Like most YA book bloggers, I read a LOT of books within the same genre. Sure, I read a lot of sub-genres within Young Adult (fantasy, paranormal, contemporary, etc), but the I read so much from the overarching Young Adult genre that sometimes I worry that I am becoming desensitized to certain elements, particularly my level of investment and intrigue in the romantic relationships. I feel like lately I tend to miss out on the emotions that these relationships are supposed to evoke, and I had come to the conclusion that I either:
- Was outgrowing these relationships now that I’m in my 20s, and could no longer relate to them, or
- I had read so many romances (especially in the contemporary genre) that nothing was stirring up a reaction because nothing felt original anymore, or
- Romance in general as an element in books no longer interested me
Cynical, I know, but I was seriously starting to read SO MANY books with the romance taking such a backseat for me to the rest of the plot. Romance had always been one of my favorite elements in stories, so I was truly shocked to see that I was no longer enjoying it.
I read Queen of Shadows by Sarah J Maas and was just completely and totally taken by the main romance. I was obsessed. It made me crave every tiny little scene between the two love interests, and spend the time I wasn’t reading speculating all of my theories of where the romance would go to poor, patient Max. I realized I had found myself on a hardcore ship again, and I was thrilled! All hope was not lost! I could still enjoy romance in Young Adult novels.
So what was the trick?
What had gotten me so invested in the romance in that particular book? What caused me to literally squeal in delight at certain pages instead of roll my eyes? A few nights after finishing the book (and nursing my worst book hangover of this year to date) a possible hypothesis struck me: Perhaps I can only become invested in a fictional love interest if they are my “type.” If I would be personally attracted to them, both emotionally and physically, if they were to exist. If they would be someone who I could actually stand to date. My hypothesis started to make more and more sense, because why WOULD a book evoke any sort of swooning action from me as a reader if the person supposedly invoking said swooning was someone who I would never be romantically inclined toward in real life?
On to the research:
I decided, like any critical thinking post-college student who still not-so-secretly misses class discussions and research papers, that this hypothesis of mine needed to be analyzed with some examples to back it up. So I started looking at books where I loved the romance vs. books that had popular romances that I didn’t really care for, and see what was it about love interests and romantic bonds that I either loved or loathed. *Note: This post will contain some spoilers about the literary couples mentioned.
Each of the love interests in these novels are ones that I would totally date in real life, either because we share similarities and passions, have similar backgrounds, or because I would, let’s face it, be insanely attracted to them. Some common themes I found were that more swoons are evoked when reading if the romance is a slow-burn, if it deals with deeper emotional issues, and/or is has some elements of being supernatural. All of the love interests I tend to gravitate toward are usually either older than the protagonist or very mature for their age (wisdom and responsibility are huge bonus points in my book!).
In terms of popular romances that didn’t evoke a positive response from me, or really any response at all, I found to that there were trends in things I wasn’t attracted to. Awkward-cute interactions are not my thing (Levi and Cath) neither are dudes who lack the courage to tell people how they really feel (St. Clair and poor Anna). I also detest relationships that thrive on arguments (Ron and Hermione) or romances where the protagonist clearly chooses the most BORING option (Mal and Alina).
It turns out that I have NOT become desensitized to romances in novels, nor have they become less of a prioritized plot point for me. I must be attracted to the love interest to feel swoons and/or must find elements of the relationship appealing in order to be moved by the romance in a novel. One romance does not make or break a book for me either. While researching what books were evoking an emotional response from their romances, I found there were stories that had multiple romances, such as Six of Crows, where I loved one (Nina and Mattias) and couldn’t stand another (Kaz and Inej). Having one romance that worked for me was enough for me to consider the read a successful romance and become emotionally invested in the couple, even if neither were (arguably) the “main” character. Ultimately, while I must find some sort of personal attraction to a love interest to deem a book “swoon-worthy,” it doesn’t mean I can’t love the book if I don’t (case in point, Fangirl is one of my favorite contemporary reads of all time!)
Are you a reader who is moved by romances in novels? Are any swoon-worthy moments fair game, or do you have to feel an element of attraction to become invested? What romances and/or book boyfriends/girlfriends evoke swoons from you? Do you have a literary “type?” Do you ever feel you’ve outgrown a romantic pairing in a book or series that you used to love? Let me know in the comments!
So fun! I’ve never thought about this but it totally makes sense. If I can’t put myself in the shoes of the MC and/or the love interest, I won’t like it as much. When they make stupid mistakes or hide things from each other, I’m not going to swoon. I got really sick of romance – no matter what kind – a couple of months ago. I ended up reading a few books light on romance or with no romance and it did the trick for me! I just took a quick break and came back.
OH GOD THE HIDING THINGS FROM EACHOTHER *puts head in hands* That literally may be the biggest turn off in a romance for me because it’s so overused and personally I think it’s a bit of a plot crutch! Was there a certain book in particular that burnt you out on romance?
I have definitely experienced that drudgery of reading book after book where none of the romances in them are really doing anything for me, but then BAM! It just takes one to really sweep me off my feet to make me believe in book love again! I think seeing the romantic interest as someone I would possibly date is definitely a factor, but mostly I think it helps when I see how well of a fit they are for the main character and seeing the development of the relationship between them.
Yes, once you find a book that reinstates your love for romance it’s really refreshing! (Which is what Heir of Fire and Queen of Shadows has done for me in the past month!) I agree, the love interest being a good fit for the MC is an important part of the reading experience, I especially hate when the MC outgrows a love interest in a series but it seems like an author keeps them together out of obligation.
I think sometimes, the premise of a book is kind of too similar to the premise of other books, and that’s something that puts me off. I love romance, even if I don’t love all romance tropes, if you see what I mean.
I don’t have to feel attracted to any of the main characters, but I do need to feel like they are ‘real’ in some way for me to feel with them during their story. And that can take some seriously good story-telling to do.
Great discussion, Cristina 🙂
Very true! If the main characters really feel like stereotypes or tropes it’s really hard to become invested in their relationship, and not feel either jaded or burnt out by how the course of the relationship is going to go (especially if, like you said, the premise is similar to many other books). I feel like authors can fall into the trap of writing very formulaic romances, so it’s important when they deviate from the tried and true methods to something more original, even if it’s not what’s super “popular.”
Thank you so much, as always, for the lovely comment Lexxie!
What a fascinating post, Cristina! I really like being able to swoon over the romances in my reads. Like you, it generally only happens when the guy in question happens to be my type! I also like it when I feel like the couple is genuinely built up well, and I’m particularly fond of friendships-turned-romance; those actually manage to make me swoon a whole lot. (P.S. My types are generally captain of the guard, older brother vibes and boy next door!)
I love your point about the romance being dependent for you upon the progression of the relationship over time in order for your to feel invested. Some of my favorite romances usually tend to have the ships not get together until the second book, because the first book was either development of the friendship, or a hate to love sort of thing. While it can be agonizing to wait, it’s definitely more rewarding in the end!
I kinda love how you looked at this (though I kind of skipped the ones you loved because there are two books I want to read soon)! I honestly never stopped to think why certain romances worked more than others but I would totally bet it has something to do with the guy being more “my type” (although I am not sure what that is exactly!) Although I will say I just love romances in general!! Great post!
Thank you, Grace! What are some of your strongest ships? I’m sure if you looked closely at them then you could start finding a pattern for your book boyfriend “type!” 🙂
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