Love in YA – The Problem with Insta-Love

(“L” is for LOVE in the A to Z Blog Challenge) AtoZBadge-LetterL

If the interwebs are to be believed, YA readers are sick of insta-love – that moment when the heroine sees a cute stranger and decides immediately he’s the one! On Goodreads people have made “No Insta-Love” shelves and there’s even a Listopia “Young Adult Books Without Insta-Love.”

So why is this trope still in so many YA novels? Well, it does have its pros:

  • It’s relatable; teens are prone to falling hard and fast.
  • It’s mysterious; knowing nothing about the love interest leaves lots for the heroine to discover.
  • It’s aspirational; people want to fall in love easily and without doubt.

So what’s wrong with this? Besides the fact that too much of anything gets boring, many would argue insta-love is unrealistic. Love does not happen instantly! But sometimes it does, especially with teenagers. Whether it’s “true love” or not is up for debate. The bigger problem with the prevalence of insta-love is that this one version of romance squeezes out others. In YA there’s a crisis of romantic homogeny that sets a precedent that most people can never live up to.

Personally, I never “got” insta-love, in stories or in real life. Insta-lust, yes, but insta-love, no, and very early on in my dating years I began to wonder if something was wrong with me. Every story I read and romantic comedy I watched made it seem like I’d just know instantly when I met “the one”, and yet it never happened. Rationally, I acknowledged insta-love wasn’t realistic (how can you love someone you don’t even know?), but the trope was so ingrained into my psyche that it was hard to dispel. So whenever I found a story that wasn’t the love-at-first-sight fairy tale, I latched onto it – like the movie 500 DAYS OF SUMMER and THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS. Both have characters who fall instantly in love, yet they don’t live happily ever after.

I love these stories because they feel real, and I was disappointed that Disney changed the Sisterhood movie ending to make it happier. In my experience, relationships go down in flames all the time, and living through a heartbreaking situation with a character is impactful because it makes you realize you’re not the only one. Books are cathartic that way.

Humans have a desire to fit in, to feel normal, and to be accepted – especially in love. And because we’re influenced by the narratives around us, we need more varied romances in YA to show that love happens in many ways and there’s no right way to fall in love. So writers, here’s a challenge: come up with as many alternatives to insta-love as possible. I’ll start…

  1. Slow Cooker – where the heroine isn’t sure if she’s falling in love, but as the relationship heats up it becomes clear she is.
  2. Heart Attack – when love sneaks up on the heroine and scares her half to death because she didn’t even know it was there.
  3. Platonic Passion – that guy/gal the heroine swears is just a friend is really more, if she’d give love a chance.
  4. ______________________

What’s on your list? What kinds of romance do you want to see more of in YA novels?


Tomorrow on the A to Z Blog Challenge is Jenn with the letter “M” – Mixing Genres: Career Suicide?

Next Up from Heather… On Monday I have the letter “R” – Reading Overload in the Information Age

Click here for more posts by Heather.


Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

7 thoughts on “Love in YA – The Problem with Insta-Love”

  1. Honestly, I’d like to see less love in YA. Why do all of the characters facing these trials and tribulations need to add more stress to their already stressful lives? I understand the argument of some (I had this discussion in a FB group not too long ago as well) that raging hormones in adolescence will dictate it’s presence to a degree, but if you’re hunting ghosts or demons, or plagued by some horrible calamity, will your brainpower not be redirected? Can a YA book still be a best-selling without a romantic element? I don’t know the answer to that…

    1. That’s a question that can be asked of many genres, not just YA. Love, whether romantic or platonic, exists in most stories because we root for heroes that care about others. Love makes the stakes so much higher and the story more compelling. But I totally agree we could use less of it in YA – love often overshadows the plot and everything else going on in the characters’ lives. So can a YA book still be a best-seller without a romantic element? Absolutely! The Hunger Games proved that. The whole “Peeta or Gale” question wasn’t Katniss’s concern – she was busy trying to survive the Games. Heck, Gale was barely in that first book! Though that brings up an interesting phenomenon… readers latched onto that tiny potential romance and made it seem like a much bigger part of the story. So perhaps teenagers’ raging hormones do dictate love’s presence in a story. Wow, I have so much to think about now! Thanks for your comment!

  2. I can’t stand insta-love in YA’s either. I think boys/girls can be attracted to someone right away, but this “fall in love” immediately and our hearts are forever linked in blood and eternity is for the birds! I love when an author shows how a boy or girl reacts for the first time when they meet. It can be hate at first sight or a bundle of nerves or cautious. But, please, no more insta-loves!! Thanks for posting:)

  3. I’ve never really thought about this before, but yeah, insta-love does really seem prevalent in YA books. It doesn’t bother me as much as love triangles do though, lol. Great topic today!

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