And not long after that, I read a YA book that I was fairly sure before picking it up that it would end up with the two main characters NOT getting together (which was my main reason for picking it up) ... and then they did end up together. And that just made me upset. WHY?! There's absolutely nothing wrong with there being an element of romance or falling in love within a book, I just don't see why it seems mandatory for two people to end up together at the end.
And people are obsessed by these relationships. Everyone has something to say about their 'book boyfriends' and which couples are their favourites and if there's a triangle, everyone is on a particular Team with strong feelings one way or another. I'm tired of it all. I want less emphasis placed on couples in YA and a bigger spotlight on individuals and how they're forming identities on their own and with friends and family and hobbies and I want it be somewhat distant from the romantic relationships that happen in their lives. Is that so much to ask? But if these relationships are important in shaping who a person is or becomes, then at least make those relationships resemble actual life.
I'm saying clearly here and now: I want to see more realistic relationships in YA. I want to see teenagers happily single at the end of books. I want teenagers to know that they can have a happily ever ending that has no bearing on their relationship status. In the same way that I'd like to see actual life (with diverse characters and disabilities and varying sexualities and so on) I also want YA to reflect on the fact that not at all teenage relationships work out.
Because they don't. From reading YA, you'd think that MOST teenagers fall in love with THE ONE by the time they're 18, right (sometimes, but not always, madly and passionately)? That they fall into these life-altering relationships with a few hiccups here and there maybe, but ultimately, THAT'S IT.
And what a let-down that is in reality. I'm not saying that that doesn't happen - teenage sweethearts that stay together forever. It must do. For, like, a small percentage of the population. But for the rest of us mere mortals? Not so much.
Take me for example. My First Boyfriend was great. I met him when I was 16. He was the first person to tell me that I was pretty. He took me on my first date, gave me my first kiss. He was the first boy I took home to meet my dad. He was the first boy who held my hand in public and made me feel special. He was my 'first' for a lot of things. It was a magical time period for a lot of reasons. I read YA novels about two characters getting to know each other and starting a relationship and I remember what that felt like. Opening up with somebody, sharing. Being vulnerable.
But you know what? That relationship ended because he cheated on me with someone else. And maybe that's not very hopeful or romantic or whatever. But it is the truth. And yes, I felt pretty low about it at the time. But I picked myself up and out of that situation and realised that I deserved more than the way First Boyfriend treated me. And I may have been hurt and angry with the way things ended, but that doesn't mean that the things I felt and the things that changed about me during the course of that relationship weren't important or that they didn't happen. They did. And I'd love to see more YA characters go through these things realistically. There was nothing wrong with my second boyfriend. He was funny and kind and we broke up with minimal dramatics because I wasn't ready to jump into a serious relationship after the disaster that was First Boyfriend.
Let me tell you now about my First Love. My First Love nearly broke me. I was going through a rougher-than-usual time when I met FL. And for a long time he and I were just friends. At first, I'd talk with him about unimportant things to distract me from larger problems in my life and then later, as we got closer, I'd tell him other things. Things I'd never told anyone else. He was a wonderful person to speak with, very caring and understanding and funny and I'd love his viewpoint on life. It gave me a new perspective... and as I thought more and more about him I realised that I was falling in love with him. There was something special and meaningful about our friendship but I also realised there was something pretty special about him as a person too.
Things did not work out between me and my First Love. I loved him and I know he cared about me a great deal. But we were in two very different places in life and we both had different priorities and goals. But his friendship and his presence in my life at a very trying time changed and fixed something inside of me. It didn't matter that we didn't end up together, that change still happened. It was very sad, and I cried a great deal over him, of course, but it wasn't the end of the world either. And what I also don't want to see in YA books is people like First Love being turned into villians or creeps just because we didn't end up together. That annoys me. There doesn't have to be this convoluted reason for us (or any two people) not to be together. And for gods sake, there doesn't have to be a perfect guy in the wings waiting for First Love and I to fall out to step in and be my happily-ever-after. I want YA books to stop telling girls that they need these things for a happy ending.
My point for bringing up these past relationships including First Boyfriend and First Love is just to ask, why are these relationships and these stories discarded within YA? Why do we need happily-ever-after romantic stories?
What do you think? I'd love to hear your relationship histories and your thoughts on Happily-Ever-After and what messages we're reading about in YA.