How stories use love


Let's see a show of hands: how many of you dislike insta-love in a novel? Okay, that's one, two, three, four...whoa, there are a lot of you. And I'm not even counting the guy in the back wearing a raincoat. We all know how he'd vote.

I recently read READY PLAYER ONE. Have you read it? It's really good, but the relationship in it was a classic example of superficial love, or as I prefer to call it--lust. In the story, the two "lovers" meet online in a video game. Based on the girl's avatar (our hero hasn't met her in person), he professes his undying love. Then later when he hears she might not be as attractive in person, he says her physical looks aren't that important to him. Come on, seriously? All he's talked about is how she looks!

The truth is that insta-love permeates almost every novel. The reason some writers give is they don't have time to develop a true relationship. And in their defense, no one wants to sit through the days, weeks, months, and sometimes years that a real relationship takes to develop. Plus, publishers would never stand for it.

My issue with taking this shortcut in literature is that it creates unrealistic expectations, especially when it comes to young people. Insta-love is based solely on the superficial--how the person looks, the sound of their voice, even the way they dress--and all of this has little to do with what the person is truly like. We as a species are designed to procreate, and therefore we're constantly searching for the right partner (whether we realize it or not). But the problem is that by confusing lust with love, we are jeopardizing our chance of finding someone worth procreating with. Don't believe me? Look at Hollywood. The average Hollywood marriage lasts three years.

Of course, publishers will tell you that they're simply reflecting societal norms. In today's world, couples are living together and marriage is old-fashioned. But this wasn't the norm until they started portraying it in what they publish. True, people have been having sex without love since the beginning of time, but it was never the norm. So why are publishers doing it? To sell books. One of them turns out a FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and it generates a buzz, so the others try to outdo them. And in the end, the ones paying the price are the young people who grow up with unrealistic expectations about relationships. Make no mistake: I'm not a prude. I'm all for love. What I'm against is hypocrisy. The same people who are horrified by the deterioration in society are the same people who are contributing to its destruction. So you want to toss two people into bed when they first meet? Have at it. But don't call it love.

Years ago I worked with a young writer on a movie script I'd been hired to direct. The "love" between his lead characters was taking place too quickly and I suggested he enter his story later, after the characters had met and fallen in love. This would have saved him a lot of screen time and produced a more believable relationship. He couldn't see it. He had been raised on insta-love, and his script suffered for it.

I think this is why novels like THE NOTEBOOK are so popular. Yes, the two lead characters did experience insta-love at the beginning of the story, but their love was tested over time and endured.

Truthfully, aren't we all searching for that kind of love? Wouldn't you rather share your life with someone who will stick with you no matter what? Then why not model that kind of love in the stories we tell?