Do Books Give False Expectations For Relationships?

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*
Oh look
*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?

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30 thoughts on “Do Books Give False Expectations For Relationships?

  1. These kind of posts are SO important! We have to keep reminding ourselves of this over and over. Especially we booklovers, as books are such important parts of our lives. And thanks for sharing some more personal stuff, it was a joy to read :).


  2. yes yes yes to all of this!! dragons >>> (YA and real-life) love interests 🔥🐉

    I think the most effective fix for a lot of these would just be to diversify romance in books and other media – everyone’s ideas and experiences will be different, and that should be reflected in the stories we see! it’s so important for young adults (pre-teens, teens, even 20-somethings) to be able to identify with what they’re reading/watching, and to know that they’re valid and “normal” 🏳‍🌈


  3. this was a really, really good post! i totally agree with most of this; romance seems all fluffy and good in books, no awkward kissing scenes even when the character is having their first kiss? LIKE where did you get your masterclass in kissing or were you born with this talent?? and i mean i’ve seen couples talk about sex in loads of YA books so i’m not sure about that?? and love curing all is a very bad trope and should die!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aaaah thank you so much Isla! Ugh totally, like sign me up for a masterclass pls xD Hmmm it might be because I frequent backlist books tbf, I’ve noticed new releases or the more recent the book. There’s often more mentions of sex, although in earlier books it’s not really mentioned unless two characters are planning on doing it right there then… *coughs at a certain series where it happened in the last book and like no other mention of sex had occurred*

      So I think it could totally vary depending on what year the book was published, as well? It’s certainly an interesting topic though.


  4. Oh, this post was very unique and good! Definitely books set expectations and views of life that 1)aren’t right 2)aren’t possibile most of the time.

    If I’ve to speak on my side, damaging things books thoughts me were that romance was more important then everything (sometimes even of the plot 😂) and so everything that came with a relationship. This definitely was heavy on me, because only allosexual/romantic relationship were protrayed. Asexual relationship were like super rare rainbow unicorns… and kinda still are.

    But yes! And can also talk about meet a dude… and the dude is utter trash? Never read a novel with that and I deeply need this level of cringiness to read. Something I can relate at least.


    I think that there should definitely be more books that show realistic relationships but I don’t think there should be less of what we have already.
    As a teen I understand that what’s in the book isn’t realistic but do I still want to fantasise about it? (absolutely!).
    I think we should also focus on tween and children’s books as they have equally harmful stereotypes just in different ways.
    I think that the gender stereotypes and the lgbtq+ representations should be adjusted, as when one of those things are in a book it’s applauded when it should just be normal!
    Overall, I think that more literature in general should include healthy relationships but that unhealthy ones shouldn’t stop (I know that’s a crazy point but think about the cruel prince & the wicked king – Jude and Carden’s relationship is TOXIC, yet we all still love it!) I just think authors should make it more clear that however much we love to read about those kinds of relationships that they’re not ok in real life.
    Thanks for listening to my TED talk 😂


  6. The post I didn’t know I need ! LOL I definitely agree with the smooth kisses– we need awkward, awkward is REAL! Can’t stop laughing about that bit about the dragons because yep same. So many relatable points here.
    Awesome post! 💛


  7. *Throws all the yeses at you* YES. YES. YES. I get really annoyed especially as I get older when I read certain setups and I’m like ‘please no, this is not realistic…stahhhhp.’ Of course, there can be toxic love but what about more YA where the protagonist realizes it? They get out, they learn that loving themselves is better…those are books I would freakin buy.


  8. I kind of want to see a series just based on this post, a new challenge where you read trope-y books and dissect the harmful themes/stereotypes within them.

    I loved this post. I loved, loved, loved this post. As someone who’s not straight either, I often wonder how different it would have been for me if I’d been able to read more diverse books.


  9. It’s definitely an interesting thing to discuss! I mean, I’m really glad that 99% of the YA I read don’t fall into these categories with the romance. 😂 Otherwise I’d be so pissed off about?! But I read a lot of YA that has imperfect relationships, awkward kisses, couples that don’t work out, and girls that call out problematic boy behaviour and either leaves him or works it out. Of course there ARE a lot of problematic romance tropes and they do come up!! But I think YA is doing great at nixing those awful “hot abusive paranormal” tropes. Thank goodness. 😂

    Definitely still need more diversity though, eep. Especially f/f, and also in fantasy!


  10. Such a great post, Clo! I loved it and well, it is completely true. I figured out I’m bisexual sometime late 2017 and now, almost a year and 2-3 months later, I still look for acceptance in books since that is the one place I always seem to reach out to when I don’t understand things.
    Leah in the OffBeat did help me accept myself and well, it provided an insight that very few books can give right now.
    And about sex, it’s such an important topic to talk to any teen about! It’s always on their minds whether they’d like to admit or not. I do know that while none of my classmates (or me) have done it yet, they think about it but are kind of shy to talk about it. IT not featuring in many books is also one thing that makes me feel like I don’t anything about it even though I obviously know the basic thing that happens.

    Moreover, I think the question you’re asking and what you’re trying to establish by this post is amazing! IT has a nice overview and is quite motivating.
    This is one of the best and most interesting posts I’ve ever read.


