Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Insta-Love - Why is It so Popular in Novels?

A fun bumper sticker from Zazzle

Recently I have been reading a lot of Young Adult novels as research for the YA project I'm working on with co-author Kody Boye.  I was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of really great books categorized under YA that I would have missed if I hadn't been encouraged to write my own YA.  I have discovered all new favorite authors and series, and I'm very happy that I began to read in the genre.

But there has been one trope that has started to wear on me.

It's Insta-Love.

Insta-Love is where two characters meet each other and are instantly in love with one another.  Also, it can be where one character is instantly in love with the other and slowly stalks/pressures the other half of the duo until they return their affections. I have seen the phrase Insta-Love used interchangeably for both of these scenarios.

I personally believe in "love at first sight" (which is more like attraction at first sight).  I experienced this with my own husband. The second I saw him I felt in my gut that he was someone who was going to be really important in my life.  I have talked to other married couples where one or both felt a very strong attraction immediately.  But usually the people involved didn't immediately believe the other person was their soulmate, that they were destined to be, that no matter what they should always be together, and/or stalk the other person relentlessly.

Insta-Love in YA (and in PNR) often means exactly that. "You belong to me. You are MINE" from the getgo. There isn't a spark of attraction that slowly stirs into mutual love. It's a demanding, instant ownership of the other person.

Though I have had very intense attractions between couples before (Katie and Travis, Glynis and Ignatius), I'm not a huge believer in Insta-Love. In Katie and Travis' case they become firm friends before the spark between them ignites completely.  Glynis and Ignatius are impetuous in their attraction to each other. Their instant sexual attraction evolves into a love match.  Right now I'm writing PRETTY WHEN SHE KILLS. Even though Cian and Amaliya were instantly drawn to each other, their relationship is still evolving.
Samantha sighed. "I don't know him. Who he is now...he's yours."
Amaliya lit her cigarette. "For now."
"What do you mean 'for now?'" Samantha narrowed her eyes.
"We live forever. Maybe one day we won't be able to stand each other." Amaliya lifted her shoulders dismissively. "We have the now. The future is..." She waved her hand.  Cian and she had made no promises to each other. What they had now was great, but they didn't talk in terms of forever like mortals did. 
I think my major issue with Insta-Love is that the two people caught up in it are not allowed a choice. They are soul-mates, meant to be come hell or high water, whether they like it or not, etc. Sometimes it's a magical/supernatural contrivance.  They are just destined to be. Often the heroine is informed of this and is just expected to suck it up and accept it even if she thinks the guy she's supposed to be with is a jerk.  Usually if she doesn't accept her fated love match, her would-be lover stalks her relentlessly until she sees the truth.

Other times, both characters instantly fall for each other and swear eternal love even though they're usually around sixteen years old.  This isn't seen as unusual by anyone else in the book usually, unless they're the villain.

I'm an adult. I remember the rush of insanity that was "love" when I was younger. The belief that your first love is the "forever love." Sometimes this is the case, but most often it's not.  I guess that is why I'm so bothered by this trope in YA.

But I also have asked myself why is it so popular?  Lots of adult women (like me) read YA.  They lap up the romances just as much as their teen and tween counterparts. The Twi-Moms, anyone?  Why is the Insta-Love so popular with them, too?

Maybe its because as adult women we know how hard it is to be in a real life relationship.  Real relationships are work. No matter how much you love each other, there are going to be moments of disagreements, difficult times, etc.  In Insta-Love, you don't have to really work at the relationship because it is destined to be. The guy in the relationship worships you without reservation. Basically, you can do no wrong except deny his love.  You don't have to worry about bad breath, looking attractive, compromising on the chores around the house, etc.  It's perfect glorious love that the two people involved in don't have to even worry about maintaining.

I'm starting to think the Insta-Love phenomenon is the ultimate fantasy because it entails no hard work. No worries. Nothing more than sitting back and letting a super-hot dude adore the hell out of you because he's destined to.

Is it a relief  to adult women who feel the constant pressure to look like a sexy Victoria's Secret model while working 40 plus hours a week, raising their kids, maintaining their household, and keeping the fires lit with their significant other that their books portray the complete opposite? A fantasy love affair that has none of the baggage of real life?

And for so many teenagers and tweens who already feel the pressure to garner male approval in their looks and the social pressure to have a boyfriend, is it a fantasy ideal to have some perfectly hot guy fall for you because its fated? No worries at all?

Of course, this is all speculation on my part.  I really do wish we would discuss this phenomenon more. Why is it happening? What does it mean about adult women in modern society? What does it mean for our daughters and nieces?

Insta-Love is spreading to other genres as well. As an adult woman, I don't mind if two consenting adults meet, have sparks fly, and fall into bed only to find out later they like each other.  But I am bothered by two people meeting, sparks flying because they DESTINED, and instantly having zero other choice in their love life.

