Sunday, 12 September 2010

Disjointed Ramble on YA Love

Call me a cynic but I don't believe in falling in love at first sight.

I think it is bullocks.

I'm a realist.  Love is work.  Love isn't easy.  Love doesn't make the world go 'round - there's a scientific reason for it that I would go into but I would probably botch some of the information and you'd stop reading, dismissing me as an idiot.

Love is awesome though.

Today I attended a wedding.  There were no theatrics, no tantrums, no crazy eyes.  Just two people comfortable in knowing they were meant to be, surrounded by those that love them and they love in return.

Love makes people desperate.  Love makes people stupid, cruel and spiteful.  Love gives strength, courage, resilience.  Love gives people hope.  People chasing love like hungry dogs scare me because they haven't realised that love can't be forced.  Some people never seem to get that....many YA authors included.

I love love.  I love romanticism.  I love reading someone's adventures in romance when I get that stomach flip flop.  It's visceral, it's affecting, it's universal.

And yet it is the reason that so many YA books are losing me.  Making me roll my eyes to the book heavens and internally scream.  If I wanted to be this disappointed on an ongoing basis I would read Nicholas Sparks books.

I know YA books with a romance sell.  I know that from looking at the top ten titles on the New York Bestseller Lists this week.  I know that from personal experience.  I admit that I am much more inclined to read something with at least a little romance because I have a non existent love life at the moment.  (Seriously, my love life hasn't been this barren since I was the age of the teens in the books I am talking about.)

But I take HUGE issue with the concept of an instant love connection.  You know what I am talking about -  he's gorgeous, he wants you and pow - love.  I don't know about you but the guy that was the hottest kid in my classes at high school didn't know I existed.

I want to know why only hot guys seem to be inflicted with the instant love-pow.

There is so much emphasis in YA on being confident, owning our bodies, being proud.  And yet, the guys that are often lusted after by our protagonists are hotties.  Nothing wrong with that.  Eye candy is eye candy.  But why aren't these love-pows happening to the less aesthetically pleasing individuals of the XY chromosome?  Are less attractive guys genetically resistant to the love-pow?  Then why doesn't the same resistance inflict the average teen girl protagonist as well?

I am beginning to understand now why I never had a love-pow when I was a teen.  I was digging the geek boy.  The geek boy kinda, sorta, dug me.  I think.  I still have no idea.  You see....there was no instantaneous love connection there as we failed on the communication front.

But so do some of the couples that have been hit with the love-pow.  They don't talk.  They kiss, they think too much and they save the world from mystical beings with interesting names containing too many consonants.

I need to check our non-love history:
We didn't talk that much.  Check.
He wasn't hot by traditional standards.  Fail.
We didn't have crazy chemistry. Fail.
He, nor I, had mystical powers.  Fail.
There wasn't a third point to our non-existent love triangle.  Fail.
When we did talk our conversations didn't revolve around professing our love over and over again.  Fail.
I didn't use obliviousness as a mask for making contrived decisions.  Fail.

We weren't meant to be.  No wonder the world's jinxed my love life.  I didn't follow the cliched YA rules of the love-pow.

But here's my big problem.  Romance is being made interchangeable with love.  Love isn't an automatic thing. Love is earned.  Love is a living thing that needs to be nurtured.  Nurture isn't love professions and petting.  That's lust.

Whatever happened to being in like?

When I was fifteen I attended a leadership camp.  I met Matt.  Matt wasn't conventionally handsome but he was sweet, smart and was as cool as my conservative self could handle.  We spent three days at the camp hanging out as part of a group.

I went home and told mum that I had met my future husband.

What I am trying to share is that I get the need to be in love, to feel that compulsion, to force something at the teen age.  The need to equate like with love isn't anything new.  But at the moment I think the adult writers of these YA books are taking it from a normal teen whimsy into something irresponsible....bad writing.

