Heroines and Aging: A Bit Painfully

birthdaycakecandles Back in July of 2006, Robin Uncapher wrote an At the Back Fence column (#232) that is so timely for me as to be kind of eerie. She discussed the role age plays on romance novels: in who buys them, in how the age of the heroine is perceived, in what is considered acceptable versus creepy…well, just go read the article because I’m not doing it justice.

This particular topic is timely because next week I will celebrate my birthday. I’ll confess that this particular one shifts me closer to fifty than to forty, and if I think on it too long, I tend to get a big panicky. I know I’m still in the prime of my life, hopefully with at least another four or five decades to go. To call myself ‘old’ is as insulting and ridiculous as the size 2 supermodel calling herself fat.

Even so, the truth of it is that the idea of turning 50 scares me silly. See, fiftysomething is the age I think of as my grandmother’s generation. In my head – and heart – my dearly departed Granny is in her fifties and I’m barely even twenty. I may have all the trappings of an adult – mortgage, children, utility bills and a minivan in the shop – but I’m still just a teenager inside.

Which leads me to Robin’s column. I admit – albeit shamefully – to a great deal of ageism when it comes to the types of heroines I prefer.

When I first began reading romance novels, I though nothing at all of drastic age differences between the hero and heroine. An 18-year-old ingenue paired with a 30-plus hero seemed only natural. Not in the least bit strange or off. Of course, I mostly read historicals then, but in my young mind, 18 was certainly mature enough to be engaging in a Serious Relationship with Hot Sex. Since most of the 18-year-old guys I knew were far from sexy and mature, it also made sense that an older hero step in to educate the young lass. I couldn’t imagine any of my guy friends in such a sexy, dashing role.

As I’ve aged, not only does such a wide age gap between hero and heroine raise the ick-factor flag (pedophilia is in no way sexy or acceptable), the idea of an 18-year-old as a mature character becomes laughable. What in the heck does a person less than two decades old know about real love and commitment and what it takes to make a life together? Sure, young nubile bodies make for pretty mental images when reading those sex scenes, but women that age should be attending frat parties/cotillions/boarding school, not crossing verbal swords and exchanging bodily fluids with a man old enough to be her…much older brother.

So I entered the phase in my life when the ideal age for a heroine became something in her low twenties. Young enough for all the parts to still be firm and high, yet old enough to pass the jail-bait test. Certainly people who are over 20 are no longer kids.

Except then I got older and wiser. Although girls at 20, 21 and even 22 are technically not teenagers, I identify those ages with my own college years. I certainly wasn’t all that grown-up when I was in college, despite the fact that I could stay out all night. If you can’t buy a drink in a bar legally, you certainly shouldn’t be allowed to star in a romance novel. Once upon a time, 22 seemed very adult. Now, not so much.

Which led me to the perfect age of a heroine to be her late twenties or early thirties. Old enough for the shock of reality to have settled, for some heartbreak to soften the edges, and for the inkling of what relationships require to blossom. Young enough that good health is taken for granted.

And I would have expected as I slide down the hill into my sixth decade on Earth, I would be ready for heroines in their forties and maybe even fifties. Ladies I could identify with, who shared the same amount of life experiences I have. Oddly, though, I find that not to be the case. I seem to have hit my romance novel heroine age limit, and I find that I balk at stories which feature heroines older than their late thirties.

This may be mostly due to my inability to completely divorce myself from reality. At my age, the likelihood I will meet a dashing ex-Navy SEAL/cowboy/millionaire and he will take me away after learning that I’m a spy/repressed librarian/immediately orgasming virgin is about on par with my chances of getting struck by lightning after having bought a winning billion dollar payout lottery ticket. I no longer can imagine myself in the romance-novel scenario, so I’m unable to accept heroines who are my age contemporaries as the stars of such. Rather, I need my heroines to be young enough that such a possibility is…well, possible, in order for me to lose myself in the story.

I don’t know how I’ll feel when I hit 50 or 60 or 70. There’s a good chance I’ll look back fondly on my forties – the decade when my kids truly became independent – and think of it as the time in my life when I was the sexiest and most alive. I’ll perhaps want to read stories about 40 year-old divorcees finding love a second time around.

