Not Getting Romance in Everything

There was a book I read last week. I’m not going to say which of the books I read that set me off, as it’s a bit of a spoiler for the piece in question, but—there was this relationship. I didn’t see it as romantic, and while there was apparently subtext I completely missed that implied it as such, I gleefully persisted as seeing it as nonromantic. When it was explicitly made a romantic relationship, a good portion of the fandom rejoiced and discussed how long ago they’d seen it, but I was a tad disappointed. It wasn’t the possibly-technically-taboo nature of the relationship in question when the romantic element was added, but just the fact that I had gotten attached to this one because it didn’t appear to be a romance. Because these things are always romances, and because I love the alternatives more than I love the average romance. Just because two people are potentially sexually compatible doesn’t mean that’s the only avenue open to them!

What else can one do, though, if one wants a couple of characters of about the same age who are so closely connected that problems for one are practically guaranteed to hook the other to the exclusion of everything else?

Strange though it may sound, sometimes just plain friends (possibly with a side of And We Owe Each Other for All the Things We’ve Helped Each Other Through) can do the job. They’re buds, they know they can count on each other, one or more have overdeveloped senses of loyalty, and not much more is needed.

If you don’t think that just plain friendship can possibly do the job (and in that case, there are some pastel equines I’d love to introduce you to, but that’s another story), then there’s always going the next step up to war-buddies. There’s something about the kind of mutual trust that comes from two people who only have each other to fall back on that, at least in my experience, is pretty darn nifty.

Awesome person and learner. A lot of the time this gets blended in with a sibling dynamic, but it doesn’t have to—all it really requires is for one to be willing to teach and the other to be admiring and willing to learn, preferably between two characters who aren’t so far apart in age as to make the dynamic too unbalanced. (This is why I’m not calling this mentor-student.)

There is, of course, the standard sibling dynamic, particularly in cultures where family Matters. I’m sure we’ve all heard some variation on the war story the tagline of which is “He’s not heavy; he’s my brother.” And let’s face it, there are both cultural and genetic bases for the sibling bond being one of the most important factors for a character.

Archenemies/nemeses! All right, maybe not all of us have the kind of approaches to character dynamic I do, but I’ve always been very partial to the kinds of archenemies who get so caught up in fighting each other that even they aren’t entirely sure what they’d do if one of them actually won. The emotions involved are a lot messier than standard romances, as well, and you can actually acknowledge how screwed-up the character dynamic can be.

Ubiquitous though it is (particularly in YA fiction), the romance doesn’t have to be the be-all and end-all of inter-character dynamics. Vary it up a bit. There are definitely people who will appreciate it.

4 comments

  1. Sean Holland says:

    I entirely agree, while I am not opposed to romance now and then, it get tiring having it forced into every story and every genre.

  2. Ravyn says:

    Yeah, no kidding. Even when all it does is make an otherwise excellent character look downright wishy-washy, or freeze up the progress of a story (what do you mean we’re going to spend an entire week on soap opera stuff this early in the progression?) or means that the ending doesn’t actually talk about the ramifications of the events of the series or…

    My, I’m ranty.

    There’s also the fact that some characters just aren’t suited for it–or some people just can’t run it, or something. I had one character who seemed to have better connections with her archenemies than with her love interest; it was slightly bizarre.

  3. Philo Pharynx says:

    Sadly, most YA lit tends to be the “girl romance fantasy” or the “boy power fantasy” (or occasionally both). One of the reasons I liked the Hunger Games was that it turned a lot of tropes on their ear. Katniss was too busy trying to survive to get dragged into the “mooning love triangle”. Another issue I have is that most of these books don’t show realistic relationships. It’s the come-out-of-nowhere-absolute-unconditional-one-true-love-of-destiny! One minute they are fighting like two people that have no values in common and the next they have a love that will bring somebody back from the dead.

    Then again, they are playing to the audience.

  4. Ravyn says:

    I get the impression you didn’t read past the first book, then. The Twoo Wuv gets more and more ridiculous through the second and third, until the entire epilogue of Mockingjay is just “Whee, let’s neglect all the crazy political developments we just set up–we’ve got a romantic plot tumor to resolve!” (Yeah, I still haven’t forgiven Collins for that one.)

    But yeah, no kidding. I mean, I’ve seen YA Lit avoid that–Akata Witch did an excellent job, and while Girl of Fire and Thorns starts with a marriage it goes just about everywhere else over the course of the book. And then there was Ice… yeah, the romance was important, it kind of has to be if you’re doing East of the Sun and West of the Moon, but it developed properly, and Carrie had some excellent things to say about consent issues.

    …so yeah. An interesting section, YA. Can’t make up its mind whether to be gems or to just be obnoxious. Maybe if people would quit with the demographic color-coding….

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