…or has the idea of love and romance been completely leveled by YA novels that everyone is delving into?
Not to say that I don’t appreciate, and in some cases LOVE them, but I think we need to take a minute to discuss the impact that these books might be having the delicate psyche of our pre-teens, teens, and young adults.
Much like the theory/meme about Disney and how it creates unrealistic hair expectations, I think most YA novels these days are showing young people who find “the one” or who find love at a very young age (Young compared to the average age of marriage in today’s society, which is in the late-20s for men and women in the US), which isn’t realistic. These characters are being handed a serious romantic encounter when they are in their mid-to-late teens (RE: Twilight, Divergent, Matched, City of Bones, The Fault in Our Stars, Shiver, Delirium, The Selection). And while it can be said that the majority of them handle it well (and in most cases have absentee or brainwashed parents that can’t or don’t complain), isn’t that sending a message worth discussing to the readers of these novels?
Has this idea of serious young love become popular because it is a lovely fairy tale that we wish would be true in the real world? That everyone could find their perfect mate and live happily ever after (and not have a sky-rocketing divorce rate). Or is it because YA authors are trying to become so far removed from the societal norm and change the views on love and romance? Or that normal societal rules don’t exist in a post-apocalyptic world? (I’ll be discussing love triangles in a later post.)
And what is the effect on the youth of today? While teen pregnancy rates have declined consistently in the last 20 years, how are young people viewing sex, love, and marriage? How is the media, not just television and movies but also books, impacting these ideas? Why do popular songs talk about women like objects and movies show a couple tripping into a relationship? Has romance gone the way of the handwritten letter and the cassette tape? An idealized notion that few partake in anymore. Are guys being told that they no longer have to try to woo a woman because there is always another waiting to take her place or they are somehow interchangeable? Are girls being told that they have to dress, act, look, think a certain way in order to keep a man? In these books, there is often a little romance, a lot of love, and heaps of “accepting the person for who they are”, but what does that really translate into when we take it out of the context of danger and death? I think that the medium of books goes a long way into trying to present the ideas of love and romance in a better light than many other parts of society, but still leaves something to be desired.
As a writer myself, these thoughts have called into question several plot lines, including my own, that I now have to re-read in a new context. I don’t think it’s a good idea to portray young people in such serious relationships that last for the duration of their lives. After all, isn’t one of the benefits of being young that you can date a bunch or even a few different people before deciding what type of person would be best suited to you? I know that I definitely enjoyed dating around when I was younger, and if I find the time to continue doing so then I certainly will. But as an adult, I know who I am and what I stand for, what I want and a general idea of where I’m headed with my life. Something that I definitely didn’t have figured out when I was 16, despite the protests that I probably gave to the contrary. And okay, most of these characters live in an alternate reality or desperate time or are portrayed as being more adult or grown up than their peers. But didn’t we all think we were more mature that we actually were at one point?
So here’s my advice for all the young people: stay a kid as long as you can. As someone who has recently entered the real world, i.e. paying for everything with my own money, working a 9-5 job, and constantly being exhausted, enjoy your youth. Have fun! Go on an adventure! Be with your friends (real or imaginary) and don’t be so focused on love, sports, video games, grades, or even bullies. Tell yourself every day that you are awesome. And better yet, mean it. Be a person that you would like to be friends with. And be the best version of yourself that you can. Because who are you are today is most likely who you will grow up to become and we need people who know their worth and help others to find theirs. You don’t have to have life figured out when you are 15 or even 19, and trust me, you probably don’t. High school and college are the times to discover who you are and what you are interested in; don’t waste those years, embrace them.