The Pressure of “The One” in Romance Books

Posted September 16, 2015 by Stormy in Books / 16 Comments

Lately, I’ve been thinking about an issue in regards to romance in books. I’ll read YA books where the main story is the romance(see Kasie West’s contemporaries), and enjoy them, but I have trouble with adult romance books.

I don’t want to have trouble with adult romance books. Romance is a genre written mostly by women, mostly for women, about a topic that society sometimes derides but yet most people desire. And there are times I pick up a romance book and enjoy it(maybe three or four times a year). But for some reason, romance books often make me uncomfortable. Not because of steamy content or the writing, but there’s this certain PRESSURE I feel when it comes to romance books written about adults. . . and that’s the pressure of the love interest being “The One” for the main character.

I know, I know, that’s mostly the point of romance! It’s the same with romantic comedy movies, after all. Because romance, by definition, has either a “happily-ever-after” or a “happy-for-now” ending. I don’t want to invest in 300 pages of a romance just to feel the couple will break up years down the road. I don’t think any romance reader wants to think that way. But for me, this creates a pressure in my mind where I am SUPER critical of the relationship being portrayed. Is it just the obsessive start of a whilwind romance, or is there actually something of substance beneath the surface? Are there clues in the book that this might not be a happy-ever-after down the road?

It’s possible that I’m just critical of portrayals of romantic relationships in general(I think I definitely am). And maybe that’s just a “Me” thing, because I am a very, very not romantic person, which I’ve talked about before. Because reading is so personal, I apply my own worldview on to the books I read, even when I *do* try to be more objective. Which means that I just don’t understand why the characters enter into a romantic relationship unless it’s an improvement over where they started the book. I think this is the *goal* of all relationships in romance books, but some books succeed better than others. I have to REALLY believe in the romance to enjoy the book. There’s no room for ambiguity. . .

Which means I have better luck with YA romance, because I *can* allow for ambiguity about the end result of a relationship there, especially in contemporary YA. Even when I LOVE a couple in contemporary YA and ship them, I never feel that there’s the same pressure for the love interest to be THE ONE for the main character, love of their life, soul mate, etc. Even when I love a couple together, the goal generally isn’t for them to be together forever(sometimes I like to think they will be, but it’s not as at the forefront of my mind). If the relationship is all whirlwind and doesn’t have the same lasting power, that’s generally okay with me because the focus is more on the immediacy of the feelings of the people involved, especially since most of the time it’s generally “first love”. I don’t mind spending my time reading about the relationship even if I don’t believe the couple would still be together 1o+ years down the road(though this applies more to contemporary YA than fantasy. Since fantasy worlds are often so different and people get married younger, most of the time I DO want the “happily ever after” for the couple. . . but because it’s also not the main plot of the novel, it doesn’t bother me as much).

LET’S CHAT: Do you feel that there’s the pressure of “THE ONE” in romance novels? What about in YA? Does this bother anyone else besides me?

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16 responses to “The Pressure of “The One” in Romance Books

  1. oh my gosh I love this post so much!! I love your point, “I just don’t understand why the characters enter into a romantic relationship unless it’s an improvement over where they started the book” because it implies character arcs and things that run deeper than just the squishy feelings of a romance. And I think that development in the characters is what really, really makes a romance more enjoyable.

    I also love the distinction between the expectation of a YA book and an adult romance. I totally expect (or at least hope) that at the end of an adult romance the characters are married or something that implies they’ll live happily *ever* after. But with YA, totally not. And that is when I think you’re point about the romance improving the characters becomes even more important. How does this relationship improve their lives right now, because they’re young. It doesn’t have to last forever.

    So much fun to think about 🙂

    • Stormy

      Yes, exactly! The squishy romance feelings are great, but there has to be something MORE there. It can’t *just* be the honeymoon phrase. I have to believe the relationship could make it long-term. And with YA, a happy for now is completely acceptable(for me), but in an adult romance, I just hate thinking characters went through all that without a happily ever after. And it’s not enough for a book to have a HEA, at least not for me–I have to BELIEVE in that HEA, which is a harder sell.

      • yes – believing in the HEA! And also to take it a level deeper, I want to experience some of the HEA. I hate books where it’s all turmoil and missed opportunities but you know they should be together or whatever and then in like 3 pages, “Oh, we figured it out. Done!” If you’re going to take me through 300+ pages with this couple, let me enjoy the happily ever after at least a little…

  2. I don’t really read adult romance, but I agree that it’s really easy to be over-analytical and critical of romance in novels. Readers want to feel like the romance is real, not something the author threw together to attract a wider audience. I think it makes us look really closely at how well the characters fit together, how well they know each other, how good the pacing and build-up of the relationship is. It’s not easy for authors to write a romance people are going to love.

  3. Interesting! I am totally the opposite. I wonder how much of it is an age perspective as I’m well older than you 🙂 I get bored with plain contemporary YA love stories mostly – if there’s a bigger issue like in Dumplin’ or Everything, Everything I’m in. And I can accept that they might not be forever but still enjoy the story. I read some romance – basically I stick with Nora Roberts because she’s the best. I like tying it all up in my mind for HEA. I’d prefer an adult romance than a YA (probably because I’m getting old)

    • Stormy

      I just feel like there’s so much pressure on the adult characters to be PERFECT for each other, and it stresses me out. Maybe it’s because I feel a lot of pressure to have everything together as a young adult? I’m not sure. It’s just so much easier for me to read about characters that don’t seem to have that same pressure, maybe?

