How Books Killed True Love

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.

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.

birthday photostrip

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18 thoughts on “How Books Killed True Love

  1. I agree that fiction, in all of its forms, has done a lot to give us an unrealistic view of love. I find myself still falling into that trap, but go figure, I grew up reading novels and watching movies like Princess Bride and Sabrina (the one with Harrison Ford.)

    I would say that in writing, if it feels forced, it probably is, and it should be avoided. Without even meaning to, I think I started to cultivate a rather good (I hope) relationship between two of the protagonists in The Sword of Dragons. I always intended for them to come together, but I found that I had to take it slow, so slow that they still weren’t together by the end of the first novel. Only in book 2 did they really start to show their renewed interest in each other. I believe that not only is this a bit more believable, but its also like once they do come together, they’ve earned it, and it feels like a triumphant moment in the readers’ hearts (that’s my hope, anyway.)

    Awesome article, Victoria!

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    • Princess Bride the book had a fairly good take on romance! The movie maybe not so much, but I think that’s more due to the limitations of the medium (in the film they couldn’t take a whole chapter to show her agency in the start of the relationship, and the whole bit with their after-story (far more realistic than most tales) didn’t make the cut. The casting of the film was a perfect example of what you’re talking about though: the lead actress (Robin Wright) has apparently been pining for Cary Elwes since the start of filming, even through all her marriages since…
      But yeah, gotta have some real romance in our writing 🙂 Warts and all!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes absolutely! I think slow is good, and gives the reader more time to fall in love with them, and gives more time for the relationship to develop depth beyond just “Hey, you’re cute. And possibly the only opposite-sex significant character in this book, so let’s date.” I definitely think that is more believable, and more satisfying as a reader, to have them fall for each other slowly 🙂

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  2. This is so true, you literally voiced my thoughts about so many romance novels nowadays. I’ll admit, I do sometimes like the fluffy, cheesy, unrealistic stuff, but things that would actually happen are much easier to relate to. To be honest, I think I’m gonna go review any romance in my novel to make it more realistic right now 😛

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  3. I wrote out a long comment, but something happened when I submitted it, lol. I’ll just sum it up. Yes, I agree with you on the romance thing. I like romance woven into stories, but not when it’s the main plot-line. This is the reason I don’t really write or read in the romance genre. Some of my stories have love of some form in them, but I’m not a fan of the sappy, prince charming stuff. I also like to explore love of other forms besides just the romantic love because in many cases it is stronger. You and your boyfriend are so cute together :3 My husband has had to deal with a lot of my health issues as well. I think true love is standing by someone when they are at their lowest. It’s easy to love someone when life is great.

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    • Oh no! Haha. I absolutely agree. I am not a fan of romance as the main course of the story, so to speak. I think characters, and people, are much more than just their love story or their soulmate, especially in dynamic, raw worlds where they’re fighting evil and saving the world. Yes! I am also into exploring and developing other types of relationships and love, and think those can be more powerful. Thank you 🙂 Yes, absolutely. With my health problems, he saw me at my worst pretty fast, but it put him to the test and proved he was a keeper!

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  4. I just want to raise my hand and say — sometimes it *does* happen. It happened to me.
    I met my husband at 18,three weeks after I graduated from high school, on the first day of Freshman Orientation at Ohio State. Our eyes met across a crowd of people, and something just shifted inside of me. Then the crowd swallowed him up, and I felt like crying. I’d never even spoken a word to him, didn’t even knew his name, and yet I knew, almost immediately, that a little part of me was missing.
    We ended up in the same elevator later that day. We started talking. We talked until midnight that night, when we had to go back to our separate dorms, but not before he programmed his number into my phone. Then we texted all night, found each other at breakfast the next morning. Then we went home. We texted the entire drive, and my mom teased me every time the phone buzzed.
    We talked on the phone for four hours every night for the next two months before school started. Three days after we met, he asked if he could take me on a date when we got to school. Two weeks after we met, he told me he loved me. (His side of the story is a little different–two days after we met, he went camping with the friend who was the best man at our wedding. He told him that he met the girl he was going to marry–the friend told him he was insane.) Everyone–EVERYONE–thought we were nuts. Love at first sight doesn’t happen. It doesn’t last. It isn’t real. It’s puppy love. It’s doomed.
    It’s been eight years minus two weeks since the day we met (which we count as our anniversary), and I still get that stupid, bubbly feeling, that rush of warmth in my chest, every time I catch his eye.
    So, while I admit that I love the slow-burn romances too, I wanted to stick up for the insta-love. Because it *does* happen sometimes–even to teenagers–and it isn’t any less real than any other romance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had a similar experience when I met my boyfriend. We were 14, and I saw him and he saw me and it was like a shift in my being. I told my bff that I was gonna marry the boy in the grey shirt from the main hall (at our school). It wasn’t automatic. We were 14! But we did date and break up and date again and so on. Then after high school, once we were already the closest of friends, and it just didn’t feel right to not be together, we dated again. Now it’s 9 years later and the boy with the grey shirt is currently sitting beside me. I’m blogging about our love story and he’s shooting virtual zombies while asking me to read him our love story. We are happy and all the fluff. And it DID just happen all those years ago in the main hall of our high school. I realize this is not so average, and I count my lucky stars every day for it. But, yeah, sometimes love really does just happen to you. Even when we dated other people it didn’t matter, we were always just growing into the people who would eventually be us.