  11. This is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. I’m 28 now, but I grew up reading YA contemporary and completely romanticizing the idea of being in a relationship with someone. I was TERRIFIED of having my first kiss, because I’d built it up to this huge thing that had to be 100% perfect. The reality is that kissing someone new for the first time is always a little bit awkward…I mean, you’re putting your mouth on someone else’s mouth! I wish more YA books showed romantic relationships the way they really are, in all their messy glory!

    Also, I 100% agree with you about bisexual rep. I didn’t realize I was bi until I was like…22? Because there were no books about what it’s like to be attracted to more than one gender, so I never realized what my feelings actually were because I had nothing to reflect it back to me. *shrug* All I’m trying to say is, thank you for talking about this!


  12. I definitely agree that books and most of pop culture sets up unrealistic views of relationship. I would greatly support a sub-genre with more realistic scenarios. Especially with sex, it really should be encouraged to have healthy conversations with your partner or examples of how a single character navigates the dating world in reality. I think it helps when discussing books, talking about the unrealistic scenarios and what a real-life situation would actually look like, pointing out the flaws in the relationship or characters.

    I say sub-genre because I think part of the allure of books is to escape the realities of life and submerse yourself in a relationship that you might not actually partake in in real life. Like, I really dislike Twilight and almost everything it represents in terms of a healthy relationship but every once in a while I like watching it their crazy relationship.


  13. THIS POST IS AMAZING! I completely agree with everything you said. I actually had my first kiss with someone that I regret sooner than I wanted to and lost the chance to have my first kiss with someone I like because I read so many books with characters centered around my age who were kissing and then others were making fun of those who didn’t in the books. So I can personally relate to what you are saying. Lovely post and have a great day 🙂


  14. Clo, this is such an amazing and important post! 😊 There are so many books out there which misrepresent healthy teen relationships, and it can be quite a problem. I agree that it often leads us to have certain expectations (although I’ve never been in a relationship, so I don’t *actually* know). Everything, especially in YA (and even Middle Grade!) should be more diverse so that people don’t feel left out or like they’re strange. Everyone should feel represented, or they should at least feel like they are valid and not pressured into having a “perfect” relationship. (I also REALLY dislike when a fictional relaitonship is unrealistic, because I can tell that it’s a bit strange and just makes me uncomfortable.)


  15. Ooooh, I love this post so much, Clo! I’ve only ever been in one relationship, and it’s certainly had it’s awkward “firsts” hahaha! I have read a few books that do have these little awkward moments, but definitely agree that most of the time YA paints a false expectation of what relationships are or should be like. I also 100% agree with your point about the “bullying to lovers” trope being awful. I adore enemies-to-lovers romances, but if either partner is emotionally or physically abusive towards the other, I don’t believe they can have a healthy relationship.

    Awesome post! ❤


  16. This is such a good post, and definitely something that needs to be talked about more! Like you, I’ve noticed that most YA relationships are always “perfect” — the girl is normally interested in the same guy from beginning to end, and she sticks with him no matter what happens between them. This is definitely unrealistic, and also just kinda annoying. I want to see more books where the main character(s) go through several different relationships instead of finding their “one true love” right away, and more books where the dynamics of those relationships are realistic, including some of the things you mentioned! Hopefully by continuing to talk about it, we’ll make things change! Again, great post, I really loved it. Thanks for sharing 🙂


  17. THIS POST IS SO ACCURATE IT ALMOST HURTS!!! I think the ‘love conquers all’ is even worse than ”with the power of friendship, everything will be allright!”


  18. This is a great post and made me realise that books do miss out the important stuff. It’s rare if a book doesn’t have a happy ever after. I’ll be sure to consider this in my writing!



    Media in general (looking at you, Disney movies) really indoctrinate us from a young age on what to expect in relationships, and those tropes and “traditional roles” are reinforced as we grow up. I don’t read the romance genre, but I don’t mind a good romance subplot in my fantasy and science fiction but one of my biggest pet peeves is when the ships perpetuate those harmful expectations.

    Love Conquers All is literally the most harmful thing; it’s why I stayed in abusive/unhealthy relationships. It’s honestly no wonder so many people, myself included, go for the “bad boy” and think we can change them… between that and abusive/Stockholm Syndrome enemies to lovers ships my blood boils with the heat of a thousand suns.


  20. Amazing post! It’s so true that books can give off unrealistic standards for romantic relationships. I’ve read a few books with more realistic teen relationships before and I’d love to see more of that because it just feels so much more real. Those are the books I can relate to, not the ones loaded with the typical YA tropes. Also It Ends With Us made me ugly cry so many times. It was a really eye opening book.


  21. “love is some hot guy who treats you like crap BUT it’s ok girls, he’s hot so he’s alright,’ this kills me. I can imagine a girl or guy saying that their guy treats them like shit but he’s hot and their friends are like dump that creep. Not in books though, soz he’s your one forever, deal with him.


  22. Great discussion topic Chloe! I don’t read many contemporary books but the same can be said for other genres. I enjoy romance when it’s one of the subplots in a story. Instalove really burns me! I would love to read about more friends relationships; they can just as important in one’s life as a romantic one. ❤️❤️


  23. Awesome post Clo, and you are on a roll. I found myself nodding at several places. And I can’t agree enough about how stupid is the love conquers all trope.


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