Our culture, as casual and careless as it has become, still thrives on true love, and our concept of it. Ask a little girl what love is, and you will likely get an answer that involves butterflies and roses and Prince Charming. Ask an adult, and they would either tell you A: it doesn’t exist or B: name a movie/book. Some might even describe that same floaty, bubbly, butterfly feeling. I think romance, both movies and books, are to blame. Our entire culture has built up this distortion of true love and set us up for disaster.
Think of any romance in any book you have read, no matter the genre. I think romance tends to be especially bad in YA (though there are plenty of exceptions). Chances are I can describe 90% of them with this:
Girl meets guy, in unlikely situation. They probably detest each other, or at least extremely awkward, but at the same time irresistibly drawn to each other. He is probably a bad boy, or someone she usually doesn’t (or shouldn’t) like. A series of events, and hate turns to love, usually in a kiss scene. They forget all about aforementioned hate, or any of their problems in general because love. They are unstoppable, head-over-heels, perfect.
Now there are plenty of issues with this, but this is the main one. Books build up love as this thing that happens. Cupid has struck, and there’s no going back. It happens, and you are overwhelmed with butterflies and an insatiable attraction for this person and everything they do is just so endearing, even if they are sometimes a little bit annoying.
Have you ever been in love, in real life?
I’m sorry, but that is not love. I understand that a certain number of romances are written for pure escapism. They are meant to be somewhat guilty pleasure, sweep you off your feet. I have no problem with that, if that is your thing. But the problem is that when books build this idea up, and pass it off as true love, real life can get distorted. Especially in YA, where readers can often be young and impressionable.
Books killed true love because they set my expectations so impossibly high. Yes, when I met boyfriend, I had butterflies. But a lot of other guys had given me butterflies. I knew I was really in love, when those feelings weren’t always there, and I still loved him. It was a moment where I was like, oh. This is what true love is like. Love isn’t a feeling. It isn’t always romantic, or generous, or selfless. Love is hard work, sometimes. It is raw, and emotional, and sometimes it hurts. Love is human, imperfect.
Love gets on your nerves, and chews with its mouth full, and farts under the covers. Love is when boyfriend carries me up the stairs because I’m too sick to walk, or sits with me in the bathroom while I throw up, or gives me a pep talk before a big test. Love is when I feel my ugliest, and he still looks at me like I’m the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.
And as far as books, I’d love to read something different. I’m so sick of those puppy love romances. I want something that feels real, and meaningful. Something that could actually exist, outside of the pages of a book.
One of the best examples that comes to mind is Neryn and Flint, in Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier. Their love is developed over the entire book, page by page. They never even acknowledge feelings for each other until the last twenty pages. And every scene with them is so perfect. It’s not overdone. The moments are real, and their relationship is believable. But it’s still just as swoon-worthy.
If you have romance in your book, reexamine it. If it sounds a lot like what I described above, consider some serious changes. Especially if it involves a bad boy, or a love triangle. Besides the fact that these are terrible models to give young readers for relationships, they’re overdone. I want to read something new, something real.
Spend time crafting a love that feels true. Not instant connection, head-over-heels and the rest is history Hollywood-crafted “true love”. Love, most often, is slow. Especially if your characters have just met. They have to get to know each other first, before they can start to love. I’d love to see a love story about two best friends, slowly falling for each other. Or any story, where the love isn’t the focus. It just kind of happens, but they still have these great stories and lives and worlds to save.
Write real love, not true love. Hollywood already killed that.