In Defense of Romance

The inspiration for this post came from a rather strange place. Ashley of BookNook posted a DNF review of Orleans, a book I really liked. She listed her reasons (all quite valid btw – this is in no way a criticism of her decision to DNF) and one of them was the lack of romance. Ashley openly admits that she likes there to be some romance in her books.

Confession time: I love romance in my novels. I really, really do.

Honestly, my liking for Orleans was more of an exception than a rule. I’m more accepting of a lack of romance in dystopian/post-apocalyptic, since circumstances don’t make it easy and because there have been such terrible abuses of the genre in that respect. Normally, when I’m reading a book, I have my eye out for someone to ship with the main character. I like there to be a couple to root for, even if there’s hardly any romantic tension, I’ll imagine it down the road.

There are exceptions of course. I don’t want romance in middle grade or children’s fiction most of the time, and it doesn’t belong in a story like A Clockwork Orange. Most of the time, though, I want there to be something. It doesn’t need to be overt, but I want there to be a hint of it.

Bonus points if there are also unicorns.

Lately, with all of the instalove and horribly done love triangles, I feel like there’s a sense that romance is overdone in general and that there should be more books without any romance.  Actually, I don’t think it’s the romance that’s the problem with books these days, so much as how romance is being handled. The bestselling YA books depict horribly unhealthy, unrealistic relationships, so that’s what gets churned out over and over in an attempt to repeat the success of Cassandra Clare, Lauren Kate, Stephenie Meyer, etc. The problem is writing on a formula rather than writing real, vibrant characters who will behave in a way that is logical with their mental processes.

This may be pathetic to admit, but I live vicariously through my fiction, and a sweet, realistic romance gives me hope and feels that I generally do not find in daily life. I feel almost embarrassed to admit that I actually love romance in books because it doesn’t feel cool to say that these days, but there it is.

This is why I spend most of my time reading.

Let’s embrace romance, but get rid of these tropes that are giving romance a bad name:

Instalove: I’ve written about this before, and I still stand by that. The characters might FEEL like they’re in love immediately, but, if you go with that, show some of the growing pains between the idea of love and really falling in love with the person, rather than the idea of them.

Abusive Relationships: Obviously, fiction SHOULD cover abusive relationships. They’re out there, and people, teens and adults alike, will benefit from an awareness of what makes an unhealthy relationship. However, I do not want to see these relationships romanticized. Fiction should imitate life, yes, but it’s also making a point, and when the heroine is happy to be bullied by her boyfriend it sends a terrible message. Especially in teen fiction, I don’t want to see an abusive relationship upheld as a romantic ideal and ending happily ever after. The heroine needs to come to some sort of awareness of her situation, even if she can’t get out of it. This was handled well in Falling for You, but terribly in Nobody But Us.

An appropriate response to a controlling boyfriend.

Couples With No Chemistry or Personality: So many romances I’ve read have fallen flat because all of the characters are flat themselves. If Brandon Blah and Karen Cardboard fall in love, what the heck do I care. They’re always in love the first time they meet, but they literally have nothing to talk about aside from their declarations of love, compliments on physical appearance, and minimal discussion of the current crisis. You can just seem them as an old married couple communicating in annoyed grunts because they realized they have nothing to talk about. I especially see this in male love interests in a love triangle. You can have Broody McDouche or Aggressive MacAsshole. What a choice! Of course, the heroines making those choices are generally so passive and without personality they need someone like that to tell them how to think. This is no good. At all. If the couple would not be able to entertain themselves for a week just by talking and with no crisis going on, they’re not going to make it.

The Plot Keeping Them Apart: Relationships are really hard. The people in the relationship are the biggest barrier to the success of the relationship in most cases. Yet, in fiction, it’s almost always the parents, the government, a curse, etc. keeping the couple apart. I think of this as Romeo & Juliet syndrome; everyone’s trying to keep us apart so ours is an intense and tragic love. Not buying it.

Love Triangles: Radiant Shadows wrote a great post on this that is worth checking out. As she says, love triangles are not wrong in and of themselves, but they often combine elements of every other problem in romance, like instalove or flat characters. I’d also like to see less where the MC is leading on both of the love interests.

