Does Romance Need More Older Protagonists?
A few years ago, my spouse and I drove to Los Angeles for his birthday. I was mostly going for Disney, but the main purpose of the trip was to see Clapton play at the Forum on what was supposed to be his farewell tour. (This was before I knew he was racist AND anti-vaccine, but whatever, Gary Clark Jr. played first and that was all I cared about.) Clapton’s drummer was an older guy — white spiky hair, tank top, covered in tattoos. And every time the big screens on the sides of the stage cut to him, especially during the distinct drum riff in “White Room,” all I could think about was him as a romance novel hero. Or someone like him. How cool would it be to have an aging rock drummer as the center of a romance? I even wrote a scene in my head about some precocious kid telling their older teacher about how their granddad needed a girlfriend.
But I can’t imagine actually being able to pick up that romance and read it.
It wasn’t very long ago that you could hardly find a romance featuring someone older than 25, and I’m still noticing now that most of the romance protagonists I read about are *maybe* my age or just a touch younger. They’re 30 and thriving, or whatever place they are in their lives. Maybe one of them is approaching 40. Sometimes I luck into finding a romance with one character 40 or older, but their love interest is younger (sometimes much younger). But rarely do we find characters older than that, let alone in their 50s and 60s (which is maybe why I jump for the one-click button any time I see a cover with silver hair). Sure, romance is about finding your One True Love(s) or whatever, but we’ve got a lot of romance nowadays where people are far beyond their first partner. So why aren’t we seeing more people over 50 falling in love with each other?
(My theory? People are wary of reading/writing older people having sex. But you know what? They deserve their fun — have you heard about how much sex happens in senior retirement communities?)
But anyway. The big question: do we need more romance featuring people over 50? The answer, just like that about other underrepresented groups in romance, is a resounding yes. Sure, we can point to some we’ve enjoyed reading and some authors that do it well, but if we can do that, we definitely need more. No group is represented enough until we not only have to work to name all of them, but we just can’t, because there are too many to name. Are the big five (there are still five, right?) publishing them with splashy covers and big marketing pushes? No. Are the review sites and big book sites and big book verticals for national and international newspapers covering the few that exist? No. Because they’re rarely published traditionally in the first place. And when they are?
Every reader, especially those who are not young, not white, not conventionally attractive, would love to see themselves represented more in books, no matter what it is they enjoy reading. When it comes to romance, there is that element of fantasy, yes, but there is also a verisimilitude that draws readers to a story. If someone who is older — whether they’re perpetually single or divorced or widowed or what — is at the center of a story where they can find love, whether afresh or anew, isn’t that a draw not only to readers with similar stories of their own, but all readers interested in that particular trope or setup?
Let’s look at some examples of books featuring older couples, just to see how awesome they can be.
Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan
This is an incredibly distinct book — not just because there is a gorgeous silver-haired woman on the cover, but that she is one of two women over 60 falling in love…during the Victorian era. This book is part of Courtney Milan’s Worth series (Mrs. Martin is a character we meet briefly in one of the Worth siblings’ love stories), but is set mostly apart, so anyone can pick it up and read it. It’s a lovely, although brief, combination of sweet romance and fun hijinx to get back at a pretty terrible person. Have at it.
When Love Calls by Sharon C. Cooper
When Mona finally leaves the man she’s been with for 35 years, she’s ready for a fresh start. This includes starting over in a new place, with a new maintenance man on site. Said man happens to be Dex, who she’s met in passing and finds very attractive. But while she’s not looking to do more than date, Dex is in search of the real deal.
Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory
When her daughter invites her to spend Christmas with her in England, Vivian is hesitant to leave her work behind. But she
is coerced agrees and finds herself mostly alone in the English Countryside while her daughter works for a very familiar-seeming duchess in the days leading up to the holiday. What she never expected was to stumble across Malcolm Hudson, private secretary to the queen, in the Duchess’s kitchen. And when he offers to give her a tour of the grounds, something new might be starting.
And I don’t know when this is coming out, but when it does I’m reading the hell out of it.
Note that three of the four books listed are published independently, by the way. Traditional has a lot of catching up to do.
There are many, many gaps to be filled in romance featuring older people. No matter the sub-genre, it would be awesome to see older people falling in love. Remember that tweet (tumblr post? FB post? whatever) a while back about an octogenarian going on a fantasy adventure? Give us that in romance form. Give me a 75-year-old falling in love with an ancient vampire who was turned in their 50s. Give me a gruff retired athlete or motorcyclist riding across the country, give me an arrogant opera conductor, give me blacksmiths and pirates and shopkeepers. The amazing thing about romance is that while there are situations and tropes that align, no story pulling them together is going to be the same. Which means even if a story has been “done before,” there’s still space for it to exist with characters over 50 falling in love.
So let’s see it, publishing. Give us more books about these awesome, seasoned characters who have seen plenty of the world and are still deserving of finding love, romance, and — if they want it — plenty of sexual intimacy.