You see I took Matt to my prom after speaking to him on the phone (I was trapped in boarding school) for three months.  I realised within ten minutes of the prom that Matt wasn't my future husband because he wouldn't walk beside me.  He walked behind me.  I found this weird and I was done.  That whimsy that made me declare that he was my future husband and feed youthful yearning for months and months on end died just as quickly as it started.

You can't love someone you don't know.  You can have a connection, a pull toward them, lust.  But at some point conversations have to take place. A relationship has to be built on more than kissing and that initial connection. Because if you don't know them, if the readers don't know anything about them other then a physical description and where his hands go when they snog then's shallow.  It's empty.  It's barren.  It's false.  It's bad writing.  It's love porn - stilted dialogue, some hot 'n' heavy and the story's going nowhere.

I also want to see the word 'love' used more sparingly.  It's bandied around so much that it's lost its meaning amidst all the clunky characterisation.

When was the last time you read a YA title and found that that characters fell in love without ever saying the word love? That it was expressed without being implicitly stated.   Why isn't liking someone a whole heap enough?  Why is destiny such a major player when we want to be our own, independent strong selves?

I really don't know.

But it might be something you think about the next time you pick up a book?


Sandy said...

Thank you.

I wish more YA writers would read this post and internalize it. There's a difference between love at first sight and real love -- the latter takes time, takes work and requires more interaction than a few fumbled "I love you"s.

I want to know why only hot guys seems to be inflicted with the instant love-pow.

Yes, this too. What works more for me is when the MC finds the love interest handsome because she's in love -- rather than being in love because he's hot.

April (BooksandWine) said...

Today, I have my three year anniversary with my boyfriend. We absolutely did not have a love-pow. Actually, I was drunk when we met and gave him a drunken hug. He totally was not the hottest guy I had ever locked lips with. However, we started talking and spending more time together. Eventually dating. Eventually falling in love as we got to know each other. We didn't use the L word until like 4 months in. Anyways, he is like the opposite of all the YA male leads, in that he is not an asshole to me, ever, except when I get to whining.

SO my point is, while occasionally YA romance may be alright, but if it was based somewhat in real life, it would be like 1000x better.

And yeah, during my high school years, I never used the L word, even while I was in a long term off and on relationship. Why would I? To just throw it around makes it cheap.

I guess, I would like YA love to be messy and awkward and quiet and gentle, exactly like real life.

Rock the fuck on for writing this, Adele.

Tina said...

I agree 100% with this post. I think this is why I hardly pick up any YA romance or why I feel like every YA romance out there (paranormal or not) feels the same because they have what you listed up there. I'm a staunch believer that love isn't an emotion but a decision, and liking a person is an entirely different thing. I hardly believe these teens know how it really is to decide to love the other person forever, especially after knowing them for what, 5 minutes?

Awesome post as usual, Adele. You hit the nail right on the head. :)

Adele said...

Thanks for the comments!

Just want to make clear that I do believe teens can legitimately fall in love. Love isn't reserved for adults. I think teens and adults are equal abusers of the word and emotion.

YAY (real and well written) young love.

Unknown said...

You make me laugh. I like your writing style. :)

I read through my diary the other day from when I was 16 (10 million years ago) and I "loved" about 10 guys over the course of the school year. I can't even remember most of them now!

Angelique said...

I 'love" your post...serious love-pow ;)

Lynn M said...

I think this is my problem with most romance books, not just YA. I have a hard time accepting the Soul Mates level of love that these couples manage to find after barely even speaking to each other. We are told over and over again that the Hero loves the Heroine and vice versa, but we are never shown why they love that person. Never given conversations in which that love develops.

I'm a firm believer in lust at first sight. I do think that people can have a serious physical attraction to someone they just met. And I do think that teens, being inexperienced, easily confuse that lust and initial infatuation with love. It's when that initial attraction becomes the one and only reason that this couple is in love that I have a problem. I have a philosophy - you can't truly know a person until you've spent all of the major holiday with them, so I'd give things at least a year before I'd buy the whole partners for life level of love.

