The YA author wakes up in a cold sweat. They have dreamt up their worst nightmare.
A single character. A character not in an ever-lasting monogamous relationship, who doesn't have their ‘after the book’ arc mapped out, with 2 kids and eternal happiness.
Truly the stuff of nightmares.
In YA, every side character needs to be paired off, needs to at least have a hinted romantic interest. God forbid there’s nothing to write fanfiction about.
This is the slightest bit of a problem because… a good chunk of teens don’t date. And an even larger chunk of teens don’t date with the promise of forever. Add concerns such as saving the world onto the plates of many YA protagonists, and dating seems like it should be the last thing on a character’s mind.
Fawning over cute ships is nice, truly, but the mostly adult authors are also sending a message to their younger readers. They are saying, this is what teenage relationships look like. They are saying, babies ever after is the best end. They are saying, the struggle isn’t over until you have found your one and only.
Most YA novels have worked their way towards not making romance the end-all-be-all or the ultimate goal, but it’s always still there. It's there when side characters flirt with each other during a scene and are caught holding hands at the end. It’s enough to write canon-compliant fanfiction about.
This brings me to a bit of a side analysis on fanction. You can see the effects of pairing people off the best here–where you can find some sort of romance for any character. Some of it is just a teenager thinking, hey these two could be cute together, but there are also hints of, and I quote, the AO3 tag, [insert character] deserves love, followed by a horde of romantic fics.
While this really isn’t an issue, it does make me stop and think about what being loved or receiving love means to teenagers. Does it mainly have to be romantic validation, where one person chooses you and you choose them as your one and only?
Why is this what the mainly teenage audience sees romance as the straight-shot way to fix-it fic or uses romance to project onto fiction characters when what at least half of them are really struggling with are issues often in parental relationships or friendships?
Romance as escapism could be its own post, but fanfiction does shine light on this need to pair characters up in YA. We see the effects of YA authors painting romance as a given trickle down into the way these writers write as well.
Even outside seeing characters happy and single and loved, I want to see different types of relationships. As this article explains, queer people tend to love a little differently. I want to read about polyamorous relationships, queerplatonic relationships, aro/ace relationships that don’t fit the idea of the perfect ‘happy ever after.’
This pairing of each character with the person that completes them and is their eternal source of happiness has always smelled a little fishy to me, anyway, and I’m tired of that being all I see in YA. I want to see different types of relationships that don’t just rely on the nuclear family (two parents and their kids) structure or on the promise of delivering that nuclear family structure. I want single characters with fulfilled arcs who don’t need relationships invented for them. I want to see myself—happy and loved without a romantic relationship—in books. Not every side character needs a partner, and not every main character needs an SO to get them through it.
I don’t understand why YA authors are so scared of letting characters be single, but as young adults, plenty of us are single or have spent enough time not in a relationship, and we’re… we’re alright. And I don’t know about you, but I’d take a single character over a half-baked romance any day.
is a high school student in New Jersey. They like (in no particular order) books, music, science, history, running, and (of course) writing and are always up to learn something new! Find them on Instagram at @writing_stoot.
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