coupleinloveFor years, I have been arguing that romantic plots – on television, in the movies, in novels, and in the stories we like to tell about our real lives – have become obligatory. Story lines that bring two people together in romantic bliss have become all too predictable. That makes for boring story-telling. Even more importantly, it muddies our imaginations, making us sluggish in our thinking and unnecessarily limited in the ways we plan, live, and fantasize about our lives.

The “addicted to love” refrain in popular music seems to describe some actual humans. Some people do seem addicted (in the informal sense of the word) to romance, seeking out the next object of their passion the moment the previous flame fades. I have often wondered whether the overuse of matrimaniacal themes in media aimed at grown-ups is partly to blame for the overvaluing of romance, relative to all of the other important relationships and pursuits that can define a life. Maybe I need to think more about the books and such marketed to younger crowds.

I am not a reader of YA (Young Adult) books, but I was not surprised to learn from YA blogger, and book critic Elizabeth Vail that that YA genre has gone all matrimaniacal. In “Lovesick and tired: Unnecessary romance in YA,” Vail bemoans the fact that all too often, “a romance or, worse, a love triangle is gracelessly shoehorned into a story that neither requires nor develops it. As a result, you get novels with underdeveloped characters, abbreviated plots, romantic progression that relies on irrational and often abusive behavior, and the dreadful phenomenon described by reviewers as ‘instalove.’”

One of Vail’s examples of a YA book with a gratuitous romantic plot is Gennifer Albin’s Crewel:

“an ostensibly ‘feminist’ futuristic YA about a heroine who can alter the fabric of reality. But what does it say about her when she spends the majority of the book whining and mewling between two equally bland and shallowly drawn love interests instead of actually, you know, changing the world or fighting The Evil Establishment?”

Vail is not arguing against all uses of romantic plots in YA books, just bad ones. In her essay, she describes some examples of romantic plotlines that were well-written and fit seamlessly into the narrative.

I especially appreciate her concluding words:

“What I’m ultimately saying is that romance is not intrinsic to the Young Adult genre, nor can you blindly play Pin the Love Triangle on the YA Plot Line without affecting the entire narrative. A romantic subplot requires just as much narrative investment as any other aspect of a novel. If a romance doesn’t directly contribute to your central narrative, don’t add one. In literature, as in life, you shouldn’t embark on a romance unless you mean it.”

Couple in love image available from Shutterstock.