Sunday, March 31, 2013

Insta-love: An Insta-Turn Off

Yea or Nay: Otherwise titled Insta-love and Why I Think It's a BIG NO-NO

Only when it's you, Ryan Gosling.

When I see insta-love approaching, I usually react like this:

Insta-love, for those blissfully unaware, is when two characters fall in love pretty much at first sight or soon after. There is no history between them and hardly any basis for their feelings beside mutual attraction. It's usually accompanied by many fervent declarations of everlasting love and a lot of mooning.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love romance. Love it. There's almost nothing more wonderful to me as a reader than watching two characters slowly and realistically come together.

See the key words there? Slowly and realistically.

Romeo and Juliet is the most famous and most classical example of insta-love in literature. Nearly every romantic fairy tale and their accompanying Disney adaptation includes insta-love. Snow White and Prince Boring meeting by the wishing well. Aurora and Prince Philip the Sexy dancing in the forest. Cinderella and Prince Epaulets waltzing about the palace gardens.

If we don't see how they fell in love, then we'll never understand why they are in love. Just because an author claims something on the page doesn't mean we're going to believe it. And when it comes to romance of any sort, readers are quick to put on their skeptical pants. They give it a good once-over before buying into it. What I'm saying is, the love has got to be "real". Or else we react thusly:

All she REALLY wanted was for Snow and Prince Charming to stop singing at each other.

Insta-love vs. Insta-attraction

BIG difference. Insta-attraction happens all the time in real life and in novels. Let's say you're reading about a main character named, um, Julie. Julie is standing in line at Starbucks when someone accidentally bumps into her from behind. She turns to yell at this monumentally stupid person and whoa. Lo and behold, behind her stands a tall, rumpled, sexy dude with gorgeous blue eyes and a devastating crooked smile. The fat paperback tucked under his arm is the same book that's in Julie's purse. Julie's whole body lights on fire and her heart flips over and she forgets how to form sentences. It's like being struck by lightning.

That could be a wonderful start to a love story. I don't need for the two main characters to instantly hate each other, Beatrice and Benedick style (though it's super fun when they do). But as long as these people don't instantly decide they love each other, then it's okay. I mean, what if he's secretly a spy? An assassin? Engaged to her nemesis? Gay? Taken a vow of celibacy? Royalty? Any kind of complication or obstacle will do.

Let's say Julie and the blue-eyed, coffee-drinking sexpot (let's call him Jim) decide to sit down and have their coffees together. They have a lot in common and their chemistry is pretty much off the charts. Julie can react in several ways. She can think Oh my giddy aunt, Jim is amazing. I could totally see myself falling in love with him someday. Maybe I should ask him out. Or she can think Oh my giddy aunt, I'm already desperately in love with him. If a crazy wizard came in here and started Avada Kedavra-ing everybody, I would jump in front of him and die in his place. Because love.

You should know by now which option I prefer.

"But Gillian!" you and Julie cry, tears leaking down your precious, naive faces. "Jim's amazing! It could happen! My parents fell in love that way! My best friend's cousin's college roommate met her husband in a coffee shop and they got married the next day and are still together and have forty seven babies and a dog!"


 But I will shake my head condescendingly and say, "That's lovely, my dears, but it is exceptionally boring. Real life is not fiction, and fiction is not real life. I don't want to read about your best friend's cousin's college roommate. I want to read about two souls growing together through trials and tribulations. I want to read about the hard stuff, the messy stuff, and the exciting stuff. Because that's the fun of romance."

Love is such an amorphous, individual thing that it's hard to say what's love and what isn't. I mean, what's the difference between love and infatuation? Time? Seeing past your original idealized version of a person? I don't know. It'll vary for every story. But basically, I want my book life to be better than real life. It has to be more believable than real life, because, guess what? Someone is making it up. Fiction has to be more believable than fact, so the reader is tricked into forgetting it's fiction. It's a hard thing to pull off, but hey. That's why they pay authors the big imaginary bucks.