I'm reading a really good YA fantasy/paranormal novel right now that I would rate as great if not for the Insta-love, destined to be, YOU ARE FUCKING MINE, Insta-Love trope.  It really bothers me to see the lead female character basically shackled to the lead male because of some magical hoodoo. In fact, she has to be with the lead character or literally they will destroy everything around them. Frankly, I'd put a bullet in myself if I was robbed of the choice of who I would be with for the rest of my life.

Is Insta-Love now evolving from a fantasy romance to something much more dangerous?  Are we as readers allowing seriously warped, abusive relationships to become the norm? Where the male has total control over the female because she has no choice but to love him?

How did we get to this point?

Recently, Giselle of Xpresso Reads reviewed two different books that really made me ponder this evolving trope.

Two comments stood out to me:

"The link that bonds us", he said […] "has nothing to do with mind control, as you suspect. It's merely a tool meant to make you do as I say"
-Quote from Venus City
"I mean, Galen is great at first sight. He's gorgeous with a knack for being charming. But in truth he's controlling and lacks respect for her. He mentions wanting a girl who will do whatever he asks and never argue with him. Anyone? Plus his "serial killer eyes"… His ordering her around, never taking Emma seriously - it got on my nerves." -- from Giselle's review for Of Poseidon

This is becoming more and more common now. I just wish I understood why.  Readers defend these type of "romantic" heroes saying that they are just a fantasy. Is this really the fantasy women want?  The loss of the right to our own emotions, thoughts, and decision-making?

And where does it end?


  1. I'm not sure it's the loss of control of their own lives that women are seeing. I think they are just blinded by the hunky guy liking the everyday normal girl. I've noticed that not only do we get the forced/destined love but it is being presented in a triangle. The third guy is just thrown in to demonstrate how destined the characters are supposed to be. Unfortunately for me I always go for the more balanced underdog (aka Jacob Black) guy and always end up dissapointed that she chose the alpha (aka Edward). PS thats just the most popular ya triangle I can draw from.

    1. Insta-Love plus triangle makes me want to yank my hair out of my head (and I have a lot of it!). I totally agree about the underdog. Of late, the alpha is a jerk off and the underdog would be a much better fit, but who does the girl pick?

  2. I 'm glad that I am not alone in my annoyance of insta-love. I agree that people can be attracted to each other straight away, have amazing chemistry and/or just click. But I can't wrap my head around meeting your be-all, end-all lover that you know you'll be with forever and ever and ever and EVER!! And this coming from the girl who's still dating her highschool sweetheart 6 years (and 2 universities) later.

    Because I'm not a fan of the insta-love, I can't say what draws people to it. Maybe it is the fantasy of a perfect, effort-free relationship. But where's the point in that? I personally know myself well enough to know that if I knew I could have something with zero work required, I would take it for granted and our relationship would be crummy anyway.

    What really bothers me are the creepy, stalker boys who the heroine is 'destined' to be with. I can see a lot of characters that girls are swooning over becoming dangerous and abusive over time. Or at least I wonder why girl's don't see them for what they are: Creeps!

    1. Megan,

      I just have to wonder about the increasingly creepy, scary heroes that are being written into YA. I don't get it. At all.


  3. "I'm starting to think the Insta-Love phenomenon is the ultimate fantasy because it entails no hard work. No worries. Nothing more than sitting back and letting a super-hot dude adore the hell out of you because he's destined to."

    I absolutely agree (though that concept didn't even occur to me until I read the statement ^_^). I can see how that might appeal to many, the notion of some adoring individual coming along and immediately cutting through all the seemingly uncomfortable parts of courtship, skipping to unadulterated adoration. A far cry from the reality of needing to work at our relationships, including those involving deep, abiding love.

    For my part, I'm not a huge fan of the Insta-love trope. Sure, I think love/lust/magnetism at first sight is a real thing, and there is something very compelling about intense attraction, but the instant obsession just seems a tad out of the realm of understandable human behavior.

    And perhaps "human" is the key. I've read stories in which the Insta-love device is used as part of a paranormal bent on the animal-magnetism concept, (like with gibbons and swans and turtledoves, all of whom pair fast and mate for life). In those contexts, *sometimes* I get it. But even then, even with the introduction of paranormal aspects, even when the pairs are more (or less) than human, there's an element of humanity that readers must tap into. And "love" as we perceive it involves a degree of choice (as does everything we do). This choiceless love stuff...doesn't strike me as love the way I perceive it. But I guess it goes back to what you'd mentioned before, Rhiannon, about the "no hard work." The characters lay back, so to speak (or hell, maybe even literally ^_^), and love will *happen*.

    And dear goodness, the obsessive aspect, particularly when one party is completely uninterested and must be "shown the light" of the inevitable pairing. Let's call a spade a's stalking! ^_^

    Oh, and don't even get me started on YA heroes/heroines. ^_^ That quoted portion of Giselle's review pretty much sums it up well. Great, swoon-y relationship on the surface, but really disturbing dynamic once it's really examined.

    ::end ramble:: Awesome post, btw. thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks for commenting! I agree with what you say about "the choiceless love stuff." It's not love as we know it. It's rather frightening that these characters are given "no choice" as to who they will be with. It's like a punishment in my mind.



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