleased I did. We are headed into a convergence of genres which will then diverge into new categories with new labels.
It will all work out, but every novel needs at least a Love Story if not a full blown, giddy-and-crazy Romance driving the plot.
So, based on that Psychology article, my conclusion is that Soul Mates and the HEA are Real -- which is why they make the best Fantasy!
We all live in a subjective bubble that warps the Reality that is objectively out there. We can change how we regard things and that will objectively change how objective life goes.
So the choice "HEA real or fantasy" is a false choice. It is both real and fantasy. Fantisize efficiently and you can realize it in your life.
Real life is mostly imagination, as it says in that article.