Now, though, I need my reading to take me away from my reality. I need to come to terms with my own aging before I can come to terms with the aging of fictional characters. No, I’ll never be able to lose myself in stories where the heroine is barely graduated high school unless they are Young Adult in nature, in which I don’t even try to identify with the heroine but rather enjoy remembering the experiences she is undergoing. But I’m not far enough away from my twenties and thirties to think of those ages as too young yet. I’m not ready to mentally age even if my body won’t stop getting older every single year.

Do you have trouble reading about characters of a certain age? If so, why? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

– Jenna Harper

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55 Responses to Heroines and Aging: A Bit Painfully

  1. lauren says:

    Fifty for me came and went with not much fanfare and now that I am closer to 55 I take stock quite often and don’t understand why I feel so wonderful, albeit a bit of stiffness when I sit to long and a bit of sag that never existed before, but all in all I still recognize myself in the mirror.
    I am somewhat frustrated with the younger heroine at times, if the story is well written that fact falls away for me, but if the story should be sub-par its like a mosquito buzzing your ear at night.
    I too would like to see older heroines in their 40′s would be nice along side the hero who is older too.
    We of a certain age are not dead yet and we are quite vibrant and full of life, of course an Advil here or there doesn’t hurt. :):):)

  2. Kim T. says:

    I’m approaching forty (OMG…that’s the first time I’ve admitted it!) and I, too, get grossed out (at least now) by much younger heroines and older heroes in the old-school romances. I agree that late 20s-early 30s are the best age for romances, especially contemporary, and they allow for more emotional depth in historicals. Somehow I feel like I’m never aware of how old most paranormal heroines are while I’m reading them. Maybe when some characters are immortal or what have you, the reader is less likely to worry about the age of the heroine. I’m reading Sarah Mayberry’s The Other Side of Us (so far another great one from an auto-buy author) and I was pleasantly surprised that both characters are almost forty.

    Still I think I like older heroines in women’s fiction where the romance is less important (but often still a part of the plot). In high school and through my twenties, I really loved Anne Rivers Siddons novels and most of her heroines are in their forties.

  3. Wendy says:

    I think the turning point for me was when I became a mother. I waited ’til I was 30, and even then the late teens heroines were becoming iffy. But having a daughter changed my perspective even more. Its hard to get into a romance that in real life would have you buying a gun, which is certainly how I’d feel if a man in his 30s took up with my kid.

    I think age is why my friends and I are enjoying Kristen Ashley so much right now. Her heroines are mostly in their 30s, and several are in their 40s.

    • AARJenna says:

      Exactly – I have a daughter in her mid-teens, and whenever I come across a heroine around who age who isn’t starring in a Young Adult title, I cringe. No way can I imagine my daughter in such situations!

    • Joane says:

      I have a daughter so my feelings are more or less the same as yours. I wouldn’t like her to be with a man in his thirties, I wouldn’t find it romantic. I would think he is a pervert.

  4. Lynda X says:

    You know, I was shocked years ago at an interview of a woman in her 80′s who said that inside, she was the same as she’d always been. Of course, that didn’t mean that she had the same beliefs, etc. that she had had in her teens or even the fifties, but it did mean that she was the “same person, without age” on the inside. As someone who is now in her sixties, I can attest to that.

    You’re absolutely right about the ick factor of a 16-22 year old with a 30-39 year old hero, but somehow, that wasn’t a problem when these books came out. I agree with you about the ideal age of the h/h, but I pretty much forget the age (unless a big deal is made of it) of the h&h. Oddly enough, I’m not big on romances of fifty year olds, but figure it’s just a matter of time until someone writes a great romance, and I will be.

  5. Brenda Schmitt says:

    As I get older, I find myself drawn more to books that feature heroines closer to my age (47). Although most of their back stories are miles away from my single, never been married and childless status, I find them more identifiable than books that feature the late-20′s or even early 30′s aged female. I don’t need to (or want to, for that matter) live vicariously through a young, physically perfect woman who owns her own business, who owns a house which she attends to meticulously, and cleans or cooks to relieve stress. I don’t get her because I never was her.

    I recently picked up two novels with heroines “of a certain age” and both ended up in a “did not finish” pile. One of the books featured a group of three 63-year old women living together in Hawaii and eventually taking a group vacation in Costa Rica. I get that it’s hot in both locations, but was it believable that they wore short shorts (not just shorts) all the time? When they all decided to shop for bikinis I deleted the book from my kindle. I felt cheated because it read like the author’s fantasy of what life in her 60s would be like. We all know that the nubile 60 year old is the norm, right?