The absolutely worst part of instalove to me is how much these characters insist  on verbalizing their twue wuv. When characters get all, "Blahh, my sweet, my turtle dove, I love you more than everything in the history of the universe and I'm in physical pain because we are not currently touching" after knowing each other a week, I roll my eyes and seriously consider throwing them both into a vat of boiling tar.


Seriously? You have a family. Friends. Pets. You care about Hottie McBlue Eyes more than your family? After one week? This is not romantic to me. This is pathetic.

I want the characters' love to be communicated through their actions, not their sappy words. Words can lie. Words can be fake. Actions? Not so much. I also need to be able to see what the two characters see in each other. Do they possess qualities that the other lacks, like Darcy and Elizabeth or Ron and Hermione, balancing and rounding each other out? Is the hero or heroine the first person to truly see and value something about the main character, the way Four always believes in Tris' capabilities? I want to see why these puzzle pieces fit together. I don't want the author to just tell me they do.

Logan knows a true love story when he sees one.

Of course, there are books where insta-love is done well-ish (cannot actually think of any right now, but I'm certain they exist), but I always feel like those are only pulled off by people who understand the trope and are working with it. I've never read The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, but I've heard that this is one of them. Obviously I could be wrong, since I haven't read it. But there. I named a book. My work here is done.

It's not the shortened timeframe of an insta-love romance that bothers me so much as the lack of build-up. If a lot of things happen in a book over a couple of days, a week, or a month, the author could possibly convince me with a love story. But things need to happen between the two characters. They can't just be attracted to each other, have a couple heart-fluttery conversations together, vaguely ponder a mystery of some sort, and then declare themselves. Those are often the characters who feel the need to inform each other every ten pages or so that they are desperately in love, like they're worried the reader has forgotten. "I love you," the hero will say, earnestly and with one manly tear glittering on his cheek (TM Dean Winchester), "more than my own flesh, more than the sun and stars," and the reader will say, "Yes, thank you, I've got it, you just said that, can we please move on with the plot?"

Brilliant YA author (and creator of one of my favorite love stories of all time) Veronica Roth has this to say on the matter:

Most of the time, for me, the problem is "You're Hot, So I Love You." That is: the only in-text justification for the intense feelings of the characters is their physical attraction. We get many paragraphs dedicated to description, but none devoted to conversation or experiences that transcend the physical. Maybe the author even tells us something like "they talked for hours about this and this and this," but we don't get to see any of it, so we remain unconvinced.

I love that. That's so perfect and exactly sums up what I'm trying to say. Because she's Veronica Roth, obviously she does it much more cleanly and succinctly and awesomely. We bloggers like to rail on about show vs. tell, particularly when it comes to romance. I want to see them fall in love with what's in the other person's heart. It's not the same if the characters and the author just tell me that they already have.

Day One: Meet. Day Two: MARRIAGE!

(Yes, I know technically Derek and Odette weren't insta-love, as they knew each other their whole lives. Although they did change their minds awfully fast. And those of you who don't know what I'm even talking about, shame on you. This movie is a classic.)

Ms. Roth also warns readers not to brace against insta-love at all times:

And for readers, of which I am one: it's not that I think we should stop evaluating love stories for their believability. But I do think that it's important to make an effort to experience a story alongside the main character, rather than standing over the main character with our experiences or beliefs in hand like some kind of anti-insta!love weapon. And if, after we put the weapon down, we still read something and say "this is insta!love and it's annoying," I say, fair enough. Even if you say it about my books. I promise.

First of all, I just love that she calls it "insta!love", like it's some kind of infomercial product you can buy for $19.99. Like it's a little magic potion that you can throw in someone's eyes A Midsummer Night's Dream-style and poof! The man of your dreams has been smitten by Insta!love! Act now and we'll throw in a free ShamWow!

Anyway, every word she said is true. If you don't believe the love story on its own merits, then the story failed. We shouldn't immediately dismiss a love story because it has insta-attraction or a shorted time frame, because that doesn't fit in with our real-life experiences of love (HAHAHA, as if I have real life experiences of love). But if the romance feels shallow, unbelievable, too fast, or if it skipped a lot of important steps, then by all means, brand it insta-love and dismiss it if you feel so inclined.

