Monday, February 9, 2015

Eight Things I Dislike When It Comes To Romances in Books (And Two I Like)

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

I didn't realize I had such strong opinions about fictional relationships until I started putting together a list of likes and dislikes for this week's linkup. Apparently I am very picky and could come up with way more things I disliked than those I liked. As much as I would love to cite specific examples for all of these, I am going to refrain in order to avoid spoilers (since a lot of these deal with spoilers). However, I will say that some of the books I had in mind while writing this were Americanah, 32 Candles, The Fire Horse Girl, The Language of Flowers, The Fault in Our Stars, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Love in the Time of Cholera, The Goldfinch, Sloppy Firsts, Water for Elephants, Pillars of the Earth, and The Art of Hearing Heartbeats. You can use your imagination about which is which, or tell me if you agree for the ones you've read!

Also, I should add that this discussion may get into some unpleasant territory, like discussing rape and other trauma, so keep that in mind.

Things I dislike in fictional romances:

1. "You said no because you don't know how much you love me yet!"
This rings it at No. 1 because it's so common and so frustrating. When a guy follows a girl home every day until she agrees to date him, that's somehow considered sweet when it's in a story. When it happens in real life, it's called stalking, and it's scary. Someone who refuses to believe another person when they say "no" is just about the unsexiest and creepiest thing to include in a love story. It's even worse when Person A talks Person B into having sex with them and then it's like, "And it was the best sex ever and Person B realized they really did love Person A!" No. Ugh. This kind of crap is why rape happens.

2. "At least we had sex one time before you died / went away forever!"
It pisses me off when one character dies or gets banished or something and then we're supposed to celebrate because we found out that before they left they got to have sex with their true love. Bonus points if one of them is now pregnant ("a piece of him lives on!"). First of all, first-time sex is not necessarily great. It might have been super awkward, terrible sex, and now that's the last thing they get to remember about each other. Secondly, that sucks to unexpectedly find yourself with the prospect of being a single parent. That is not necessarily a super-romantic prospect. Maybe you don't want your child to remind you for the rest of your life of the dead boyfriend you had sex with one time. Just a thought.

3. "We are the two main characters in this book, so I guess we should get together."
I hate when there are two characters you know are going to get together from the moment they're introduced, and then it's like the author doesn't even bother developing the relationship or chemistry between them, but they get together anyway because the main character is for some reason obligated to have a love interest and the book is obligated to end on a romantic "happily ever after." This is such a problem that I want to applaud when an author can write two straight characters of the opposite gender who are best friends or work together or go on a quest together or whatever and then don't end up falling in love with each other. Because even if you had literally no other close relationships in your life except this other person, that still doesn't mean you're going to want to get together with them romantically.

4. "It's OK to sleep with you even though I'm married to someone else because you're my real love."
I don't like the fetishization of affairs in books, or the idea that cheating is excused if you're married to a terrible person (or someone you think is terrible). If your spouse is a horrible person, then I may be rooting for you to get away from them, but make a clean break with them first, and then figure out what you want to do next. There seems to be this idea in some fiction that you can't possibly be passionately in love with someone you're married to; if you're married, and passionately in love, it must be with a different person than your spouse. As someone who truly loves my husband, I don't buy that.

5. "We've been apart for many, many years but we can pick up exactly where we left off."
I get that there are those friendships in which it seems like no time has passed when you see each other again, but romantic relationships tend to be more all-encompassing and complex. If you've been apart from a romantic partner for a decade or more, particularly with little or no communication, I have a hard time believing that none of your life experiences in the intervening years would have any effect on your passionate love for another person. I can buy, "I've never stopped loving you, but I need some time to get to know you again." But "I'm going to drop my entire new life and go back to how things were with you before" is too much.

6. "I suddenly woke up and realized I'm in love with you, so I am going to kiss you and we will immediately start a relationship."
If Character A has expressed interest in Character B, who is not interested but then later has a sudden revelation that they're interested too, then OK. This isn't terrible, but it tends to be lazy writing, to not have to show any development in or questioning of feelings over time. (Plus, if enough time has passed, it should not be assumed Character A still has the same feelings.) But if Characters A and B are just friends and then Character A suddenly realizes and confesses they're in love with Character B and they immediately start a relationship together, I'm like... what about Character B's feelings? Do they just do whatever Character A wants? Have they secretly loved Character A this whole time and we never heard about it? Did they have a sudden revelation at the exact same time?