    I love heroines that stray from the romance norm. I make a deeper connection with them which leads to a better reading experience.

    • AARJenna says:

      I think the type of stories one enjoys might influence what ages work. When I’m reading women’s fiction or literary novels or contemporaries set in small towns, for example, I can relate to heroines who are around my age. Their experiences are at least possibly like my own. When I read romantic suspense or paranormal/urban fantasy, I need the heroines to be younger.

      Your remark about the sixty-somethings buying bikinis reminds of seeing “older” women in stores who are dressed like their teen daughters. There comes an age when you need to begin dressing more age-appropriately. There is something to be said for aging gracefully. :)

    • pwnn says:

      It depends on the 60 year old. have you seen Helen Mirren in a bikini?


      I like older heroines and heroes – and characters in general – always have – even in my teens – though older then was late 20s and 30s. LOL

      A wise man (Pierce Brosnan) once said

      “To my eye, women get sexier around 35. They know a thing or two, and knowledge is always alluring.”

      I think that goes for men as well. I’d welcome more heroes and heroines from late 30s and up. Often in those books where the older romance of couples in their 40s, 50s and 60s are featured they’re the more interesting character sand storyline and it seems obvious they’re the couple the author wants to be writing about – but they need to sell the book with younger leads. I look forward to Willigs new book! I just wish I liked Kristen Ashley’s writing and characterization more because I’d love to have a new stash of 40 something heroes and heroines.

      People with life experience are in general more interesting. That’s not to say there isn’t the occasional wise/fascinating/interesting/compelling 18-25 year old but I find them harder to believe and most authors just rely on the fact that they’re young, dewy eyed, and firm as characterization. B-O-R-I-N-G. But I good author and better than good writing can make me believe they’re viable leads.

      That’s easier to believe in historicals though because no matter what people now say people then matured and grew up faster and earlier. They were adults at 17 or 18. Women were ready to run households and raise families, men went off to war even younger than that and most worked from childhood. Nowadays we have more options but also a more extended adolescence which is what I see in most NA fiction which I mostly find tedious. As said below economics is why many people then married later – not maturity and yes the 19 yr old the shelf stuff is completely erroneous.

      • pwnn says:

        Oh and while I don’t care for most NA I do really enjoy a good YA/Coming of Age book. What seems fresh and raw at 15-18 seems stale, over-dramatic and self indulgent at say 21-23.

  6. Carol Lowe says:

    I’m probably the only one here who has read Ever After by Elswyth Thane. I first read it when I was a teenager and saw nothing wrong with the romance between the early teenager and the married 30 year old. It’s still one of my favorite go-to books but I can’t help thinking “what was he thinking falling in love at first sight with a teenager”. In his defense, he didn’t tell her of his love until she was older (18 or so).

    As I age I can’t help wishing for more romances with mature protagonists. Older people need love, too.

  7. Mary Beth says:

    @ Carol – I loved the Williamsburg novels! Ever After is a favorite read.

    I am 64 years old and I sometimes find myself gasping with surprise when I look in the mirror. I did not start to read romance until I was in my 50s, so I may have a somewhat skewed experience with the age of heroines and heroes. Basically, I seldom find myself thinking ugh, this age difference is revolting, especially in historical romance set in time periods where such a difference was more common.

    Honestly, I do enjoy reading romances with main characters who are older. They certainly do not need to be my contemporaries, but ‘in the ball park’ is fun!