The Focus on LOVE: Listen, love is great, I’m sure. However, it seems like every book wants the MC to be in lurve with someone by the end. The reader doesn’t need to be told they’re in love; if they have great chemistry, we can imagine that for them. Every teenager doesn’t think every encounter is love. Actually, I would really like to see more YA where the heroine dates casually for a while. It seems like they’re mostly either single or in a SUPER SERIOUS RELATIONSHIP.

I think this is a great attitude I don’t see enough in fiction.

The Hottest Blah in School: Is anyone else sick of the mysterious transfer student or the hottest dude/chick suddenly being inextricably drawn to the MC? I know I am. Why can’t normal people fall in love? Every hero doesn’t need to be the most attractive guy ever in the world for readers to root for the couple. For example, I ship Eleanor and Park so hard, and they are both not remotely the stereotypical hero and heroine.

Do you like romance in your books or do you wish it would stop? What are some other bad romance tropes?

55 responses to “In Defense of Romance”

  1. Tez Miller says:

    I’ve just had enough romance. It’s the least interesting part of a novel (for me), and it brings down the whole story. I’m just over it.

    • Christina says:

      I know this is how a lot of people feel about it, which is why it’s vaguely embarrassing that I love it so much. But I refuse to be ashamed. This is my declaration of pride.

  2. Steena says:

    A fine argument! I agree that I head into most novels expecting at least a little bit of romance, even if it belongs to side characters or is only a subplot. And I too am just a bit disappointed when it isn’t there.

    As you said, certain books do not merit romance and, certainly, it can be way overblown. But, especially in YA, I feel like romance should almost be a given. Even if a long-lasting relationship is not formed between the MC and anyone else, it should be expected that it will be on character’s minds. I don’t know about other people but I was freaking boy crazy in high school. I didn’t even date and I would not say I judged myself based on romantic involvement but I spent a good 60% of my time thinking about boys or dating or the possibilities thereof. There is so much raging hormones at that time of your life that, even if you aren’t looking to be in a relationship, your brain is still processing all of the variables and outcomes of potential romantic entanglements. Not everyone operates that way – I fully believe that Katniss is too practically minded to give a damn about Gale or Peeta until later in the series. But someone’s going to be thinking about it and even if the MC isn’t, chances are another character will bring up the subject.

    I am excited for more LGBT romance to become mainstream in literature and would also like to see more written on non-traditional relationships.

    • Christina says:

      Yay! That is precisely how I feel. Even though I often think books would have been better without the romance, I find myself disappointed when it’s not there. On some level, it’s a Catch-22.

      Even better if a long-lasting relationship isn’t developed to my way of thinking! Oh man, I had crushes on freaking everyone when I was in high school. It was ridiculous. Exactly. I didn’t do any dating, but I still THOUGHT about dating much of the time. Very true. Romance will, barring apocalyptic circumstances or lack of people of the gender they’re attracted to, probably be a topic that flits through their head. Or others will try to discuss it with them.

      Yes! I would really love to see more of that as well!

  3. I find this surprising. It never occurred to me to wish for romance to stop. One bad romance doesn’t equate to me hating romance in general. I just tend to hate it in that book, then move onto another book which may or may not portray it better. I can’t think of another trope right now… Maybe also the part where it’s always the guy acting first instead of the girl? I’d like to read about bolder girls.

    • Christina says:

      I’ve heard from a lot of people that they wish there were more books without romance.

      YES! I would love to see more books with proactive, sex-hungry girls. It’s not just guys who enjoy the physical sides of relationships or can be the aggressor. Also, I want to see less of the experienced guy with the pure little flower of a girl.

  4. Kelly says:

    I am a sucker for a good romance. My big problem with YA (lately) is that everything else has been suffering because of the romance – the world-building, the characterization, the plot: it’s all been given a backseat to the romance, which for a dystopian or science fiction story, doesn’t make ANY sense. I think it’s fine to include a romance in almost any novel, but it shouldn’t overwhelm everything else.

    • Christina says:

      Truth. I agree that there have been a lot of excesses in the name of romance. Only in rare circumstances should it be the focal point of the story, and NEVER in a dystopia. I’m willing to go that far. A dystopia should be about world building first and foremost. The same is true of most science fiction and fantasy too.

