Romance in YA is one of those topics that seems to come up from time to time, and I never know how to put what I feel into understandable words. So, this is going to be a pretty personal post on why I really like it when books don’t have romance in them.
Now, this is not to say I dislike all book romances. I’ve done my fair share of swooning! There are couples in YA books I absolutely love, like Reagan and Matt from Open Road Summer or any of the romances in Kasie West’s books. I’m not completely against romance by any means, and I get annoyed when people make blanket statements about romance in YA–or more, when they look down on it because it’s a “girly” thing and our culture really likes hating what teenage girls dislike. My intention is not to do the same thing. This isn’t a post about why romance in YA is bad–it’s just a post about why I personally like it when I come across a book(especially one with a female narrator) that is completely lacking in romance.
I am not a very romantic person. I’ve never been, really. When my friends all began noticing boys, I began noticing boys too, but not as much as everyone else. I remember puberty and getting to a point where I began noticing people I was attracted to, but yet I was never as interested in relationships as all my friends were. I noticed, but I rarely felt any desire to do anything about it. That’s not to say I was completely uninterested–but whereas my friends often wanted to be in a relationship, I’ve only ever wanted to be in a relationship with a few specific people, and those moments have been rare.
Often, the idea of being romantically attracted to someone is like something I have to remind myself to consider. In 23 years, I can name every crush I’ve ever had–all four of them. I haven’t had anything I would consider a crush since my sophomore year of college, almost four years ago. The last time I had the “maybe-I-have-a-slight-but-not-complete-crush” was two years ago. And I’m not completely incapable of romantic feeling–I’ve been head-over-heels, crazy-infatuated before. But it’s rare. It’s never on the forefront of my brain. I never really contemplate my relationship status.
Growing up, I would often exaggerate my interest in romance so I could fit in with my friends, because it was a frequent topic of conversation. I would sympathize with them about being perpetually single while internally saying something along the lines of “Why is this even a conversation? Who cares?” This happens even now–like sometimes I’ll remember I’m a 23-year-old person and think “Oh yeah, I’m single. Society and everyone tells me I should feel some way about this. What do 23-year-old single ladies even do? Internet dating? Hang out in bars? Meh, onto the next thing.”
For me, this isn’t even about being single and being “enjoying” it. Often, when I talk to people about this, they think I’ve come to the conclusion that I came to enjoy being single after a process, like the natural default state of being is wanting to be in a romantic relationship. I know that happens to some people, and I’m not trying to deride that at all–but it’s not really accurate to my experience. It’s not a process or anything I did intentionally to get the point I could “be happy being single.” It doesn’t even cross my mind in that way. It’s not something I decided to work towards, it just is. I have to work harder at remembering to consider romantic interest.
In high school I was often insecure about the fact I was less interested in romance than everyone else, because relationships were such a BIG deal to others. I didn’t feel it made me mature or anything–it made me feel like I was different than everyone else, and not in a good way. I didn’t realize this could be normal, too. It wasn’t like I was completely disinterested in romance at the time–after all, one of my four crushes took place in high school. And I was very interested in that potential romance(way more than I’ve ever been interested in any crush that came afterward). But for the most part, it wasn’t really a consideration in my life until I remembered it was a consideration in everyone else’s lives(or seemed to be).
Other than that year, though, I always felt like I was supposed to be as interested in coupling up as much as everyone else seems to be. In high school, I would sometimes bury this under layers of “Well I’m just not dating right now because high school relationships never work out.” Once I got to college, though, I felt I didn’t have that excuse. I went to a Christian college where “ring by spring” was often taken to the extreme, and I was always aware of that fact. In mixed groups, I would often think, “Oh, people. Romantic interest. Is there anyone here I could have a crush on in case my friends ask?” (There hardly ever was.) Eventually, I became more okay with this and just. . . stopped, but for along time I wondered why I seemed to miss the big deal about relationships.
For that reason, I get SUPER excited when I read a YA book lacking majorly in romance, especially if it’s narrated by a female main character. There seems to be this idea that all teen girls are interested in romance, when that’s simply not true. Romantic pursuits are a large part of many people’s lives, from teenagers to adults, but to say it’s universal is inaccurate. YA romances are important too, because several teens ARE interested in romance and might be dealing with issues surrounding that for the first time–but not all of them. It lights something in me when I see a female character not care about romance and not be put on a pedestal for it. Sometimes there seems to be this idea that characters who eschew romance are “better” or more “focused” than their relationship-oriented counterparts, and that’s not what I want either. There’s something special to me when I read a relationship-less character who is totally okay with it and it’s just another part of life, instead of something to either a)be looked down upon, or b)praised. Why can’t these characters just exist? Because I do, and that’s my life.