  8. Manjari says:

    I almost never post but your column just resonated so much with me! My experience has been exactly the same as yours. I am turning 45 this year and currently tend to like romances where the heroine is in her late 20s/early 30s – old enough to have some experience of the world but young enough that there are a lot of options/choices in career, relationships, and just life overall still ahead of her. I also enjoy reading YA. That genre has really exploded in volume over the past several years. The other day my husband asked me why I like YA and I told him it is because the teen years are so full of emotion and personal development. It makes me remember my own experiences (whether good or bad!). Also, I have read many romances where the secondary romance takes place between an older couple. Whereas they are enjoyable, despite my (ahem) older age, I have tended not to relate. I wonder if this is because sometimes this older heroine is portrayed as still so beautiful and physically fit that my tired, middle-aged body sees nothing in common :)

    • AARJenna says:

      I think I’m the same way as far as those secondary romances between older couples – older even being as young as later 40s/early 50s. What attracts me in a man (an a hero) is a very fit body – okay, I’m shallow – and very few 40/50ish men that I know are in that great of shape. And the idea of a woman my age being completely comfortable with her body such that she feels incredibly sexy and uninhibited just doesn’t come easily for me. I’m simply too close to the reality of the situation to be able to ignore the truths and buy into the fiction. :)

      • Aida says:

        “very few 40/50ish men that I know are in that great of shape.”

        I have to agree with this. Unless they are models or movie stars, guys seem to just let their bodies go once they turn 40.

  9. I do wonder if the age norm in romances is beginning to change, even in historicals…. My upcoming book, “The Passion of the Plumeria”, features a heroine in her mid-forties and a hero in his fifties. When I first broached this hero and heroine to my publisher, years ago, I was told that I could do it only if I included a younger couple’s romance as well (a la the dual romances in so many SEP books), as the perception was that readers didn’t want to read exclusively about older couples. So I waited a few years… and this time got the go ahead to write it as planned, purely about my forty-something/fifty-something couple. I’ll be curious to see if this bothers anyone or if the age boundaries in romance really have changed.

  10. p.s. as a side note, the insistence that to be historically accurate heroines in historicals must be teenagers is one of my pet bugbears. It varies era to era, but if we’re talking Regencies, the statistics I’ve seen for average age of first marriage have been 23-26 for women, 26-28 for men. (Anecdotally, Jane Austen’s mother was about 26 when she married.) Averages can be deceiving, of course, but it certainly does change the image of “not married by nineteen! Impossibly on the shelf!” that has been perpetuated by so many novels.

    • AAR Lynn says:

      I had to smile when I read this because that is something that has always gotten to me as well. For my history thesis, I had to plow through endless books of British genealogy and even back in the late 1500s/early 1600s, I was finding plenty of brides in their late 20s and early 30s. There were certainly some who seemed to be in their teens but by no means were all of them married and mothers by age 19 or 20.

      The other thing I remember from my research was being stunned at how many couples were actually close in age. I had read some many historical romances that I had just assumed 18 year olds only married guys in their 30s! :)

  11. Michele says:

    I’m about to turn the dreaded 43 and my views about the age of heroines are also changing. I used to love historicals but I’ve found I’m tired, tired, tired of the wide-eyed innocent virgin and the much older Duke trope. Bleh. The majority of historicals seem to have a variation on this theme to the point where they seem like steamy YA. I love it when I find the occasional gem where the heroine is older and wiser.

    Now I’m hooked on paranormals where virgins are less likely and I’m especially hooked on Kristin Ashley. I agree with the other post that I think this is because she has many heroines who are in their late 30′s or early 40′s. Whoo Hoo! I’ve discovered I love this. In one book the heroine in her 40′s is referred to as a milf (mother I’d love to…yuh, know). The context wasn’t yucky. It left me thinking….hmm, I’d like to be thought of that way too LOL…So in the end, these books are empowering because it makes me realize that 40 plus doesn’t mean I’m out to pasture. I can still be a heroine in a romance novel! Dammit! :)

    And Ms. Willig, if you can bring us a historical with a hero/heroine who are both 40 plus and still hot, hot, hot, showing that you don’t need twenty year olds to show passion and love….well, I’ll have to pre-order that one!

    • IvyD says:

      ICAM – my birthday’s a couple weeks (also 43) and when I discovered Kristen Ashley last year, I immediately became hooked because of the age of her heroines. Some can be immature, but for the most part they’re grown women, not girls, with interesting lives who are able to attract some really gorgeous men who appreciate that fact.

      Back to the OP, I also agree that my taste in romance novels has changed considerably as I’ve aged as well. I think it’s inevitable that you want to relate to the heroine and her life experience in some manner so that you can really buy into the “fantasy” of the story. It’s what romances are all about to me.

      As a sidenote, what I find alot of the time in reading reader reviews, is that we judge the heroine very harshly if we can’t relate, while the hero gets a free pass for some really sketchy, also unrelatable behavior (like a grown man attracted to a teenager, for example).