  5. Angie F says:

    I love love love romance! And I agree with this post! I think romance is getting a bit out of hand, and occasionally I wish it wasn’t there at all. As an example, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis was one of my favorite books last year and there was no romance, hints at it, yes, but no OMG I LOVE YOU! It was an exciting book, no romance needed. Then the romance started growing in the second book even though there is absolutely no chemistry. I just didn’t buy it. Then in the final book, I declared it one of the worst YA romances I’ve read. It just makes no sense to me. That seriously could have been amazing series without the half-developed romance.

    One thing I would like to see done though, is a romance from the male POV. Perhaps human male with supernatural female. This never happens! Maybe even a love triangle! Let the normal guy be torn between two awesome girls! I don’t know…I just want some different type of romance. Maybe a bisexual love triangle that isn’t gimmicky!

    Angie @ Pinkindle Reads & Reviews

    • Steena says:

      Agreed! I’d love to see more male POV in general. Even if females are the primary demographic for YA does not mean that females cannot enjoy a book from an alternate gender perspective. Or an alternate sexual orientation for that matter.

    • Christina says:

      Oh yeah, romance is getting out of hand, particularly in dystopian fiction, but I want to see more that don’t involve those out of hand elements I listed. I agree about the romance in Beth Revis’ series. I didn’t mind AMS, because Amy was like ehhhh, but in SOE it got past what I could handle.

      Ooooh, I would love more male POVs and especially more books with different sexual orientations.

  6. I don’t like romance, but I think it’s because of all the wrongs being done in YA right now. Most of the time I tend to avoid books where the romantic relationship is talked about in the blurb because that’s usually an indicator of bad things to come. I’m tired of plots being derailed by the romantic element.

    I, too, am tired of dystopians being abused by romance. I’m tired of reading about worlds that are created just to keep the couple apart. Most of the time the world-building doesn’t make sense anyway, so it’s just another nail in the coffin.

    I’m like you in that I like to live vicariously through the characters in the books. So when I see a romance that has insta-love, or abuse, or any number of the things you listed, it drives me mad. So yeah, I tend to avoid romance-focused books.

    • Christina says:

      Truth. I’ve started doing the same thing, even though I really love romance. Actually, it’s mostly just the paranormal or dystopian blurbs. If it’s like SEXY NEW GUY MOVED TO TOWN, I’m like ahhhh run for the hills.

      If there’s romance in a dystopian, fine. But it shouldn’t be about true love. It should be, “we could die at any time, so why don’t we hook up?”

      That’s sad that you like romance, but have been burned so many times that you avoid it. Damn you, authors, that are ruining it for us!

  7. Emma says:

    I started off the year all like ‘I hate romance, no more for me!’ I’ve now read three YA books this year that had no romance. Did I miss it? No, because the story didn’t call for it. I don’t believe that a romance should be shoe horned into a story just so it fits the mould of other successful books. However, I’m not completely heartless. I do appreciate a well written romance but I like to see how characters fall for each other, rather than be told over and over again how they feel. I guess that falls into your point about characters either being single or in a serious relationship. If they were shown to be dating, as a reader you would follow them as their feelings progressed and as a result you would have stronger feelings towards all involved, be they good or bad.

    • Christina says:

      Oh yeah, I do NOT want romance shoehorned into a story. I’ve read plenty without romance that I liked and ones with romance where I said it should be taken out (like Splintered). I love good romance, and I would like to see more character-based romance, rather than just OMG WE LOVE EACH OTHER BECAUSE WE SAY SO romance.

      I guess I’d just generally like to see more showing and less telling romance. It’s all about the feels and you can’t TELL me and make me feel.

  8. Natalie says:

    I love romance in books if it’s done well, but I’ve been frustrated with some of the YA pickings lately for pretty much all of the reasons you list above. Love is such an important part of life that it totally should be written about, especially in books for teens, but so many authors focus on the wrong kinds of love that it gets frustrating.

    My favorite romance that I’ve read lately is The Sea of Tranquility. that book, to me anyway, wasn’t just a book about romance, even though the romance is a main part of the story. It also had familial love and friendship love and everything in between, and I think that made the romantic love so much richer and interesting. I want more YA books like this. Is that so much to ask?

    • Christina says:

      Agreed. I want them to stop forcing it, so we can see more natural, lifelike romances. I really don’t want every romance to be hyper romantic or love for all time.

