The Real Problem with Insta-Love

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Insta-love in YA seems to be one of those discussion topics that crops up regularly in the blogosphere, with some arguing for its validity as a depiction of strong teen emotion, others countering that it’s unrealistic, and still others admitting it may not be realistic but they still enjoy it in their fiction.  The book blogosphere has also discussed the difference between attraction and love–it’s generally accepted that a person can see another person across the room and be attracted to them, want to get to know them.  But that’s different from insta-love, which generally sees the protagonist desiring the object of affection as the only good in the world, the only person they could ever want or know romantically, the future parent of their children, etc.  It’s Elena from The Vampire Diaries vowing to herself that she’ll have Stefan even if it kills her.

My problem with insta-love is not that it happens so suddenly, however.  It’s that insta-love is dangerously  all-consuming.  It’s Bella wanting to die if Edward can’t be with her, putting herself in danger just to see him.  It’s a character totally eliminating every other person from the dating pool because the guy sitting next to them has a nice smile.  It’s the characters ignoring the part of dating where you get to know the other person and evaluate how well their desires, values, lifestyle, etc. meshes with yours.  It’s a lack of judgment about whether you can really see yourself spending a lifetime with this person.  It’s the automatic decision that the fact they’re a known womanizer or cheater, a drug addict, or a vampiric murderer doesn’t matter because love will conquer all.

And that’s ridiculous.  In real life, people who get involved with cheaters or addicts or criminals tend not to have happy or healthy relationships.  Sometimes your passion can’t change the fact that your spouse is never home, or spending all your money on booze, or making you and your children unsafe.  Ignoring the possibility that you can look around for other partners and do not need to commit yourself for life to the first person you are attracted to, do not need to marry your high school sweetheart (most people don’t) prevents you from making an informed decision about your relationship.  It forces you to make compromises you would not otherwise make, whether that means compromising your morals, your values, or your safety.

Of course, we all know that we are dealing with works of fiction.  I am not arguing here that teenagers who read YA will all blindly follow the  models of insta-love presented to them.  I believe that teenagers are intelligent and questioning, and that they are not automatically going to repeat the mistakes of Elena, Bella, and co. just because works of fiction suggest that problematic relationships will be successful.  However, I think we do need to recognize that some teen readers do receive their ideas of what romance looks like from books and we can do a better job giving them a more well-rounded picture.

It’s not the speed of insta-love that makes it dangerous, since initial attraction does not mean an individual will blindly attach themselves to another for life.  Rather, it’s the intensity of insta-love which prevents characters from ever engaging in a discernment process about their relationships, that creates an unhealthy image of what dating should look like.  Just because you date a person does not mean you have to marry them.  It’s time for YA novels to branch out a little and regularly depict characters who date more than one person (or no person, for that matter).  Show that dating can be low-key and fun, rather than a constant matter of life-and-death.  Take some of the pressure off teens to find The One on their first try and while they’re still sixteen.  They’re dealing with enough pressure already.

Krysta 64

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29 thoughts on “The Real Problem with Insta-Love

  1. Victoria says:

    This is such a good way of looking at it! It’s always seemed strange to me that they’re so intense so early on. And often they have to actually test that “ride or die” sort of feeling early on – doesn’t Bella nearly get killed in the first book? Not that everyone will end up in that situation, but it goes beyond thinking something which adds to the problem even more

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Girl in Boots says:

    This is so true.
    I read Twilight when I was 12, it was one of the first full length novels I had read. The relationship between Bella and Edward seemed weird to me, but I thought that was the way things were. Of course, now I know better…But the things that are depicted in books can have a big influence on your decisions.
    I also want to tell you I immensely enjoy these well thought out discussion posts. 🙂

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    • Krysta says:

      I remember when the books first came out a lot of people were really impressed with Bella and Edward’s relationship because they waited until marriage. I think they were willing to overlook some of the other aspects of the relationship because of that!

      Thanks! We’re glad you enjoy our posts!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight says:

    I completely agree and am also bothered by the fact that most characters end up in a lifelong relationship with the FIRST and only person they date because, while that does happen to some people, it doesn’t happen to the majority. And I also completely agree that dating doesn’t have to be so intense and serious, especially when you’re young. It can be fun or low-key or really just a learning experience. I’ve come across one YA series I can recall in which the character didn’t end up with the first guy and had a different boyfriend by the end of the second book (but not instalove, they actually got to know each other), and I loved that the author did that.

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    • Krysta says:

      I find that so odd! I don’t know many people who dated only one person and then married that person. I have, however, seen people who thought they HAD to marry the first person who asked them out and it put so much pressure on the relationship that it turned, to put it nicely, into a mess. I’d like to see more series where the characters date a little more casually in order to get to know people first.