      • chris booklover says:

        Um …. isn’t Tracy Garvis Graves’s On The Island this exact scenario in reverse? Her 30 year old heroine is the 18 year old hero’s teacher, but almost no one has criticized the heroine despite the obvious power and authority issues involved in such a relationship.

  12. Joane says:

    My experience is more or less the same as yours. I don’t like very young heroines (children of 18/19 years old) with men much older. I hardly admit a gap of more than 5 years. On the other hand, I’m now in my forties and I prefer heroines who are in their thirties, but I think that perhaps I will like to see more heroines in their forties. I think I’d rather have a 40 years old heroine that a 20 years old.

  13. AAR Lynn says:

    I’m in my 30s, so maybe my perspective is a little different. I really don’t mind the heroines in their 20s/30s at all and I like a lot of their stories even if some of them feel less than relatable to me. However, I do wish there was a wider variety of ages for couples in romances because I think love is one of those things that is universal. You don’t have to be a certain age to fall in love.

    I will admit that many of the teenage heroines with much older heroes do seem somewhat less romantic to me now than they did in high school, and they have for quite some time. However, in the hands of a good author, I find that pretty much any scenario can still work.

  14. Caz says:

    I, too, tend to prefer a heroine in her mid-late 20s or early 30s, and I think that’s definitely something that’s changed as I’ve got older. But I will also say that sometimes it’s the maturity of the heroine rather than her numerical age that’s important. For example, I read Marian’s Christmas Wish by Carla Kelly last year, where the heroine is (I think) sixteen or seventeen. That would normally have turned me off, but it was Carla Kelly, so I read the book and had no problem with the age of the heroine at all, because she wasn’t a silly, giggly girl. I imagine that particular book is an exception rather than the rule, however.

    Unlike Jenna though, I found that my attitude towards large age gaps increased as I got older. I read both Emma and Jane Eyre for the first time when I was in my teens, and wasn’t over-enamoured with the age gaps, but a decade later, I didn’t find it an issue and still don’t. I might find the idea of an eighteen year-old heroine with a thirty-something man squicky in a contemporary, but I don’t read them – and in historicals, which are my staple diet when it comes to romance, I don’t mind a large age gap, provided the heroine is mature in terms of her attitude and actions.

    I’ll hit the big Five-Oh in a couple of months time, but while I will more than happily read Ms Willig’s book, and would read others with older protagonists, I think my preference for twenties/thirties is likely to stick. I don’t think I tend to identify with the heroines too closely, so the fact they’re twenty-plus years younger than I am doesn’t worry me.

    • Caz, I had the exact same reaction to “Marian’s Christmas Wish”! On an abstract level, I felt as though I ought to be bothered by the age gap– but they just worked as a couple. Same with Laurie King’s Mary Russell books.

      • Mary says:

        I had that “ick” factor kick in with this Carla Kelly as well for about a third of the book. Then I just forgot about the age and enjoyed the story. In historicals I can deal with a bit of an age difference, but even those can give me pause at times. I like the H/h in contemporaries to be closer in age and my ideal age group is late 20s to early 40s. I will be 55 on my next birthday and really do not have any great wish to see romances in my own age group (although if the story is well written, I don’t care). I think that is because I already have my HEA in real life. My husband and I are approaching our 30th year of a happy marriage and I cannot imagine anyone else in a personal hero category. I wonder if those in their later decades who are single, divorced or widowed have a different perspective.

        • Caz says:

          I just forgot about the age and enjoyed the story.


          I think it’s like someone else said here – if the characterisation is good and the author makes you care about them, then the age difference isn’t an issue.

  15. Susan/DC says:

    I’ve stated my preference for non-teenage heroines (outside of YA) and smaller age differences many times so am posting here only to thank Lauren Willig and AAR Lynn for pointing out that 18 y.o. heroines and 36 y.o. heroes are not the only historically accurate pairings. I’ve always wondered if the “not married by 20, must be on the shelf” trope was more Georgette Heyer than reality. Jane Austen has young heroines and big age differences, but I don’t remember any book in which she declares that the heroine is so old as to be an ape leader. The worries are not age per se but economic or the limited marital choices found in the local society of small villages.