      I’ve not gotten to that one, but it’s on my giant list of books to try someday. I don’t think it’s too much to ask! You should check out Eleanor & Park. It was amazing!

  9. Oh, you are a girl after my heart. I lovveeee romance. I’m like you, I live vicariously through books because things have been a little stagnant in my romantic life lately. I personally have a difficult time reading books that don’t have romance in them because that seems to be the thing that keeps me going. It’s so fun to pine after a character and hope that your favorite couples will work out. I know a lot of people really aren’t into the whole romance thing, but I don’t care. There’s a reason why I love contemporary so much (LOTS of romance haha).

    • Christina says:

      Romantic life? What romantic life? Haha. Real life is boring and lonely. I don’t quite have a difficult time with romance-less books unless it seems like there should be romance or at least crushes. Like, how many teens would be in high school and not think about how so and so is cute?

      Yes, I love being able to root for a couple!

  10. tjpieraccini says:

    I don’t read YA (time constraints, no other reason) so I can’t comment on how romance is handled there. I have seen the first two Twilight films, and I guess that’s not entirely atypical of the way YA romance often goes. But I’m very much in favour of romance (I thought you might like to hear this from a male) – intimate union, physical and emotional, with another person is the best thing this life has to offer, and almost any story that ignores that is likely to be the poorer for it.

    • Christina says:

      Twilight, while not an originator of these things, did increase in their popularity, as people try to sell their books by redoing what Twilight did.

      I love the way you phrased that. It’s the real connection between the characters that I like, nothing else.

  11. Amy says:

    I had no clue that people were against romance!! I love romance!! Like you said though, it needs to be right. I don’t want a romance just for the sake of having one, and the unhealthy relationships being romanticized is a big no to me too. I don’t mind love triangles if there’s a reason for them, but I don’t enjoy them if they are just there to cause unnecessary drama. I typically miss the romance in a book if it’s absent unless like you said, the story doesn’t really call for it and it would just be filler material. Great post hon!!

    • Christina says:

      They are! And I do get it, but I think we all like our own thing. Agreed that I don’t want it just because it HAS to be there. I want believable ones, whether happy or sad.

  12. You just managed to surprise me! I didn’t have you pegged for someone who really loved romance in books!

    Obviously I agree. I love romance in books. I need it, even if it’s just a little bit. I can’t even remember the last book I read that had zero romance in it.

    With that said, I agree that some stuff has to go. I’m indifferent to love triangles but totally agree with abusive relationships that are romanticized. Not cool yo!

    Remember at the end of Speed when Sandra tells Keanu that relationships don’t last when the are based on intense circumstances? That’s how I feel about almost all romances, especially in YA. They wouldn’t last forever, cause they have nothing to talk about.

    • Christina says:

      OMG, yes yes yes to your last section of the comment. That’s how I feel about so many of TRUE LUV relationships in novels. They’re in the middle of these catastrophic circumstances, and, yeah, emotions are heightened, but that’s not real love because you’re not who you normally are at all.

      I feel like there have to be scenes to either show them in a quiet moment or some time after. Or just don’t make it forever love.

  13. “So many romances I’ve read have fallen flat because all of the characters are flat themselves. If Brandon Blah and Karen Cardboard fall in love, what the heck do I care.” 🙂 YES! This is my #1 problem with romances. If I just don’t give a flying eff about either character, why would I want to hear every detail of their makeout sesh? I need to care about at least one. But probably both.

    And I also ship Eleanor & Park so hard it’s not even funny. That is one of the best romances I’ve read in a long time. SO the opposite of all the annoying as hell tropes you’ve so brilliantly written about here. Most of all, I believe they would be friends, and would actually have stuff to say to each other at the end of the day.

    Amazing post!

    • Christina says:

      Exactly. I can’t be excited for their drama together if I don’t give a fig about them apart.

      YAY! I’m so glad someone else has read it and loved it. They are so amazing, and so fresh for YA. They’re like no one else!

  14. fakesteph says:

    Yes yes, all of these things! I like romance when it complicates the plot (which is different than a plot keeping lovers apart), but it can’t be the inciting incident. It has to be like… a girl makes a boy fall in love with her so that she can go to his family Christmas party because she needs to assassinate his father, but THEN she falls in love with the son. But the father is still a dictator committing genocide and her plan is already in place and too late to stop by the time she realizes he’s in love… or something… that’s not a good example. Mary and James in The Agency Series is a good example of what I LOVE.