Anonymous said...

I agree 100%. I believe that there is lust at first sight but not love. Like you said, love is hard work. I think in YA, because for so many teens getting love and lust confused is just part of growing up and not having had much experience in that area may be why authors purposely confuse the two as well when writing? They may just be trying to play up that aspect of growing up and having their MC fall head over heels for a boy she doesn't know etc.

Some books however, you can see that the above is not really the intention. I find the whole lust thing more prevalent in paranormal YA then contemporary. In contemporary books with romance, there tends to be an evolution in the relationship between the MC and their love interest. They talk a lot more, they bond on common problems or insecurities or goals etc. With paranormal, the love interest tends to be mysterious and very attractive and the MC is just drawn to him/her for no real reason at all. They are drawn to each other for surface reasons and not really for who they are as individuals.

Kelly said...

I 100% agree with you! I hate reading books where two people fall madly in love without even knowing who each other are! For goodness sake, it takes a lot more time to really be in love with someone! My boyfriend and I had an instant "connection" when we met, but we didn't know each other and hung out as friends for a year, and when we started dating a year later, we were best friends and definitely "in like". We've been together 3 1/2 years now and I love him dearly, but it does take WORK to love someone and just to get to the point of being in love.

I wish more movies and books were more realistic about the whole "romance/lust" vs. "love" thing.

Nancy said...

Thank you for this great post. I always want a bit of love and romance in a book but it has to be believeable and true. So often I am greatly disappointed by all the "OMG! we saw each other across a crowded room and we locked eyes and WHAMMO!!! we are instantaneously IN love" who cares that we have never seen each other before, don't know whom the other person is or care that they might be a tool or some Psycho Killer
Qu'est-ce que c'est.

It is getting to the point that I would rather not have any romance at all in my story because if it cannot be depicted believably why bother?


Donna (Bites) said...

Ditto. While I can understand that OMG I lurve him! feeling that teens get, it's one thing as portraying it for what it is, and blowing it into something it most likely isn't. That's not to say high school sweethearts don't get married and grow up to have a family. It can happen. But for the most part, it doesn't.

So I can kinda see the overblown "love" issue because so many teens do it, even you said it yourself. But with you, and a lot of other girls, you'll find a flaw you didn't like and it's over. Where are those flaws? Why does that ONE guy always turn out to be uber fantastic and the chick likes everything about him ? Why is that pedestal actually rendered? Because chances are, nearly all the boys teenage girls canonize in the name of love will shatter on the floor.

La Coccinelle said...

Maybe I'm a romantic, but I do believe in love at first sight. However, I don't think that necessarily makes for good fiction. Things in real life often happen for no discernible reason. But in fiction, everything should have a reason; otherwise, it comes across as sloppy or lazy.

Girl on a Mission said...

LOL this was awesome. I completely agree that there's no such thing as love at first sight. My boyfriend of 8 years? I wasn't attracted to him at all at first, but then we got to know each other more and then pow!

Though the fact of the matter is that even though we may feel this way about love, there are lots of people out there that haven't experienced love themselves and want to believe that love can happen that way. Ignorance is bliss! So they will continue to eat up novels like that.

Emily Cross said...

Great post and I agree 100%! At the moment I'm writing my own YA book and I'm not planning on lust at first sight scenario (alot has to be said for the way Jane Austin did things - and she didn't believe in love at first sight either).

I'd love to know if you or your readers have any recommendations of YA books that dealt with love in a non-obsession-at-first-site way? It seems to be non existent in UF/PR YA field.

Abby said...

Yes! I agree! My problem comes where I'm told over and over again that the characters love each other or that she's falling for him, but I don't ever SEE it. I think you're right that if YA authors avoided the word "love", we'd all be better off. Find a way to SHOW US that they're feeling the feelings, don't just tell us. If I can't see it, I'm not going to believe it. And that's a problem!!