  16. CarolineAAR says:

    I can be convinced of different ages and age gaps. What I dislike is the fetishization of a heroine’s youth. Her “refreshingness” to a “jaded” hero, or her “unspoiled nature,” as if even the same woman five years later would not have appealed to the hero. Makes me question both the hero’s interest in her as a person and the viability of a long-term relationship as the heroine matures.

  17. Blackjack1 says:

    When I read historical fiction or 19th-century fiction, I tend to look at the historical accuracy of when couples typically were expected to marry then, which generally was around early to mid twenties for women and just slightly older for men. Having said that, it’s up to a good writer to create a convincing and compelling romance, and so age is but one factor among many and has never been a stumbling block for me in the hands of a gifted writer. I absolutely loved Judith Ivory’s _Beast_, which featured a very young heroine. I’ve read wonderful romances with larger age differences. And I’ve read compelling romances with more mature middle-aged couples. It’s all in the art of fiction writing. And in real life, I see all sorts of age pairings that work for certain people. There is no doubt though that age is a discriminatory category in our culture but one we really need to work on moving beyond.

  18. Carrie says:

    I think this is why I am not a fan of the New Adult books or YA that have sex. It’s not that I think they shouldn’t be written and enjoyed, but I just have no interest in reading about teen or very-young-adult sex and angst. Of course, have a houseful of 16-22 yr olds might have something to do with that.

    I don’t mind reading about heroines of any age past very early teens depending on how the book is written, but I don’t find myself drawn to over-50 heroines even though I am pushing towards 60 now. I think mid-20 to mid 40 is my go-to range, which leaves a lot of room. I don’t mind the regency young heroine older man when it’s done right. I love Heyer’s The Convenient Marriage.

    I also enjoy older woman/younger man tropes, maybe because I’m 4 years older than my husband.

    I do love when the secondary romances include older hero/heroine such as a few of SEP’s books.

    • AARJenna says:

      It’s interesting that although I’ve tried very hard to like the new NA category, I’m actually finding it very hard. I really love YA books, so it seemed a natural for me to enjoy reading about characters in their early twenties. The problem is, I think mentally I expect these people – ages 19-25 – to act more mature than they are portrayed in the NA titles I’ve read to date. In the NA books I’ve picked up, the characters drink – A LOT -live to party, and generally are very self-involved and unaware. I find it annoying, but perhaps I’m just not remembering how I truly was back when I was that age.

    • Mary says:

      Carrie: I agree with you on the 16-22 angst factor. As a mother whose youngest is almost 22, it is both too close to the ages of my children and I just recently got OUT of parenting that angst era and am not sad to see it go. I am of the firm belief that girls get a real brain around 22 and boys around 24. Let the hormones settle down before finding that real romance.

  19. pamelia says:

    I’ve been thinking about this topic recently, so great timing on this! I recently read two books with VERY young heroines (to my mind) “Lick” by Kylie Scott has a just-turned 21 year old heroine and “Captive in the Dark” has an 18-year old heroine/victim (those who’ve read this know what I mean). Both these books managed to do what I thought was impossible which is convince this 43-year old woman that women that young could possibly have convincing HEAs in a contemporary setting.
    I tend to prefer my heroines in their late twenties/early thirties because in my mind they are still “young” but not immature. I confess I have a bias in that I do believe that 40 is the new 30, but that makes 30 the new 20 and 20 the new 10!
    Others have mentioned Kristen Ashley and I have to also recommend her. I put off reading “Sweet Dreams” for about a month because I didn’t think I wanted to read about a heroine the same age as me. It is now one of my all-time favorite books.

  20. NBLibGirl says:

    Interesting post and topic. I think publishers and unexplainable sales phenomena like Fifty Shades of Gray are to blame. Hopefully discussions like this will help broaden some publishers’ horizons some.