    • Christina says:

      Ha! Yes. Their relationship can make accomplishing their goal more difficult, but because of internal problems they’re happening. I’m so sick of relationships having only external problems. Most relationship problems are because of the two people in the relationship.

      Oh, I haven’t read that series. *snaps fingers*

  15. Brandy says:

    PREACH IT!!!!

    I love good romance in a book. And by good I mean one lacking all of the things you mentioned here. And a lot of times that is exactly what I’m reading a book for. (Even having a wonderful long lasting romance in real life. I still like to read about it.)

    I actually kind of like it in my MG books too as long as it is done right-like Jenn Reese is doing it in the Above World trilogy in that it’s age appropriate. Or Stephanie Burgis in the Kat Stephenson books as she’s watching the romances of her older siblings.

    Also I clear my Google Reader out every day and yet there is always more than one post from you when I come back. You are Super Blogger. You should have a cape.

    • Christina says:

      Exactly! Those things are giving love a bad name. Why didn’t I use that in the post? Wahhh!

      Oh, yeah, it did work in Above World, but that’s on the upper end of MG. It works in Small Medium at Large too, because it’s very much a kid romance, with the parents driving them around and awkwardness.

      Ha, I don’t always have more than one post, but I do post twice at least four days a week.

  16. Audra says:

    Three things:

    1) The Hottest Blah in School is the name of my new band.

    2) This entire post is made of win!

    3) You are made of double win.

  17. I like romance but i hate insta-love or when the relationship and emotions seem forced and synthetic and so many books are like this :/ Nice post, thanks for sharing 🙂

  18. Bookworm1858 says:

    I love romance in stories and do tend to prefer books that have some element. My biggest wish from this list would be a heroine who has casual dates with several people and maybe even ends the book single because why not have fun on your own and with your friends?

    • Christina says:

      Yes, I think that would be delightful. I know not all teens do a lot of dating, but I know that SOME do, so why not put it in books that aren’t like Gossip Girl (the only example I can think of).

  19. Kayla Beck says:

    Generally, romance in fiction makes me stabby and/or uncomfortable. It’s usually written in an awkward fashion, or I feel like a voyeur. (Ick.) There are exceptions, of course, but it feels like those books are written around that relationship. I can tolerate relationships that are written into a story, not the other way around. Does that make sense?

    • Christina says:

      I know. It’s not your thing. Now I’m trying to remember if a book has ever made me feel like a voyeur…I don’t think so, probably because I’m not a visual reader.

      That does make sense and that’s JUST how I want it to be.

    • Kayla Beck says:

      Oh man, when I read a book, I am THERE. That’s why I try to stay away from really scary things because it’s nearly impossible for me to get those images out of my head. I still have nightmares about Imajica because of the visualization.


    • Christina says:

      That must be different. I am so not there. Sad. Or maybe happy. I don’t know. I’m both jealous and grateful I don’t do that.

  20. I think one of the reasons you don’t see YA narratives about teens dating casually is because they simply don’t (in the UK, anyway). Quite often, they don’t have the diposable income, and (at the risk of generalising) they are prone to getting engrossed in the drama of being boyfriend/girlfriend. They also don’t have access to a large enough group of people to date “casually”; they tend to stick to their known friendship groups. What teenagers *are* doing is having no-strings sex, and we do see that in novels (THE DUFF springs to mind) but no-strings sex is often hard for even adults to have, so it’s logical that it may develop into something else for at least one of the participants.

    Romance is both a wonderful and frustrating genre. I’m glad that New Adult has emerged to freshen it up a bit, although I see the same tropes creeping in already, and I also see reviewers complaining that they’re already tiring of it.

    • Christina says:

      Well, dates don’t have to cost money! Then again, I’m a cheap date. I’d rather go for a walk in the park or just stay in and watch movies than go to pricy attractions. That is true about casual sex, but Kody Keplinger’s work is some of the only examples I can think of that deal with that topic in a non-sensational, non-judgmental way.

