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.