      Hmm. I think the bottom line for my thought here is: I’m not sure. Maybe in the future I won’t feel that same sort of mindset? Time shall tell.

  4. This is really interesting. I don’t know how much I’ve thought about it while reading the handful of adult romances I’ve tried, because usually I’m so busy rolling my eyes at the steamy and unrealistic sex scenes to pay attention to much else. I have more experience with romance in contemporary YA, where sometimes it works for me and sometimes it doesn’t. You’re right, though, that even if the author/characters treat the ship as end game doesn’t mean we as informed adult readers have to see it that way. At the end of a cute contemporary YA, my shippy heart is happy pretending that the couple will be together forever, but realistically I know there’s little chance of that happening in the real world. That, however, is exactly why I read fiction. 😀

    • Stormy

      Yeah. . . I tend to skip or skim the steamy scenes most of the time, because there’s only so many various euphemisms I can take. I have high standards for reading steamy scenes(rule #1-no weird euphemisms or I skip. Rule #2-There has to be a lot of seeing the characters *not* having sex first, etc.) Sometimes if I want a light-hearted book I’ll reach for one though. And there are some that I thought did those well!(I liked Second Position and The Coincidence of Coconut Cake). I just find it’s much easier for me to handle YA romance(though now that I think about it I don’t really read straight-up YA romance much, other than Kasie West), because I can still enjoy it even if I don’t think it’s necessarily realistic.

      • That’s the thing, though, I haven’t found romance novels to contain much else BESIDES steamy scenes. I even tried the one by Tessa Dare you recommended, and I still couldn’t handle it. I guess that’s just a personal preference. I definitely agree with your first rule. I don’t understand where authors come up with some of the terminology they use.

        How do you differentiate between a YA romance and YA contemporary in general? What other authors would you consider to be YA romance writers?

        • Stormy

          I feel like romance definitely has its own set of rules, and I find I have go in thinking about it differently than most other books, or I hate it(and even then, I often have trouble with it, as evident by this post!) Yeah. . . I have no idea why weird terminology became so popular. It makes me roll my eyes and it definitely takes me out of the story.

          Hmm. I think when I think of “YA romance” versus just “YA contemporary”, the main thing is the romance is the *focus* of the story, and it’s meant to be. There might be other things going on around it, but the romance is the central plot line instead of the B or C plot. That’s just my definition, though–people who actually write it may have a different way of defining it. I think it can get tricky because a lot of the times in YA the main plot is “coming of age”, and because that’s a very internal plot with internal conflict, the romance might look like it’s the central plot to some readers. . . but it’s still not how I would define it. Like to me, YA romance is Kasie West’s contemporary books, *maybe* Emery Lord’s books(more Open Road Summer than The Start of Me and You, I think–the romance was a bigger focus in that one), Behind the Scenes(and I’m guessing Under the Lights) by Dahlia Adler, Wish You Were Italian is one I’ve read, etc. I think romance is popular in YA books, but I don’t actually think there are many YA books I’d consider categorically to be romance books.

          • I haven’t read any of those besides Kasie West and The Start of Me and You. I was wondering if you would consider something like Emmy & Oliver a YA romance or a regular contemporary. It’s such a fine line. I guess it’s somewhat a book-by-book thing, where you’re reading a book and realize there’s no plot outside the romance, thus making it a YA romance.

  5. I’m a big romance fan. Especially lately. I just can’t get enough of them. Certainly when I read a romance I EXPECT to feel like the two leads should be together. And that I can see why they are good together. That is of course really important. I need to know that they are good together, you know? I think I want to feel like that I can see why they are so good together, and then I can believe that they will take the effort to make their relationships lasts. Some books are better at this than others. I don’t know if I think that that each character is necessarily “the one” and only the one for the other person, though. I think that they are the best for each other while they are together. And if they both care deeply about each then no one else will interest them. Does that make sense?

    As for YA romance. I definitely agree that it’s more about “they are right for each other at this moment in their lives.” But they are young and still growing and developing their lives and their lives could change.

    • Stormy

      That does make sense! I don’t know if I necessarily need to believe that they are, as you said, the one and only, just that in practice they WILL be together infinitely. If I can’t imagine that in an adult romance book, then it’s really tough for me to get invested. I think I’m just very hard to convince when it comes to romantic relationships. I have to REALLY be able to see the two together for me to enjoy the story in the slightest.

  6. This is interesting, and I’ve never really thought much about it when it comes to adult romance. I think my struggles are opposite of yours in that some YA books treat the romance as “the one.” Come on, these characters are ~16 years old. I don’t buy that. However, it’s a passing thought and doesn’t overall stop me from enjoying the story.

    • Stormy

      I think that some YA books DO treat the romance as “the one”(quite a lot of them, actually), but as a reader, I don’t? I guess I go into it with a different mindset. Even if the characters believe they’ll be together forever, I don’t feel like *I* have to believe that. With a genre romance book, I feel like I have to be ABSOLUTELY convinced the couple will get a happily ever after.

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