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The Age of Love

Have you ever wondered how old the heroine is in that romance you're reading? 

In a historical romance, that's an easy question to answer: unless she's a widow or a spinster, she's probably under 25.  Historically, women were married off at a much younger age than they are today.  A Regency lady was considered "on the shelf" (no longer marriageable) by 25.  Medieval and Renaissance heroines are 18-plus only as a concession to modern sensibilities; the average medieval woman was already a mother by the age of 17.

But what about contemporaries?  I'm going to continue to use the age of marriage as a benchmark-- a contemporary romance doesn't have to end in a proposal, but it's still a pretty standard HEA ("Happily Ever After").  If New Adult romance heroines (18-24) are "younger than average," that would suggest that "average" is going to be 25 or older.  But how much older?  Do they track with the age of their readership? Older? Younger?

If you said "younger," statistics say you're probably right.  In response to a reader searching for erotic romances with over-50 protagonists, Sarah of Smart Bitches Trashy Books noted, "the most-often-seen age range for heroes and heroines is 20s-30s, with a few in their 40s showing up here and there."  Dear Author puts the age of female protagonists even younger, at 24-26.   This places heroines close to a decade younger than most of their readership.  According to a study conducted by the Romance Writer's Association, nearly two-thirds (65%) of romance readers are 35 or older; 43% of readers are 45 or older.  (The study is from 2005; given that the youngest members of the 76-million-strong Baby Boomer generation turned 50 last year, I'd bet the average reader age trends even older now.)

If contemporary romance authors want their readership to identify with the main character, a twenty-something contemporary heroine is rapidly becoming unrealistic.  (I know, I know: no one reads romance for the realism.  Even so....)  More and more women are seeing to their careers (and their student loans) before seeking out their own HEAs.  According to Pew Research, the average age of first marriage for women is up to 26.5, compared to 20.3 in 1960 and 23.9 in 1990.  Only 26% of the Millennial generation (born 1981-1997) are married, though the oldest of them are in their mid-thirties.  A couple marrying in their seventies might provoke comment these days ("Awww!") but not shock.

So, why aren't there more romances featuring older couples?  Is there simply not enough demand?  Heck, no.  Naysayers refer sneeringly to "geezer romance," but mature heroines have some pretty vocal supporters.  The Smart Bitches article I quoted above drew a lot of responses, many of which came from romance authors themselves.  Del Dryden wrote about an upcoming project, a multi-author erotic romance series featuring 30-to-50-something moms, remarking, "moms have sex, too.  I mean, it IS a prerequisite for the job."  Janet Mullany joked that she prefers writing (and reading!) older heroines because "nothing makes me happier than old folk getting jiggy, particularly if I'm one of them."  And one commenter had a very practical reason for wanting to see older characters in romance: her own daughters are in their twenties, and "there are some things a mom just doesn’t need to be imagining."  (I guess not wanting to think about your parents' sex life goes both ways.)

This month's list grew out of a request from a patron for romances with heroines closer to her own age.  A little digging showed that, while not exactly thick upon the ground, mature romances are definitely out there.  Many authors are answering the demand by sneaking older couples into their books as a secondary romance, a "bonus" plot thread featuring a romance between supporting characters that plays out alongside the leads' romance.  Other authors aren't waiting for the publishing industry's approval; there are a good number of self-published works out there (particularly e-titles) that feature unapologetically older couples.

Below is a list of New City's mature (over-40) romance titles.  I've also included titles containing older-couple secondary romances (and noted them as such).  If you'd like to read more along these lines, check out the links at the bottom for more lists.

Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro (SF Asaro)
The Gamble by Kristen Ashley (PbkRom Ashley) (most of the Colorado Mountain series, really)
Wild Man by Kristen Ashley (PbkRom Ashley)
Law Man by Kristen Ashley (PbkRom Ashley)
A Counterfeit Betrothal by Mary Balogh (Express Fiction Balogh)
Breaking Point by Suzanne Brockmann (Fiction Brockmann) * 2ndary
Rainwater by Sandra Brown (Fiction Brown)
Cordelia's Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold (SF Bujold)
Jane Austen in Boca by Paula Marantz Cohen (Fiction Cohen)
Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie (Fiction Crusie)
Fast Women by Jennifer Crusie (LP Crusie)
Tart by Lauren Dane (PbkRom Dane)
Tear You Apart by Megan Hart (PbkRom Hart)
Waking Up with the Duke by Lorraine Heath (PbkRom Heath) * 2ndary
Waiting On You by Kristan Higgins (PbkRom Higgins) * 2ndary
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (Fiction Ishiguro)
Wrangled and Tangled by Lorelei James (PbkRom James)
Wicked Burn by Beth Kery (PbkRom Kery)
Queen of Broken Hearts by Cassandra King (Fiction King)
The Good House by Ann Leary (Fiction Leary)
Choral Society by Prue Leith (Fiction Leith)
Only His by Susan Mallery (LP Mallery) * 2ndary
The Unexpected Consequences of Love by Jill Mansell (Fiction Mansell) * 2ndary
The Cougar Club by Susan McBride (Fiction McBride)
How to Bake a Perfect Life by Barbara O'Neal (Fiction O'Neal)
This Heart of Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (Fiction Phillips) * 2ndary
Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (Fiction Phillips) * 2ndary
Julie and Romeo by Jeanne Ray (Fiction Ray)
Julie and Romeo Get Lucky by Jeanne Ray (Fiction Ray)
Step-Ball-Change by Jeanne Ray (LP Ray)
Black Rose by Nora Roberts (LP Roberts)
The Villa by Nora Roberts (BCD Roberts) * 2ndary
Season for Desire by Theresa Romain (PbkRom Romain) * 2ndary
A Piece of Heaven by Barbara Samuel (Fiction Samuel)
No Place Like Home by Barbara Samuel (Fiction Samuel)
Eleanor and Abel by Annette Sanford (Fiction Sanford)
Scandalous Lovers by Robin Schone (PbkRom Schone)
The Sweetest Thing by Jill Shalvis (PbkRom Shalvis)
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson (Fiction Simonson)
Sweet Hush by Deborah Smith (Fiction Smith)
Small Town Girl by LaVyrle Spencer (Fiction Spencer)
Snowfall at Willow Lake by Susan Wiggs (LP Wiggs)

All the titles listed above are owned by our library, but they're not all that's out there.  If you'd like to read more in the mature romance category, try these lists (and read their comments pages for more suggestions!):

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books: GS vs. STA: Romance over 40

Dear Author: If You Like Mature Romances

All About Romance: Older Couples

Heroes and Heartbreakers: Who Are Your Favorite Older Heroines?

Heroes and Heartbreakers: Older Women in Secondary Romances

Goodreads: Best Older Hero AND Older Heroine Romance Books

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