The Importance of Friends On and Off the Page by Martha Waters

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[Note from Frolic: We’re so excited to have author Martha Waters guest posting on the site today! She’ll be answering questions on our Instagram tomorrow. You don’t want to miss it! Take it away, Martha.]

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of romantic troubles must be in want of some friends.

This, at least, was my philosophy when writing my debut Regency rom-com, To Have and to Hoax. In my book, my (not-so-single) heroine, Violet, fakes a case of consumption to catch the eye of her estranged husband – a plan that any discerning reader will immediately be able to tell is not going to end well. Fortunately for Violet – and for anyone screeching, “This is a terrible idea!” at the pages before them – she has two best friends who are more than happy to tell her that there might be better options available to her, such as – oh, I don’t know – talking to him? Meanwhile, James, Violet’s husband, has developed a similarly childish plan in response to Violet, to the similar dismay of his own friends.

I won’t give away how James and Violet eventually sort things out, but the process of writing this book did get me thinking about friendship more broadly, and the important ways that it functions in romance novels. Romances are, of course, about the romantic relationship between the hero(es) and/or heroine(s), but I realized that some of my very favorite romance novels feature strong friendships, and I developed a theory as to why: the friends in romance novels are stand-ins for the reader.

Now, don’t misunderstand me: I don’t mean that the reader necessarily has to find much about the friends to identify with. Rather, the friends are there, in the fictional world right alongside our hero and heroine, and they are able to provide the sort of in-text third-party perspective on the relationship developing before them that the reader can’t offer, since they are only a passive consumer of the book.

There are so many great examples of friendships functioning in this way in romance novels, but one of my favorites is Sarah MacLean’s Rules of Scoundrels quartet. The series follows four friends who own a gaming hell in pre-Victorian London, and one by one, each of them meets their match. The third book in the series, No Good Duke Goes Unpunished, is a particularly great example of the important roles the friends play in each other’s stories; in this one, the hero, Temple, has been falsely accused of a murder he didn’t commit, and the heroine, Mara, is the woman who was his supposed victim. Temple’s friends are understandably resentful towards Mara for ruining his life, and Mara has to not just win over Temple, but his friends as well, before she and Temple can enjoy their happily-ever-after. The friends’ deep skepticism about this match mirrors the reaction that readers have early on – how can a couple with this kind of baggage possibly wind up together? Having characters on the page who can reflect these doubts and who are eventually convinced of Mara and Temple’s relationship makes the happy ending particularly convincing for readers.

Another great friendship-heavy series is Kate Clayborn’s Chance of a Lifetime trilogy. This series is centered on three friends – Kit, Zoe, and Greer – who go in on a winning lottery ticket together, and it follows each of them as they make changes to their lives as a result of their winnings. Each of the three has some fairly heavy emotional baggage that they’re able to sort through with the help of their respective heroes, but it’s their friends who serve as the outside observers who note the changes in each woman as she falls in love. This is an important role for the friends to play, because it is often the case in romance novels that readers can see the changes being wrought in the protagonists before either of them can see it for themselves. It’s deeply satisfying for readers to see someone on the page, acknowledging the changes that they’re witnessing in the characters, when the characters remain oblivious. The closeness of the relationship between Kit, Zoe, and Greer makes this a particularly noteworthy, emotionally satisfying example of literary friendship functioning in this particular way.

It’s interesting to note, also, that the friendships in romance novels are not specific to either gender – there are plentiful examples of both male and female friendships as anchors for series. Given that romance is a genre written largely by and for women, it feels as though an element of fantasy is at play here: romance authors are writing the friendships we wish the men in our lives had. Romance heroes talk to their friends about their love lives (albeit oftentimes reluctantly!); romance heroes have someone other than the heroine to turn to when events take a dark turn. Romance heroines are not being forced to be their partner’s only source of emotional support, as is too often the case in straight couples in the real world. 

At the end of the day, then, perhaps it is too simple to state that the friends in romance novels are reader stand-ins; perhaps they are also, more broadly, representations of the relationships we’d all wish for our partners, and ourselves. Romance is rightly being increasingly acknowledged for the important work the genre does in presenting a model of healthy relationships and empowered women; perhaps it’s time to also applaud it for the strength of the bonds of friendship that can so often be found in its pages.

About the Author:

Martha Waters was born and raised in sunny South Florida, and is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She works as a children’s librarian in North Carolina, and spends much of her free time traveling. To Have and To Hoax is her first novel.

To Have and to Hoax by Martha Waters, out now!

Five years ago, Lady Violet Grey and Lord James Audley met on a balcony and fell in love. But one year into their wedded bliss, they had a huge argument and have barely spoken since. When Violet receives a letter that James has been thrown from his horse and rendered unconscious at their country estate, she races to be by his side—only to discover him alive and well at a tavern.

Violet hatches a plan of her own, feigning illness to teach her estranged husband a lesson. James quickly sees through it, but decides to play along in an ever-escalating game of manipulation—and a lot of flirtation between a husband and wife who might not hate each other as much as they thought.

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