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  4. Bionic Book Worm says:

    Just like you said, it’s the speed and intensity about insta-love that annoys me. A character becomes interesting and then all of a sudden all the other thoughts fall away as soon as they see their “love’s” ocean eyes and bright smile. I can’t stand insta-love in books. Funny thing is though…. I saw my husband once when I was 14 and knew I was going to marry him. I didn’t even talk to him. I just saw him. It was irrational, but as it turns out, I was right! We’ve been together since I was 16 🙂

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    • Krysta says:

      That’s so sweet! I think that there are many cases where people see each other and know they are “the one.” However, I think you can be convinced that someone is the one and still proceed in the relationship with a certain amount of prudence! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Donna says:

    I really appreciated this post! Wonderful job! I agree about everything! If Insta-love means a sudden attraction, okay, but it needs to lead to more, instead of gaining in intensity based on a smile or the shortest share of a glance and then giving us a “I’ll die to be with him”. Perspective, and the building of a relationship, anyone? I do think authors need to keep in mind that YA stories are what teens base their knowledge of life on, or at least part of it, and it creates a wrong path if insta-love in used in the intense way you describe.

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    • Krysta says:

      Yes, I think that authors should keep in their minds that what they write could influence their readers in potentially negative ways. That’s not to say we can’t portray certain things, but just showing relationships where the couple dates a little casually in order to get to know each other could be productive!

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  6. christine @ the story salve says:

    This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, at least in terms of how reading romance-heavy YA books when I was a teenager affected my perception of love. I definitely compromised for guys when I was in my early twenties – not because I was stupid, but because I had learned that was what you were supposed to do if your love was real. There’s not a lot of depictions of romance in YA that acknowledges that sometimes relationships are temporary, and it sucks, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Thanks for sharing this – I want to get around to a similar discussion about a few different romance tropes in YA (then & now!) and I may end up linking to this post as well.

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    • Krysta says:

      I think a lot of woman might have similar stories. We are told by tons of media, not just YA, that we are the ones who are supposed to compromise and that if we don’t do certain things, that means we don’t love the man enough. I’d like to see more stories where love is a two-way street! And I think some stories featuring break ups could help people going through break ups themselves!

      That sounds like a great discussion post!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    Ah gosh this is such a great post! And of course there is a difference between love and attraction when it comes to these things- but I do agree the problem is often how destructive this love becomes. You’re right- it’s the intensity that’s a problem. Which is why I don’t mind (or in fact call it instalove) if a character sees someone across a room and finds them attractive, but then slowly over time develops a healthy sort of love for that character (one that doesn’t mean that they will immediately give up their life for said character). Hehe or yes, it would be so much better if they just dated around for a bit, or stayed single- that would work too.

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  8. Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

    I could not possibly have summed this up near as well as you have! The intensity and unrealistic aspect is unhealthy. While I agree that many teenagers are able to easily differentiate, I still feel it is sending a possibly harmful misrepresentation at times. It would be nice to see more YA authors include relationships that are more relatable for younger readers.

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    • Krysta says:

      That’s true–some teenagers might think this is normal if it is all they see and others don’t seem to question it. I could see, too, if this representation was troubling to individuals who aren’t really interested in romance while in high school and so can’t relate to every book have an intense romance.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight says:

    YES I totally agree with you here! This is how I define insta-love too- not just an attraction, it’s that consuming quality, the kind that puts the characters at risk for someone they have quite literally just met! Like no, you needn’t put your life on the line because some dude has nice eyes, or because some girl has super pretty hair. Bad choices because of insta-love are what bother me. The abandoning of friends and family, etc. And i think it can be done as a cautionary tale, but when it is done and then everything turns out super awesome and the couple is together forever? Yeah, not buying it, and I agree that it can absolutely send a harmful message. Great post!

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    • Krysta says:

      “Like no, you needn’t put your life on the line because some dude has nice eyes, or because some girl has super pretty hair. ” I laughed at that!! But I think you’re right to point out that the message is usually that this is a positive thing to do rather than a very senseless thing!

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  10. ikramreads says:

    This is a very different way of looking at insta-love and I’ve never seen it from this perspective but your absolutely right! I always thought it was crazy that you be so sure of someone’s role in your life just by looking at them for the first time, instant attraction seems like a better way to go! 🙂

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  11. Ravenclaw Book Club says:

    I find it really interesting when people talk about insta-love cause I don’t think I’ve ever actually encountered it in a book. Or at least not recently enough for me to remember it. 😅 I feel like it would be one of those things that I would secretly enjoy tho. 😛

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    • Krysta says:

      I think it was really common awhile back in YA paranormal romances in particular. However, I am reading less YA so I have had fewer encounters with insta-love lately!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. lindseyhabets says:

    I like your take on this topic and I can only agree wholeheartedly! The most annoying thing about insta-love is indeed not the fact that it happens so fast, but that the characters abandon all reason and woudl sacrifice everything for that love. Also the fact that there is only the one person and that love is forever. It’s unrealistic and can set wrong expectations for the people reading it. We definitely need more books with a more realistic take on romance.

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    • Krysta says:

      Yes! It seems very much like people saw the success of Twilight and followed that formula, but it’s been years. Surely we could have branched out by now?

      Like

  13. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction says:

    Ironically, I did marry my high school sweetheart, but I still agree with you. I realize my situation was relatively unique—and I certainly didn’t believe right away that we’d be together forever. It wasn’t insta-love, even if it was young love. I think you make fantastic points here!

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