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Are Happily-ever-afters in YA Novels Bad for Teenagers' Love Lives?

03/09/2013 13:10 | Updated 03 November 2013

I don't think I'll overcome the disappointment that nobody - ever - has chased me through an airport to stop me getting on a plane.

I'm still bitter that the hottest guy in school didn't fall horrifically in love with me on my first day.

And, when I'm riding the train, I'm still brainwashed into thinking that maybe - just maybe - someone gorgeous will sit next to me and we'll have an instantaneous connection, jump off at the next stop, and run around a beautiful city vomming our hearts out to each other.

Basically - when it comes to what I've been told about love, and what love actually *is* - I've been massively short-changed.

And I'm not the only one.

New research by OnePlusOne shows that young people have unrealistic expectations about love. A survey of 1000 young people showed 69% agreed with the statement 'If it's 'meant to be' then a relationship will work out'. That fate is like some invisible form of a Relate counsellor. Relationships are things that happen to you, rather than organic things you can control. If it ain't 'right', it's wrong.

Where are they getting all this from? And should we be worried about what it means for teenagers?

I'm going to point my pudgy finger at happily-ever-afters. The fact young people rarely get to see fictional relationships develop past the heady wonderfulness of getting together. No end of honeymoon period, no quibbles about what to watch on TV that turn into full-blown rows, no oh-shite-I-fancy-someone-else-what-does-that-mean? freakouts. And, as a young adult author, I can't help but feel my beloved genre is a repeat offender of such crimes against real love.

Since Twilight bullcharged into our consciousness with its powerful insta-love between sexy vampire and clumsy-yet-pretty schoolgirl, the genre has been chock-a-block with similar love stories. And, despite a few blips along the way, these romances almost universally end with a happily-ever-after. The novels routinely end with the young couple smooching. The romance ends with them getting together - but anyone who's been in a long-term relationship knows that when the romance ends the actual 'relationship' begins.

When I'm not writing YA novels, I'm a journalist for TheSite.org, an advice website for young people. I've interviewed countless relationship psychologists and experts, and guess what? Not one of them says: 'if it's hard, they're not The One sweetie.' Nope. They consistently say words like 'compromise' and 'work' and 'communication'.

Shouldn't this be a lesson we're telling young people? That real love is hard damn work? That, even if you meet your soulmate, your relationship will inevitably involve unyielding amounts of endless compromise?

There are dozens - if not hundreds - of powerful, yet realistic, YA romances out there, but the ones that top bestseller lists all tend to end with the traditional 'and then they did a snog in some beautiful location - the end'. And - considering over a third of YA readers are actually adults - adults that should really know better - it's not just teens who want to escape into this Cinderella idea of love. We WANT fairytales. We choose fairytales, myself included...

Maybe it's all a vicious circle. We're spoon-fed false expectations of love throughout adolescence, then our personal relationships fail to meet these unrealistic ideals, we feel bored and bitter, so we escape back into our happy endings and vampire weddings. Books have always, if nothing else, offered the best virtual reality and means to escape the disappointments of humdrum life.

During the editing process of my debut novel, Soulmates, almost every swearword was carefully extracted to protect the linguistic innocence of my readers. But as we're moral-panicking that YA literature is turning teens into drunken foul-mouthed sex-addicts - we don't seem at all concerned about them becoming delusional romantics.

I'm not saying all YA romances should contain depressingly realistic endings, but we should at least bring this concern into the discussion. Because, when it comes down to it, isn't the ability to form and maintain healthy relationships one of the key ingredients of a happy life? And isn't our obsession with only showing the best of love, rather than love and all its accompanying ugly bits, potentially stopping young people from having these?

Sure, you can't argue with what young people want to read (hey - at least they're reading!), you can't argue with what young people find relaxing or enjoyable. But I know I'd rather have my teen characters drop a few f-bombs than run off into the sunset.