Thursday, 16 February 2012

Thursday Thought: Romance

Romance in novels is one of those things that I've always kind of loved and hated. I love seeing characters fall for each other, I love the silliness, the passion and all that. It's great fun. But it has always irked me that it's often so unrealistic and even as a teenager I wondered about what effect it had on readers. 

I never believed the romance in books was realistic. My fiancé was my best friend for a good few months before we got together. During that time he fancied one of our friends who didn't return his feelings, I had a boyfriend of three years when I first arrived at university, then another boyfriend for a couple of months, and inbetween was your usual studenty flings. We finally got together because his best friend came to visit and told him he was an idiot for fancying our friend and not me because I was the one who had the most in common with him. I have always fallen for my best friends, except once (see above boyfriend of a few months), and personally I cannot fathom the idea of being with someone who isn't your best friend. Why would you want to date someone who isn't your friend?

In novels though you always see heroines (though you do get the odd hero) falling for a boy at first sight because he's oh so good and he's oh so fine (to quote The Kinks). You don't get many who slowly end up realising that they fancy their best friend. You also don't get many main characters who go from fancying one person to another to another throughout the novel, which is generally what happens when you're a teenager. You often fancy people you can never have as well and you don't see very much of that either. 

Where's the rejection? Most heorine's end up with the guy they want, at the most they have to choose between two but they still end up with someone. Where's the heroine's that end up with no one? Even more so where's the heroine's who don't want anyone? Where are the girls who feel that they can stand up on their own two feet and do not need a boyfriend to complete them? I haven't seen many.

I do think that a lot of novels create unrealistic images of love and relationships. I don't know many teenagers who stuck with one person for more than a few months. Teenagers can love, of course they can, I'm not saying they can't and I had the same boyfriend from when I was 15 to 18 years old, but I know I was an exception amongst most of my peers. Not many people had relationships that long.

I think that over all I find romance in many teenage novels to be a bit too clean. I'm not saying we need lots of raunchy sex scenes but it's all very...nice. Even the bad boys are quite squeaky clean in some cases. I want more realism. I want to see love and lust. I want to see sex portrayed as it really is, not just having sex with one person, not all these virgin main characters, not just straight. I want to see confusion over sexuality but not just in books aimed at LGBT teens but in ordinary stories aimed at everyone. I want to see straight characters feeling confused about whether they might fancy their best mate as well as lesbian, gay and bisexual characters and their relationships. I want to see more transgender characters too.

I want realism.

My friendship groups at school consisted of geeks, musicians, bisexual/gay/lesbian teens, teens with eating disorders, teens who self-harmed, teens who slept around, teens who never had sex, teens who stuck with the same person for years, teens who cheated, teens who did drugs, I think we all drank, teens who were really into computers and video games, teens with anger problems, teens with depression, teens who were aiming for Oxford or Cambridge, teens who were aiming to drop out and teens who seemed like the most well-adjusted people ever. A lot of these traits were all combined in a few of my friends from those days too. And that was just my friendship group at school!

But when I read a lot of teenage novels (which is pretty much all I read) I don't see many teenagers like this. I'm not sure if it's because most of the books I've been reading lately are American, because I know publishers over there are very touchy about such subjects, or what. Maybe it's the view that teens like this wouldn't want to read books about characters similar to them? Or the idea that people might worry it would upset or influence teenagers to act like this? I'm not sure, but I find it weird to read about generally pretty average, white-bread teenagers. We have TV shows and films that portray these sorts of characters and much worse, and they're pretty amazing films so it's not as if there isn't an audience for it.

As a writer I'm sure I'm guilty of creating similar characters so maybe I should just take my own advice! Which I plan to. I'm not saying romance novels are all bad, some are wonderful and realistic, and to some degree I do think that it's totally fine for readers to have a way of fantasizing. As I said at the start I like the silliness of it all and the passion, but I still wonder if it affects our idea of relationships. With romance in novels (or comics, or film, or whatever) you never really see the boring bits and I wonder if that makes people feel that their relationships need to be perfect all the time. Even as an adult I know so many women who are still holding out for a Mr Darcy type. In those cases all I can think of is 500 Days Of Summer when Paul says : "Robin is better than the girl of my dreams, she's real". Which is so true.

All images are from
What do you think about romance in teen novels?

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