7. "It's OK you lied about everything because it made me realize I actually love you."
I have an aversion to any plots that center on deception. I like it even less when there are no consequences for said deception because love conquers all or whatever. Also, going back to No. 1, I dislike the whole notion of "you don't know what you really want so I need to trick you into realizing it."

8. "You are so mysterious that I know nothing about you, so clearly I am in love with you!"
You can recognize that this trope exists because of plots that riff on it, like the movie While You Were Sleeping, where it turns out that you don't even like the mysterious stranger once you get to know them. Again, there's a difference between "This person is intriguing to me and I'd like to get to know them better" and "This person I've never spoken to and can't find out anything about is definitely the person I'm meant to be with forever."

After putting together this list, I realized that there are a lot of ways fictional romances can go wrong in my book. So what about relationships I actually like? What do they have in common?

Things I like in fictional romances:

1. "I respect your independence / Don't let our being together stop you from being you."
I have a big thing about maintaining independence in relationships. It was a Serious Issue when my husband and I first got together, and has continued to be a theme throughout our relationship. So when I see it as part of romances in books, it makes me happy. Most often it's about a female partner being able to maintain her career or interests or have private space when she needs it. Or, as an antithesis to my No. 1 Thing I Dislike, it's when a character says No or I'm Not Sure about getting together, and the other character's like, "OK, cool, I respect that, take as much time as you need to figure things out" and doesn't push them into making a decision or changing their mind. It's so refreshing! And awesome! And a good model for real-life interactions!

2. "We have fun and work well together."
I realized that most of the best fictional couples are not main characters of books, or their relationship is not the central drama of the book. Awesome couples in books are those who complement each other's strengths, who joke around lovingly with each other, who have learned to communicate well, and who treat each other with respect. This means that the central conflict of the book probably doesn't have to do with their relationship; they're more likely to be some character's cool parents who show up for brief snippets. Or, occasionally, it's the main character and their significant other, who they lean on through some crisis, but whose relationship is fairly unchanging. But if the relationship is the core of the story, then the author is likely to rely on some well-worn conflict from the list of Dislikes above to drive the plot, like, "You just don't realize how much you love me yet!" (No. 1) or "We are forcibly separated for many years!" (No. 5) or "I only met you after I married someone else!" (No. 4).

Knowing what I look for in fictional romances, and what turns me off, are there books you would recommend? Other books where you've seen the things above go wrong?

How about you? What do you like and dislike in romances in books?

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  1. I definitely agree with you on all of these, except I do like second chance romances, but they do have to be well-written. Why is finding out your partner lied to you okay? I don't understand.

    here's mine

  2. Brilliant list :-) I'm nodding along to all of your points as I read them! I especially agree with your dislike list.

  3. Your list is awesome. I love everything really about it, especially number one. Being pushy is not attractive, whether in fiction or reality.

    My TTT


    My Top Ten Tuesday!

  5. Obsessive Compulsive ReaderFebruary 10, 2015 at 2:26 AM

    I agree with everything you've mentioned :D Favourite would have to be the issue of respecting each other in a relationship.

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    Obsessive Compulsive Reader

  6. Right? It's sad that that's rare enough to warrant a callout.

    Thanks for the comment!

  7. Yeah, it bothers me that something that's so creepy in real life is so often held up as romantic in fictional plots!

  8. Yeah, I don't necessarily mind second-chance romances if they're written as "I've changed my mind; are you still interested?" vs. "I've changed my mind, which I will now communicate by kissing you!"

  9. Great list! I'm so glad that in none of the romance books I've read (I need to read more in that genre:)) have I come across some of your top dislikes because I know I would hate them too:( Like the "you will love me even if you don't know it so whatever you say now doesn't matter" thing-.- Also for the dislike 5, I completely get that- i like how some authors turn it around when they let the characters think that they can just go back to all those years ago and commit to it but then realize that's not how it works! Awesome couples that work well together deserve more of a spotlight in books!:)

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