    I’m 50+ and love romances with characters of all ages. I think whether an older couple works depends on the skill of the writer and perhaps to some extent the age at which we are introduced to each character (which may or may not necessarily be their ages when they are introduced to each other). For example, Sharon Kay Penman’s Here Be Dragons is one of my DIK’s and it spans the couple’s entire lifetime . . . her death in her 50s and his even later, which was pretty old for that time period (early 1200s). (Note that estimates are she was about 15 when King John married her off to an early 30s Prince – so there’s that age gap thing. But this book is based on real people, so Penman had no choice but handles it really well . . . )

    I also like the older secondary characters in SEP books, Brockmann books, the older couple in Carr’s Virgin River books (even Mel and Jack, the h/h in the first VR book are late 30s/early 40s). Jennifer Cruisie is another one whose got some older characters (ala Agnes and the Hitman) who work for me just fine. And what about Claire and Jamie Frasier . . . say what you will about the later books, Jamie and Claire are still pretty awesome together well into middle age. So, yes, it can be done and done quite well (as long as you aren’t looking for virginal Os and sex all night long and again in the morning :-).

    So, Lauren Willig: Awesome news! No pressure here (!) because you are an author who can make this work. Thank you for sharing; I for one will be watching for Passion! ;-)

    • LeeF says:

      NBLibGirl-I have been thinking about this topic and how to say what I was feeling- you said it beautifully , even using Claire and Jamie as examples! Yeah- what she said! :-)

    • Eliza says:

      @NBLibGirl: Ditto what you said so well. :)

      @Lauren Willig: I already had Plumeria on my buy-right-away list, as I do all of your books, and your posting upped the anticipation. Thank you for all your wonderful books. :)

  21. erika says:

    I’m in my early 40′s and don’t read heroines my age. I’m ok reading younger heroines. I’ve found that of late I’m reading young & new adult romances and enjoying the drama and angst.

    Lynne Graham recently had a heroine who was in her laate 30′s and I almost didn’t read it.

  22. August says:

    I guess I have a bit of a different perspective – I don’t mind young heroines at all, but I wish the heroes were younger. I feel like 90% of romance novels I’ve read have heroes in their thirties, regardless of the heroine’s age. If the heroine is 18, can’t the hero be under 25? That would be more believable to me than an older hero and it would be a nice change of pace. It wouldn’t be terribly unusual for the Regency period, either. (Which leads me to a semi-related issue: heroes always seem to want to put off marrying for as long as possible. Are there any who are perfectly okay with marrying young?)

    I’m not sure I’ve ever read a romance where either main character was over 50, but I’d read it if it sounded like something I would like in general. Certainly going to read Lauren Willig’s next one.

    • LeeF says:

      August- take a look at Julie and Romeo by Jeanne Ray. Very sweet love story between 60-somethings.

    • chris booklover says:

      I’m not sure which novels you have been reading, but:

      1. Very few romance novels published over the past two decades have featured 18 year old heroines and 30 year old heroes. That may have been a common pairing in the 1970′s and 1980′s, but not today. Moreover, a not insignificant number of novels contain heroines older than their heroes. The most noteworthy May-December romance published over the past few years is Tracy Garvis Graves’s On The Island, which featured a 30 year old heroine and an 18 year old hero.

      2. Heroes in today’s romance novels are rarely reluctant to marry. On the contrary, they are, in general, amazingly eager to do so. It is almost always the heroine who is reluctant to make this commitment, as evidenced by the number of rejected marriage proposals that we can find. Where exactly are these commitment-phobic heroes? I’m certainly not seeing them in historicals, contemporary romances or paranormals.

  23. chris booklover says:

    This discussion reminds me of a comment posted some time ago on another site:

    We’re talking about age differences here in the language another generation reserved for differences in race and religion. And we’re justifying it in the same way. Life experiences are too different, interests just won’t be the same. Nothing against it ourselves, no way are we prejudiced, but it just squicks us out.

    Notice you have to stick to generalizations to make this work:

    Like, a modern 18 year old with a 30 year old would be gross because of the huge differences in maturity and life experience.

    This might be true in communities in which gender and age roles are performed in lock step progression, but the idea that all 18 year olds want one thing and all 30 year olds want another, that their maturity and richness of life experience are entirely determined by age, breaks down in any environment with a modicum of diversity. There are 30 year old graduate students who have never lived outside the walls of an academic community, and 18 year olds who have been supporting their families for years. And they just might meet and fall in love.

    I would like to see more older heroines (and heroes), but in general the ages of the main characters do not matter to me. It’s all about the writing. A good writer makes the central relationship in a novel plausible, and many romance novels have far more implausible or unrealistic features than May-December relationships.

