It’s becoming rare for childhood sweethearts to find happily-ever-after (according to research), but it’s still a fan favorite in romantic fiction.
These love stories are not about childhood friends falling in love when they’re adults, and it’s not about how one main character had unrequited feelings for the other when they were younger. With childhood sweethearts, the feelings of love and attraction were reciprocated and often described as “first love”.
In The Guardian article, “Why Childhood Sweethearts No Longer Measure Up”, it’s suggested that the enduring first love is an American cultural phenomenon. “As we’ve become more globalised,” Julia Carter, a senior lecturer at the University of the West of England said, “those local narrow contexts—and the very small community of primary school and secondary school friends—don’t have so much of an influence on how we can imagine our futures.”
Part of this might be true. In American Sweethearts by Adriana Herrera, Juan Pablo and Priscilla had been childhood sweethearts. Although they broke up shortly after high school, they’ve been off-and-on throughout the years and their lives are still intertwined since “her people are his people”. They have strong ties with their shared community and each other’s families.
And even though JuanPa and Pris have grown up and changed over time, they still love and desire every version of each other. Their relatives, friends and neighbors want the two together already!
However, this time JuanPa is determined that they won’t fall into the same patterns. He’s trying to be more careful with the people he loves. He’s willing to let Pris make the first move, all the while knowing she may never be ready to give him another chance.
And while the characters in American Sweethearts are frequently together because they share close ties to a small community, childhood sweetheart romances are not exclusively North American. The trope is seen in all settings, usually when one of the main characters has left the area after they broke up. Once the character returns to the hometown, both the hero and heroine have chased dreams, made mistakes, grown up, and had romantic relationships with other people.
In most romance novels, the childhood sweethearts haven’t seen each other in years and the story is about how they get back together. The love they shared might have been strong, but it wasn’t unbreakable. Sometimes the hero and heroine are torn apart because of family or from trauma. Often, one main character isn’t ready for that kind of long-term commitments.
Sometimes in romance stories, one of the characters chooses to end the relationship because the commitment is so strong. He or she knows that staying together could have a negative impact on their lives. In Rekindle the Flame by Kate Meader, Beck and Darcy meet up years after he cast her aside. The street kid and the debutante had been an unlikely couple, and Beck had known that Darcy was going to compromise her dreams and her future to be with him. He had made the decision to end their relationship, but he hadn’t told her he had made the sacrifice so she could have a future.
Darcy had matured into a bold woman, yet she never forgot about Beck. The connection between them is still scorching hot and intense, but is it based on love, lust… or nostalgia?
The childhood sweethearts trope is popular among romance readers of all ages. In reality, however, there’s evidence that the couple’s generation will determine if their first love relationship will last. The Independent cited a study that determined a third of childhood sweethearts from the 1960s were still together. The number of those from the 1980s who were still with their first loves dropped to 14%.
What could be the reason for this change? Some researchers argue that online dating increases a person’s choice of potential mates. Others point out that younger adults have different attitudes about marriage and committed relationships.
But in romance novels, it’s all about the couple finding their way to the happily-ever-after. Even if they’re meant to be together, the protagonists need to overcome obstacles and strengthen their commitment.
Being soul mates isn’t enough, as seen in Second Chance at the Sugar Shack by Candis Terry. Matt needs to convince his hometown that he deserves to be the next sheriff. However, there’s never been a bachelor sheriff in Deer Lick, Montana, so Matt needs to find a sweet and respectable woman to marry. He already wants to take care of his community and create a family and he’s ready for this kind of commitment.
Then Kate, his high school sweetheart, returns. The cold-hearted woman had once given him hope for a better life. Then she deliberately hurt him and her family when she ran out of town without saying goodbye. She can’t wait to leave Deer Lick, and yet, Matt can’t seem to ignore her.
The childhood sweethearts trope explores the idea of fated love but there are a few noticeable differences between fact and fiction. In Second Chance at the Sugar Shack, the main characters hadn’t seen each other in a decade. Research, however, says, there are no breaks in the timeline with childhood sweethearts. The steadfast couples have always been together.
Childhood sweethearts might be a thing of the past thanks to advances in technology, mobility and opportunity, but the idea will continue to flourish in romance fiction. This is where readers get stories about fated love. They can cheer on star-crossed lovers finding their way back together.
The childhood sweethearts trope understands and honors the power of first love.
In addition to the books mentioned above, get these romance novels about childhood sweethearts:
- The Christmas Dare by Lori Wilde: Kelsey is spending a Christmas of “Yes” and has to agree to a series of her best friend’s dares. But she didn’t expect her friend to engineer a reunion with Kelsey’s high school sweetheart.
- Holiday Wishes by Jill Shalvis: Sean wants a do-over with Lotti, the teenage sweetheart he allowed to get away. Lotti has sworn off relationship but Sean wants to prove he’s a reformed bad boy and worth the risk.
- Playing by Her Rules by Amy Andrews: When the high school sweethearts meet again because of their successful careers, Tilly discovers Tanner had broken up with her so she could pursue her dreams.
What is a romance trope? Read this blog post to learn more.