Historical romance heroines have a tendency to be much younger than their contemporary counterparts. Blame it on fact (women used to get married much earlier) or fiction (it’s hard to keep a historical heroine the requisite un-self-aware virgin once she’s reached her mid-thirties), but the reality is staring us right in the face.
Regency Heroine, aged 19:
“Look at me! I’m young and headstrong and deeply in love with a hardened rake ten years my senior! Watch as I lure him with my precocity and innocence, redeeming him from his womanizing ways with the solace of my perfectly rounded and pert bosom!”*
Contemporary Heroine, aged 19:
“I am a mere foil for my older self. At 19, I made incalculable errors with the love of my life and we parted ways. Only 10 years from now, when I’m older, wiser, more experienced, and have a career of my own, will I be able to reconnect with my one true love for our happily ever after.”
Now, I’m not saying there aren’t exceptions to these rules. Some great historicals deal with women who have moved beyond their schoolroom miss days by at least a good decade, and most of contemporary urban fantasies and paranormals I’ve read have heroines in their young- to mid-twenties (it’s the ideal butt-kicking age, I imagine). But the overarching framework states that authors are allowed to have young heroines ONLY as long as it’s at least 100 years ago. A young heroine today would become part of a Young Adult novel, with sex scenes cut back appropriately.
Here’s my problem with this: I met my husband when we were both 17. We started dating at 19. We married at 21. Eight years later, we’re still very much happy and in love and planning to continue that way. By virtue of romance novel “rules,” however, such a story would most likely never hit the shelves.
Because it’s far too rare? Nope. My brother and several of my friends married equally young.
Because our story isn’t compelling? Well, yes, it’s not really all that exciting. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t embellish and plot and make it into romance novel fodder.
Because we were emotionally unprepared for marriage at that age? Possibly. But we’ve worked through such shortcomings as a couple since then.
I don’t really have a grandiose closing statement bringing down the romance industry for it’s strict view of age or making a plea for more 19-year-old contemporary heroines. In fact, I probably wouldn’t read a straight contemporary with a heroine that young, and contrary to my own story, I think marriage is an undertaking best saved for at least the mid-twenties.
I just think that although we often address the romance double standard of men being allowed to be sexually promiscuous while women must remain untouched, we rarely consider that discounting young, contemporary love is equally limiting.
*I write and adore Regencies, so I mock with love. Always love.