    On the whole, most people practice assortative mating, which means that like tends to marry like. Nevertheless, this does not imply that relationships with significant age differences can never work. That is not true in real life, and it’s not true in fiction either.

    • Blackjack1 says:

      I absolutely agree with your post. I’m very uncomfortable reading posts that disdain older romances or age differences as it smacks of prejudice. We live in a society that is very biased against age and fetishizes youth and really need to move beyond that way of thinking. We’re all going to age (hopefully), and it’s in all of our interests to be more open-minded on this subject.

      And you stated in your own words what I stated earlier too, which is that it’s a writer’s job is to make a romance viable. In the hands of a good writer, the age or the age differences should not be an obstacle to a romantic and believable pairing.

  24. Mervi says:

    I am 45 and I rather read about young heroines and older guys. Maybe it’s because what is in my life. My husband is much older than I and we meet when I was 17. I don’t like reading heroines about my own age.

  25. erika says:

    Older heroines mean eventually dealing with issues such as menaupause and as much as I look forward to the end of the menstrual cycle, I don’t want to read about a heroine going thru it.

  26. Jonie says:

    I married in my 30′s. My husband is six years older. We are both from large families and they all married and had children while young (early 20′s and even teens). Flash forward 20 years and my children are some of the youngest in the family. I have had 20 years of being told how old my husband and I are and what were we thinking having children when we were so old. (teenagers while in my 50′s what was I thinking?) My husbands younger brother is a Grandfather many times over. Having said all of this, I like to read about younger h/h. I don’t usually read a book about older women having children as that is what I did. It is a secret passion to read about young h/h. I can’t help myself. I feel naughty ’cause I know really there is no young couple who are that grown-up but, romantic fiction is just that fiction. I like my H/H pretty and exciting and totally unlike any 20 year olds I have ever met in my life. I know I should be more grown up and what to read about someone my own age. Somewhere in my heart I feel 25 and I can’t grow out of it. That is why when I see a picture of myself I think who took that picture of my mom?

  27. bavarian says:

    When I started reading romance in the 70s the age of the protagonists didn’t matter to me. As I grew older I now prefer more older heroes and heroines. Ist’s another thing I’ve noticed over the years: I have absolutely no interest in heroes younger than say 28. I really prefer them between 35 and their early 40ies.
    The same goes for movies. You know: Sean Connery in his early movies and the later ones!!!

  28. Georgia Carter Mathers says:

    I am 43 this year and the age of the heroine isn’t really important to me. It is the behaviour of the heroine that is important. Heroines who are immature don’t appeal to me. The same goes with the hero. I’ve just been re-reading Jane Eyre. Rochester is nearly forty and Jane is eighteen. She is courageous and assertive – that’s what I like about her. There is no ick-factor for me because I already love this book and I readily identify with Jane. It is the maturity and the struggle of the heroes and heroines that appeal to me rather than just their age. Having said that, it is more likely that the older H/H have this maturity.

  29. Ellen says:

    I’m very near 60 and I read almost exclusively historical in part because I have no issue with young heroines. I fell in love with my husband at 19 and married at just barely 22. I think we were pretty mature and responsible then. I had even had a fairly significant multi-year relationship before I met my husband and I was no blushing virgin when I married. Although my husband is my age I have friends who married guys a decade older than they are. I also have friends who married (in their early 20′s) guys who were their HS sweethearts and they are still together 40 years later.
    I think it is a recent thing that adults in their late teens or early 20′s are considered immature. Decades or even centuries ago it was much more economic factors that kept people from marrying young. My father proposed to my mother in 1938 by asking her if she could live on $35/week. Not very romantic but that was reality.
    I’m not sure I want to read about people in their 40′s or 50′s just falling in love. A story where a couple reconcile after some falling out might be believable to me for an older couple but I like to think that couples can fall in love young and stay in love for decades for a real HEA.
    I was told by an author that publishers will no longer even accept characters under age 21 even in an historical setting except for this “new adult” genre. I think that just perpetuates the idea that adults 18-24 are immature and irresponsible and not ready for committed relationships.

  30. Georgia Carter Mathers says:

    Very true, Ellen. Young adults can be very mature and responsible. I was just reading an article written by a 16 year old which was incredibly articulate. Age doesn’t really matter, it’s really about the behaviour of the characters and the struggle in the story that is appealing.

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