The topic for this post was originally inspired by June’s #HMReadathon, hosted by Mariam’s Yummy Books, in which we tried to read as many books as possible by Hannah Moskowitz—who has become one of my new favorite authors.
One thing I noticed was the way Moskowitz effortlessly writes realistic romantic relationships, where the characters deal with very real issues that come with a strong emotional connection and commitment to another person. Today, I’m going to be talking about Obstacles to Romance and why I think they’re important to include, particularly in YA.
Do you ever notice how a lot of YA books center around the main character getting together with a romantic partner, but the story rarely follows what happens after the fact? I understand that a lot of us read romance stories for the escapism, to fantasize about what our potential partner might be like or vicariously experience the ecstasy that is falling in love (especially for the first time). But romantic love is so much more than that! And YA readers deserve to see what that looks like.
Getting into a relationship is kind of a big deal.
Maybe this is my perception, obviously. I didn’t date in high school, although I spent a lot of time fantasizing about dating. As a result, I didn’t really understand what relationships were like, at least between people my age, until I got to college and experienced a very messy relationship for the first time.
Romantic relationships don’t always have a clear trajectory like they do in YA stories. Sometimes two people get together, only to decide they’re better off as friends. Sometimes people break up and get back together again—whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Some relationships take months or even years to develop. Sometimes people don’t define their romantic relationship at first, and I wish that was treated as a real situation rather than something that inspires shame or insecurity.
Sometimes, two people want to be together romantically, but they can’t for a variety of reasons. Take Craig and Lio in Gone, Gone, Gone. It’s clear from the beginning that the two boys really care about each other, but they can’t be together that way (at least, not yet). Craig has to work through his feelings for his ex, Cody, and Lio is grieving the loss of his brother and doesn’t know how to commit to a relationship. As heartbreaking as this was to read, it was so incredibly real. Sometimes you love someone but the timing is wrong, and I loved seeing that reflected in a story.
Relationships are complicated and often involve hard work.
This is one of those things that we don’t like to believe. People say that “true love just works,” which is often the case—but not always, and only to a certain extent. The truth is that after the “honeymoon stage” wears off, the individuals have to acknowledge where they are and how to continue to make the relationship work. This is where things get complicated.
Part of why I loved Wild so much is how it deals with a relationship that’s already established, and how complications come in. Zack and Jordan are already together, in a loving relationship, when he finds out that she’s Deaf. A big portion of the story is how Zack works to learn ASL so that he can communicate with the girl he loves.
Perhaps this is an extreme example of obstacles in relationships, but it doesn’t seem that far-fetched. How many of us have close friendships with people we only know from online? I know I have people I consider my best friends that I’ve never met in person. Right now, all my friendships are with people who are far away from me physically, but I make them work. I’d like to see more of that in portrayals of romantic relationships. At a certain point, when you love someone, you make the choice to fight for and with that person.
Some things I’d like to see more of in YA romantic relationships:
- Teens who go to different schools, whether in the same town or long distance, and make their relationship work using texting, phone calls, and even social media.
- Teens who stay together after high school while they’re at different colleges—even if they ultimately grow apart or break up.
- Internet romance. Maybe some people view this as cliched, but I am all about this.
- Established relationships where the two characters have to overcome a real-life problem. I want to see young people dealing with an unwanted pregnancy—making that decision and dealing with the consequences. I want to see established relationships where one or both partners deal with mental health issues and help each other through tough times. I want to see partnerships where one party deals with grief over a lost loved one.
- Basically, I just want more relationships that show what it’s really like when the falling-in-love stage is over.
But, Christine, you’re asking, why does this even matter?
This is not just my personal preference. This is what I needed to read when I was a lonely teenager fantasizing about my future romances. Because what I had back then was not the reality. What I had was escapism that taught me that falling in love is the Best Thing that will ever happen to you. What I had showed me one aspect of loving relationships, but left out, for the most part, the importance of friendship, and the work that goes into maintaining all relationships. What I had was not enough.
Young people are not so fragile that they should be shielded from the truth. More than that, reading books is one way that we learn about the world and our place in it. Reading books with romances teaches us what to expect in our own lives, and if we’re only showing the nice parts, we’re leaving out valuable tools that young people can use to overcome obstacles that will undoubtably encounter along the way.