Jordyn said...

*so much thinking going on right now*

Anonymous said...

The list totally made me laugh, then made me paranoid about my own writing.

I think you nailed it on the head with your Matt story though - you spend a few days with someone you think is totally cool and then you *think* you're in love - at least until they do something weird or annoying and then you're gone and years later you realize it wasn't love but like and you tell funny stories about it to total strangers.

There is a rush to forever love in YA - that idea that this person I met when I'm 15-17 is somehow my soul mate and they'll never make me angry or break my heart and I'll never meet someone better matched for me. That is frustrating. You're right - love is work, it's hard, and it's not perfect. And those things are portrayed very well in YA.

Arianna said...

I agree. Well, I'm not sure if I totally agree, because I'm 14 and therefore don't have much experience with true love, but from the books I read I've noticed that what you've said is true. There's a lot too much love at first sight and I don't believe in it, either.

Anyway. Anything else I say would be complete crap, so that's all I'll say. xD

Robyn Bavati said...

I’m a sucker for a good love story, and it may be one of the reasons I love the last 3 YA books I read - Beatle Meets Destiny, Six Impossible Things, and Graffiti Moon. They were all love stories, all romantic... and if they don't everyone's experience, well, it's fiction, right?

Elena Solodow said...

I think it's much better if the reader deduces that two characters are in love. When you have to "say it" over and over, it does cheapen it.

As always, with writing, showing is much better than telling. The purpose of writing a romance is so that the reader can FEEL that romance. In order to feel, the reader must experience - they must be shown, not told. So in effect, the YA world is creating a sense that love is as easy to put together as a bowl of ramen. They're being told it's easy, rather than shown what it is to be in love.

Great post.

Elena Solodow said...

I think it's much better if the reader deduces that two characters are in love. When you have to "say it" over and over, it does cheapen it.

As always, with writing, showing is much better than telling. The purpose of writing a romance is so that the reader can FEEL that romance. In order to feel, the reader must experience - they must be shown, not told. So in effect, the YA world is creating a sense that love is as easy to put together as a bowl of ramen. They're being told it's easy, rather than shown what it is to be in love.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post and sparked some lively commentary. Love is complicated. It's instant and it's gradual. Connections are formed and then cemented. I've always had a hard time buying any relationship where one of them is ready to DIE for the other in the span of a week. And the point about being told characters are in love over and over is a great one. For all the flack writers get on "telling" vs "showing", it's weird that this one sneaks through sometimes.

Found your blog by accident. Like it.

Anonymous said...

Well, you certainly have a point of view. Thats fine. I have avery different point of view then yours. First fiction is not real life, nor would it be better if it was more "realistic". Id cal it hyper real rather then false. It embodies symbolism and it isn't meant to mirror life. It is meant to entertain and to give a message. However, in real life love at first sight certainly happens. Id say its common. It doesn't take a certain amount conversation hours logged to love someone, and you don't need to know much about them, or even have much in common to feel like you have known them forever, and to need them in your life. Its amazing is how easy it is to spend time with a total stranger who may not have a single interest in common with you. Love doesn't take work. It can't be worked on, nor is it bestowed on someone because of their worth. Staying in love does take work. So does living with someone. But becoming in love is done much as the Ancient Greeks thought, its like being hit by an arrow. Well, everyone has different experiences. But why would we want to read about an uninspired romance? There are obviously too many of them out there. No one really much wants to read about a comfortable, lukewarm affection. There is not a thing wrong with that, and some people are not capable of anything else. But what people need to strive for is the real thing. The one that nature and fate decide is right for you. Not the one your friends like. Im surprised there aren't more people here that believe in love at first sight, but it does exist. I have always known within a second if i met someone I could be with, and it has never mattered if they were drunk, sick, or in a good mood just then. I doubt I am alone.