Does the End Always Have to be Happily Ever After?

Like most people, I guess, I expect HEAs in romance books. But what if the girl doesn’t end up with the guy? Or with the expected guy? Does it leave the door open for a sequel?

Does it lead us us to our own happy ending? I didn’t need a sequel to know that Scarlett O’Hara won Rhett Butler back. There was never a man she couldn’t win over when she set her cap for him. And even though it took her long enough, she finally realized he was the one. (Geez, Scarlett! Rhett was so much hotter than Ashley! What the hell were you thinking?)

Is HEA always the girl gets the guy (or vice versa)? Does the fact that our heroine grew, and learned, and became a stronger person negate happy? If she walks away knowing herself, and knowing her real true love awaits her, doesn’t that warrant some smiles?