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    • Oh, wow! Love this 🙂 I definitely didn’t mean to criticize real-life love stories like yours. It absolutely can happen, and it’s awesome when it does! I just don’t think so many books should focus on this, and not ever develop the relationship past that initial look and feeling. I guess I should clarify by saying I don’t want slow romances, but deeper love stories. To me, that takes time, at least in a novel. Time for me to love the characters, and love them together. 🙂 Or at least more authentic moments, and deeper connections and getting to know each other outside of a canned tragic past or daddy issues. Thank you so much for sharing!

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  5. While I enjoy reading escape novels with the kind of romance that you’ve denounced in your post, I definitely agree that the idea of what true, lasting love is has been lost somewhere in the space between books and reality. It gives readers a bad model of what they should be looking for when they themselves fall in love – I know that that’s what it gave me.
    I’ve been with my boyfriend for about a year and a half now and the first time I could no longer feel those butterflies around him I kind of freaked out. It’s not that I wanted to leave him, I still wanted to be with him, but I just didn’t feel like I was ‘in love’ anymore (according to the YA romance definition). I think that this definition is the reason why a lot of teenagers/young adults can’t find someone to truly love. It’s as simple as the fact that they don’t know what love is, really.
    Those pictures at the bottom of your post, however, are definitely showcasing what love really is. You two are too adorable 🙂

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    • Yes! Absolutely. That is exactly what I am trying to get at. I love a good, grand love story, but also want real. And especially in YA, where young girls are reading this and learning about love (at least, that’s how I did). For so long, my idea of love was twisted, and it took many years and unhealthy relationships to figure it out. But I finally found it, and him. 🙂 Thank you!

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  6. This couldn’t be more true! It’s just boy-meets-girl, the boy’s a bad boy, and the girl’s a good girl. Then they fall in love and live happily ever after. The end. 😀 No. 😦 Whatever happened to the PLOT? If they were really in life and death situations, they wouldn’t be busy describing how in love they are.
    The Hollywood love definition is warping the idea of love and friendship in young adults, and that just isn’t right.

    – Sabrina

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    • Thank you! Absolutely. I think a lot of books just need perspective. Characters are people with lives and hopes and dreams and goals, outside of their love interest. Plus, they should be too busy saving the world to be daydreaming about how their eyelashes catch the light while they’re shooting zombies, or something 🙂

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  7. Seriously good post. I cried when my true love bubble was popped. I honestly thought Disney and books and movies were all speaking the truth and when I found out they weren’t, I was devastated. I felt utterly betrayed and thought love didn’t exist. My marriage almost fell apart in fact. No, I’m not exaggerating. I’ve had about 7 years to rediscover love and now I know it’s nothing like in the movies and it’s different for everyone. Love is when I’ve got a gigantic pimple on the end of my nose and my husband looks me in the face and tells me I’m beautiful.

    Then I tell him he’s blind.

    I love my man but I haven’t felt butterflies and heart-stopping love for him in goodness knows how long. That kind of stuff is for crushes. Fun but not lasting…at least for me.

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    • Thank you! Yes, so true. I am sorry you had to go through that to figure it out, but most people do, and that’s the problem! Our definition of love is so distorted now, that we don’t know how to love in real life. There is so much more to love than butterflies, and people don’t always realize that. Thanks for commenting 🙂

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