In one word. Yes.
They totally do, think about, if you started reading at a young age or have always been a reader you’ll have grown up thinking that love is adorable. That kissing is easy, effortless, sex is well…what’s that?
*peers at the YA books*
*throws New Adult books at you*
We found sex at 21, before then we were too busy saving the world, from this evil King…or Queen.
Toxic love? Oh no, we don’t have that here, this is a place for those who want to believe love is amazing, not terrifying or harmful. Ahem…or complex.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love me a good contemporary or love plot/sub plot as any other. They make me swoon, hit me in the feels but they also make me sad sometimes. Knowing that it’s not exactly realistic, in a lot of contemporaries the love plot is the driving point of the story.
Within YA it’s typically structured as a couple (usually a boy and girl…although the diversity is getting there, there’s still a way to go!) ends up meeting and somehow they end up falling for the other, then we have some obstacle in the way…but we know they’ll end up together. It’s a very contemporary structure, one we’re all familiar with probably.
There’s nothing wrong with that structure, it’s a great stress free structure for us readers, who are constantly stressing over characters in Fantasy or Paranormal books. Who can’t get themselves together and just say they like the other one….or who give me so much stress I’ll be grey *stares at The Dark Artifices*
However, within the majority of books, romantic relationships tend to be skewed to appear perfect. They rarely argue, fight or break up…as for books which delve into the painful world of domestic abuse and toxic relationships…they’re often overlooked or hidden.
What 99% Of Young Adult Books Tells Us
Please note that the list below, is my own interpretation of what YA shows/portrays a relationship to be/look like…yours may be different and that’s TOTALLY fine 🙂
“love conquers all” – love doesn’t conquer everything, but having the support and encouragement of someone you love can help you along the way
“love can cure anything” – love won’t cure cancer, mental illnesses, eating disorders etc. It may seem like a nice thought, but including this in books is more damaging than many of us realise…it’s only when we’re older that we realise this though.
“love is heterosexual not all the different types between >.>” – you can love whoever you want, the portrayal of straight relationships in books is still present. More LGBT relationships are coming into the books we read, but we will always need more. Because the world isn’t made of straight cisgender people…the books should reflect our own world to a point. It’s how we relate to characters.
“love is some hot guy who treats you like crap BUT it’s ok girls, he’s hot so he’s alright” – this makes me annoyed. Don’t’ get me wrong, I enjoy enemies to lovers as a trope but there’s a fine line between enemies and bullies to lovers. Bullies to lovers is toxic, and shouldn’t even be a thing. The person who loves you shouldn’t be treating you like dirt, you’re worth more than that.
“love is smooth kiss scenes” – hahaha I’ve never been kissed but I remember over thinking how to kiss and even now, the idea of kissing someone still scares me. I’ve read books my whole life, watched TV shows and there’s rarely an awkward kissing scene ok. BUT I know kissing for the first time can’t be smooth right…so where are all the awkward kissing scenes?
“love is avoiding talking about sex” – YA seems to avoid sex mostly, I’ve come across some books which do include it. The problem is that in my mind, avoiding including sex in YA is actually a form of censorship. (BUT I respect and totally understand, if the author themselves, chooses to/wishes to not include sex scenes or talk of sex in their books.) Yet if they want to include it, then goddamn include it.
Sex is such an important topic for all of us to understand. Also YA is aimed at 12-18 year olds…look it’s the prime time, for us to feel pressured into things, or feeling like we should have done it by now. *raises brow* but in the fiction world, sex only crosses our minds at 21? Yeah no, sorry not how it works.
“love is going on romantic dates which wouldn’t happen to us” – seriously have you ever been on a picnic? Gone to a theme park? Made out in the pouring rain? Dates in today’s world are probably the cinema, shopping or erm…something else of the couples choosing. I’d also imagine the first date is awkward…not romantic AF as usually shown in the books.
“love is needing to be saved because we can’t save ourselves” – playing into the stereotype of girls being weak, boys being stronger and the trope of damsel in distress. We get this problem….whenever the girl gets stuck or needs help, she’s not even taken a breath to figure out how to save herself; the boy swoops in and saves her because he has a knight in shining armor complex.
If he saved me from a dragon, I’d let the dragon eat him.