      I actually don’t like New Adult so far, but it would be nice if it changed some things up, in a new, non-infuriating direction. So far, it feels like the same dynamics as YA with more sex.

  21. Oh, and I would like to see fewer previously abused heroines; it plays up to the rape/victim fantasy and I honestly think there are far more subtle ways to explore that (or indeed, bolder ways which would be a dream to market).

    • Christina says:

      Interesting…I do get tired of that as well. It’s an important issue, of course, but I’d like to see more stories about men with pasts like that as well. There should be balance.

  22. Kat Balcombe says:

    I don’t mind romance in books, and sometimes I’ll actively seek it out, particularly in historical fiction. It’s all the cliches that turn me off, and I think it’s why I have such a difficult time with YA contemporary romance – I’ve become cynical and overly-critical in my old age.

    It actually doesn’t take much to make a romance feel realistic – just that key word ‘realistic’ – love at first sight is not something I believe in in real life, so why would I buy into it in fiction?

    • Christina says:

      Historical without romance usually makes me really bored. It’s just tough to wade through so much without a ship to go forth in, you know?

      REALISTIC. Exactly. I don’t want love at first sight. I want people getting to know one another and connecting in a real way.

  23. I am a romantic at heart, and generally I do like there to be at least a smidge of romance in the books I read. BUT, I can totally appreciate a book that chooses to focus on other aspects of life. For example I recently read None of the Regular Rules by Erin Downing. There is a romance (and the cover is ALL about the romance) but the book itself is more about the friendship between three girls. It was a great book and the romantic storyline taking a backseat didn’t bother me one little bit.

    But the books that are on my top shelf, the ones that are all time favorites, all have a great romance written in, and I am sure that is one of the main reasons I love them so much. A well written romance always enhances a book, imo:)

    Great topic!

    • Christina says:

      Oh yes, I should have stressed that I don’t like the romance to be the central theme of the book. I like there to be some somewhere, even if it’s just like the Ron and Hermione that you could sense from book one. It might not be overt, but you can ship it sort of thing.


  24. That was much needed, Christina! Really really good post, and I love your gifs! 🙂
    I do love romance in my books but do I feel like I need it in each book? Hell no. I’ll be content with a hint of good things to come with a friendship developing throughout 3-4 books into something more serious. I also feel like all that Twilight type relationship in YA it’s like a smoke screen which programs teenage girls or women of any other age into thinking that this is what they are gonna get – this instant devotion and undying love from some brooding dark jerk just because they pale and quiet and have these special snowflake powers and attitude of a door mat *sigh* This is partly why we have so many divorces in the world. We are a society of instant gratification. We don’t want to work with what we have, we want a ready product to our specifications or we want out. I’ve been married for 8 years to a man I love and we still have to constantly work on each other and talk things through. I’d really love to see something like that in especially YA. Couples that fall in love gradually and work on their differences. Maybe that’s why romances I love the most are slow burn ones 🙂

    • Christina says:

      Good point about three to four books of build. I am COMPLETELY okay with that. In fact, I love it when it’s done right. You’ve probably been rooting for the idea of them since book one, but romance isn’t necessarily a theme until book five, like with Ron and Hermione. I totally sensed them from the first book, but I wouldn’t have wanted romance in the first one.

      I definitely think one of the things that messed me up with regards to romance is the high expectations I got from reading a bunch of romance novels at a young age. I thought everything would be fireworks and being swept off your feet. It’s really not, and, especially with book specifically marketed to teens, I think you’re doing a disservice making all the romances so unrealistic. There’s nothing you can do for the ones like me who pick up the adult books instead, but still.

      SLOW BURN for the win.

  25. Of course I love romance in books, but can live without it. In fact, sometimes book can be refreshing without it. For example I read: ‘Emilie and the Hollow World’ by Martha Wells recently and there are a lot of 3-star reviews that all complain that it’s a middle-grade book or that there is no romance in book. It felt weird like there has to BE romance in book for it to be ya??? I thought that the fact that heroine is 16-year old and has growing up and coming-of-age issues is enough.

    As for other bad romance tropes I agree with you, those are all so boring and sometimes honestly make me want to give up reading the book because of the deja-vu feeling. I will mention some little things that keep repeating that also annoy me: heroine keeps blushing and/or gets clumsy around her love interest (so called 50 shades syndrom).

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