Since this is, technically, a "yea or nay" post, you're at perfect liberty to disagree with me. So what say you? Instalove: Yea or nay?

For reference, here's a Goodreads list of Popular Insta Love Books.


  1. I'm actually pretty ok with the whole instalove thing. When I read, I'm looking for a way to escape my real life. It's nice to fall into a romance that sweeps me off my feet right from the start. If it takes too long to build a relationship I get all, "JUST KISS ALREADY." I get that instalove isn't very realistic, but I'm reading fiction, it doesn't need to be realistic. Yes, it has to be believable to be executed correctly, but I do believe in love at first sight so for me those situations, while rare IRL, are believable. I understand where some readers might have trouble with this, though, depending on views on love and relationships.

    1. Well, I'm with you on one thing. I get cranky when people take TOO long, (I just want to reach into the book and smush their faces together) but I prefer it to too fast. Like I said, I'm okay when two characters clearly like and are attracted to each other from the beginning and it builds to love. As long as the author is able to convince me they're in love, I'll buy it. But usually, in my experience, it's not the case.

    2. Omg yes, I have to say I am more annoyed at the sort of formulaic romance where love is drawn out until the very last page because them's the rules. I am okay with insta-love in certain circumstances: YA (because teenagers, while I love them, are idiots and I was "in love" every other week when I was 15. Love is just a different thing then, and I'm okay with that), and historical/fantasy (any book set in a time when you were expected to insta-love because your governess/father/patriarchy wouldn't actually allow you to spend all that much time with the opposite sex so in your societal background insta-attraction IS insta-love as far as you are concerned). Otherwise, totally with you - contemporary adults doing this... seriously, people?

  2. Insta-love, when done right, can be compelling. I think a lot of people want to believe in love at first sight, so a well-executed and written story can resonate with readers. Take Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I was hugely skeptical when Karou and Akiva met and were all insta-love, but then I was blown away by the story.

    1. Daughter of Smoke and Bone! An excellent example. Thank you! You're right, insta-love when done right can work. The key is "done right". It's an exceptionally tricky thing to pull off, because by definition I feel like the reader is disiclined to believe it. I know i want to believe in love at first sight,but the author's really got to work to show me how and why these characters fall in love so fast. Most of the time, they don't succeed for me.

  3. YES!

    Oh my word. Instalove makes me want to barf. To me, not only is instalove lazy, but it makes the characters in question appear super immature. Like you said, how can Boy She Met 5 Minutes Ago suddenly be more importance than ANYTHING else?! Meh.

    Also, one MILLION points to you for the Swan Princess GIF. Love that movie, my word.

    1. Characters who so quickly put aside everything and everyone that's important to them for the dude they just met ALWAYS read immature to me. Not a fan.


  4. Oh yes, Gillian, you are 100% right...insta love is annoying to me. I LOVE the build up. The build up does it for me! I don't read much "romance" because I get all eye rolly. People just don't.really.behave.that.way. ;-) Great post!

    The Castle GIF was awesome!

    1. The build-up is the fun part for me! All that tension, all that simmering heat. Loooove a simmer. It makes the big MOMENT where they finally rush into each other's arms all the more squee-worthy!

      A CASTLE FAN! I love Castle. I feel like he'd agree with me ;)

  5. The VMars gif was so amazingly appropriate. One of the best gradual love stories ever. There is so much romantic tension there, they can't stay away from each other, then BAM. It boils over.

    Nay on instalove. Because I want to fall in love alongside the character, too.

    1. Exactly. Logan and Veronica had a GREAT buildup. It made the boiling pot all the more, er, boil-y. Seriously one of my favorite TV kisses. I LOVE falling in love alongside the character! That's what makes it fun.

    2. VMars is the perfect example. I remember the first time I watched the show and thinking "That Logan guy, what a jerk. I wish he'd just go away and leave awesome Veronica alone." But then we got to know him right along with Veronica and he had layers and problems and things that made him human and wonderful and then we're all cheering for the two of them to get together. That was a perfect LoVe story :)

  6. I love the gifs on here! BRILLIANT! I have to agree I am not a fan of insta-love! I want to learn about this character and know why she/he fell in love with her! There are some times when I feel like insta-love is done right! Like beautiful creatures! They didn't know each other for that long and he fell in love pretty quickly (in my opinion) but I felt like Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl did a really good job! Maybe I'm just a little biased! But I say nay on insta-love! Give me real love or give me death!