We. Don’t. Need. Saving. We’re not damsels in distress, we’re badass, awesome women who are from all over the world. We don’t some boy (or anyone) to save us, we may need their help along the way, but we’re more than capable of saving ourselves.
“love isn’t being equal to them” – having them pay for the dates? Simply, in a lot of books you will still see the age old gender stereotypes, women can’t do the same thing as men because we’re not their equals. Total BS. A relationship means you’re equals, at least that’s what it means to me. I shouldn’t be less or more than my partner, we should be equals, leaning on one another. It’s give and take…not just give on one side and take on the other side.
“love involves being verbally abused, emotionally abused; it being ok because well they love each other (…this…this is an abusive relationship and I’m not down for this)” – basically abusive relationships are rarely shown in books, I really want to find more books which tackle this to better understand it. So far the only book I’ve read which features this is It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover. It broke me, remade me and allowed me to understand a lot about relationships.
What Being In A Relationship Is To Me
This section is me explaining what a relationship means to me, and tackling what the books seem to be showing me (us – if you also agree with my thoughts from the above section)
“respecting one another” – a healthy relationship needs respect from both sides, you should respect your partner, and they should respect you. If you don’t have that respect then it’s not exactly a health relationship.
“being an equal” – I touched upon this earlier but being in a relationship isn’t smooth sailing. If you’re not equals in the relationship from the get go…then there’s an imbalance. To me if there’s imbalance then one side won’t be truly happy…and being with someone shouldn’t make you unhappy or miserable right?
“facing the good, the bad and the ugly” – I always picture relationships as a boat. Weird I know, but stay with me, life is the ocean and our relationship is a boat.
Boats go through stormy weather, choppy seas and also calm seas. They face it all and if the sailors are good, they’ll make it through no matter what… I learned through a book last year, that love isn’t just an emotion. It’s also a choice. You may love someone, but it’s your choice whether you stay when things get tough, or whether you walk away.
“LGBT+/Straight” – as someone who recently figured out she’s bisexual. It’d have been helpful, for me to have easier access to books, with bisexual rep in them. Along with stories which feature f/f relationships, but not just in contemporary. It should be something, across all genres. Since in life we all fall under different labels, a label we chose, as we identify with that.
“awkward kisses” – I want to laugh and relate with characters, who over think things, who stumble through the first kiss with one another. Who awkwardly kiss and get shy after because to me that’s more accurate than smooth kissing and no awkward moments.
“stumbling over the topic of sex for the first time as a couple” – look couples can’t just avoid this topic right? They’ll bring it up and I want to witness it in my books, so I can chuckle and cringe along with them
“being there when they need you…” – whether in person or through the phone, when they need you, be there for them and listen, offer advice etc
“standing up for them” – yes they can stand up for themselves but what if they’re not their to do so? Stand up for them, if someone says something offhand about them, even if the people saying the stuff are your friends. Let them know you won’t stand for it…don’t just let them walk over the person you love
“pushing them to be their best” – remind them that you believe in them, don’t hold them back because you’re scared of losing them. Just talk it through them that you’re scared if something they want to pursue, is dangerous…
“communication and trust” – relationships require trust and communication these are the building blocks, if you can’t trust them then why are you dating them? Equally communication is important, as so often in books and shows, if people only communicated so much drama could’ve been avoided.
“let them save themselves” – one day you may not be there to save them: whether through a break up, death or something else. If you‘re not there and they’ve always had you to save them…how are they going to live on not being able to save themselves? They won‘t…they‘ll probably drown instead.
Give me the awkwardness in a relationship, the second guessing yourself and watch them evolve as a couple. As well as evolve as individuals since I strongly believe we don’t need anyone, to complete us. We are complete and whole on our own. Having someone else shouldn’t complete us…it should enhance who we already are. You don’t need to change for no one, you only change for yourself in my opinion.
I love the smooth sailing relationships in books, I also love when we watch them go through hardships, which test them. Honestly, one of my favourite things about writing relationships is seeing what I can put them through, how they react and grow as a couple and individuals.
Also if you happen to have gone on romantic dates (like the examples I gave) or have done anything else, please don’t get upset. It wasn’t my intention to call you out, and say your experiences are false. In fact, if you have done any of the things we see in books, let me know in the comments!
What do you think then? Are we given false expectations or not? What would you like to see more of, to make relationships more realistic?