    Oh and The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight actually has them develop a relationship. They have a long conversation on the plane. So it isn't really love at first sight.... More like love after 10 hour flight... I also never remember them saying they were in love? But I read it so long ago so I can't quite remember!

    1. Why thank you! :D I haven't read Beautiful Creatures yet, thought I own both it and The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, but I'm glad to know it's done well.

  7. This post makes you my favoritest person ever.
    Insta!love NAY! Nay, I say! For all those excellent reasons you stated above. I can stomach a character who is naive being convinced they are in love (with the author showing us that it is not love, she just thinks it is, a la Romeo & Juliet), but if two characters are so focused on insta!love that they neglect growing or being separate entities (and let's face it, in fiction it's usually the female character becoming an extension of the male character), I stop reading. Because if I want two dimensional, unrealistic, boring characters, I can just turn on the TV. :)

    (also, you know that there's a Kickstarter project for a Veronica Mars movie, right??)

    1. And now you are MY favoritest person ever! Thank you :)

      Could not agree more with what you said about R&J. And DO I KNOW THERE'S A KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN. I might have burst into tears and pledged them my firstborn the moment I found out. Okay, no, but I did find out the day it happened and pledged a few bucks. I'm so excited I can barely contain myself.

  8. I don't mind instalove on the rare occasion when it is done right, but I don't prefer it. I love relationship that grows. I understand insta-attraction, like you mentioned, that makes total sense, but insta-love is just very unbelievable.

    Nay to insta!love.

  9. For the record, I'm nay to instalove.

    But I loved doing March Fantasy Month with you and you didn't have any truly negative reviews, so I have to say that this must have been a rewarding experience for you! <3 I'm glad I turned you on to some awesome books though. And happy birthday month! My gift came a while ago in the form of a signed copy of VENOM, but hey! <3

  10. Oh my goodness. I really want to leave some deep, insightful response to this, but I'm pretty sure you said absolutely everything that needed to be said. Your discussion posts crack me up, and you have a way with the gifs. Pop culture soulmate!

    Wait! I do have one thing to add, which is pretty much the only time I'm okay with instalove. That's if the characters had a history, like they were in love in previous lives. BUT it doesn't always work, and there needs to be chemistry and bonding between the characters as well. I will, very occasionally, accept this kind, though, because there's a basis for their feelings. Still, I prefer that it not happen at all.

    I would be really happy if "I love you" was in almost no YA books. Oh, also, there should NEVER be statements like "whenever I'm not touching you, it BUUUUUURRRRNS." On a related note, I hate when they touch and it feels like fire. Every time, I just assume they've got an STD.

    1. Pop culture soulmate! :D

      Oooh, like in Persuasion, you mean? I guess that kind of qualifies. Like insta-REKINDLING of love, but it's kind of the same for the readers because we don't get to see it. I agree with you.

      And YES. The words "I love you" are wayyyy overused. And yes, I also often wonder if YA characters are all infected with STDs, because there is a lot of burning and fire and flushing red and whatnot.

    2. Well, I wouldn't say Persuasion was an insta-rekindling exactly, because they took some time about it, but that could work. I was actually thinking of something like Spellbound by Shultz, which I know no one but me liked, or Daughter of Smoke and Bone, in which I didn't mind Akiva and Karou being drawn to each other bc of the past life connection, but I DID hate the instalove between her past self and Akiva...sooooo

      YA books would be much improved if authors never used the words "I love you," at least as a guideline. Pretty much as soon as the "I love you" is out, I'm a grinch about their relationship, and ranting about how they're fifteen and idiots.

  11. I love everything about this post. The gifs, the rants, ALL GOOD.

  12. I feel like with swan princess the instalove was so weird for Odette, because she basically tells him that he's a pig who only loves her for her looks, she leaves they have no further interaction, but then when she's captured, it's Derek we're meant to be, like, WTF?


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