Pet Peeves: Romance in General
I love endings where the guy and the girl get together, but I have one major characteristic that sets me apart from other romantics: I'm a cynic. I seem to be the only person that realizes that when you get married and kiss your spouse good morning, you'll both probably have morning breath. Ew, right? So when I see lots of fluff in a story, I tend to smack my palm to my forehead and just shake my head in a state of Oh-My-Goodness-Please-Tell-Me-They're-Not-Serious (unfortunately, yes, they are serious).
Though I enjoy romance, this genre comes with all the things I hate in a book. There's usually an abysmal lack of character development and interesting plot, plus the style of writing leaves something to be desired.
However, these points listed in this chapter are what annoy me the most in the romance genre.
It's a Love-Hate Relationship:
In school, he's fairly popular and is with the "in" crowd, either because he's athletic or because he's in a band. Or if he's in the work place, he's gorgeous, charming, and intelligent, earning him points with everyone. He's arrogant and has a thing for harassing the heroine, usually hitting on her. He tends to be a player who's slept with virtually every girl in school (or the office), just 'cause he can and all the girls swoon over him and how darned sexy he is. Except, of course, for our plucky female lead because she's a special snowflake.
She hates his guts and can't stand how her friends (or coworkers) go on and on about how hot he is. Of course, she can't honestly deny that she finds his looks attractive and is often caught staring at his abs or his lips, which quite frankly annoys the hell out of me. And he usually notices her checking him out, resulting in the trademark smirk… Because he smirks about every paragraph of his existence.
Why I think it's stupid: There is absolutely no depth to their relationship. To begin with, they hated each other for no apparent reason. Or maybe the guy humiliated the girl and she's had a grudge ever since even though he did that anywhere from three to seven years ago. Or, in the work setting, he always one-ups her and she hates it. So he's a jerk and she's an unforgiving turd. Why I am supposed to like these characters again? And then their loathing for one another morphs into lust and the author actually calls it "love"! Let's see if it lasts through twenty years and two bratty kids, not to mention baby fat and love handles.
Plus, I'm always a little disappointed when they do stop hating each other. All the "zing" goes out of their insults.
And all the girls swoon over him? Are women really okay with being shoved into a box like that, as if they have no opinion or intelligence? Different people find different qualities attractive. One girl might think he's as sexy as can be while another (besides our heroine) won't even see him as any more than average.
Prince Charming and Cinderella:
He's fairly popular, but he's also a sweetheart. He's humble and intelligent, also sexy without realizing it and good at virtually everything. All the girls swoon over him. If he's single, he doesn't pay them any heed because he wants "something deeper". If not single, he's dating the snobby cheerleader (or the flirtatious secretary) who cheats on him, but he is just so innocent and chronically dense that he doesn't realize it.
And "something deeper" is found in our heroine, who has usually had a crush on this golden boy for a long time, basically since she first set eyes on him. She's usually kind of shy and is convinced that she could never be good enough for him. Her friends tell her otherwise and are the ones who will finally get her to make a move.
Why I think it's stupid: He doesn't exist. That's right: Prince Charming does not exist. Sorry to burst your bubble, but it's true. I'm not saying that it's impossible to find a good guy, because I know plenty of great guys whom I admire, but thinking that he'll be some straight-A, athletic, insanely handsome guy (who is over six-feet, toned and well-built, with perfect soft hair and eyes that apparently need a lifeguard) is already a near impossible standard to begin with, but for him to have absolutely no personality flaws as well? That would never happen in a million years. And most of the guys who seem perfect actually turn out to be different (psst! It's called acting!).
Also, the heroine isn't nearly as deep as people say she is and the real reason they think she's deep is because they have the depth of a spoon of Buckley's cough medicine. Most times, the couple say they love each other, but they don't know each other nearly well enough to truly mean that.
The Good Girl and the Bad Boy:
She's modest, sweet, shy, and gets good grades in school. When she works, she gives her all and leaves all her colleagues in the dust. She is every parent's dream child and the teacher's pet, never having received detention once. Actually, the thought of getting in any sort of trouble terrifies her. The female party-animal friend is constantly telling her that she needs to "loosen up" or "get laid". Ugh. She may or may not have low self-esteem and she's always organized.
He is the exact opposite, with a brooding, standoffish demeanor and an attitude problem that gets him in detention. Or maybe that's because he doesn't put an effort in and never does his homework. Or maybe it's because he has various drug issues and participates in criminal activities. The title of "bad boy" also comes with body piercing in weird places, tattoos, a tortured past, and a motor bike.
Why I think it's stupid: You cannot fix him with your love! So many women have ruined their lives over this myth, thinking that they can solve the man's issues and change him for the better. But the truth is, the only person who has the power to change him is himself. The only love that will change him is his own: compassion for all the people who are around him and not just the girl. In short, I just think this cliché has a misleading and potentially damaging message.
And the tortured past is not handled in a realistic way. The true psychological effects that abuse and tragedy incur are often neglected. When something so heartbreaking happens to a person, it takes more than a love interest to fix it.
The Sexy Rival:
She's always the same: curvaceous and cunning. She'll either have exotic coloring or be a blue-eyed blonde. I don't understand why women with an hourglass figure get such a bad rap. They're always portrayed as slutty in movies and novels. In reality, stick-figured women are just as bad.
Why are cheerleaders given such a bad name? They're virtually always portrayed as slutty, petty, selfish, and manipulative. And blonde. Everybody thinks she's hot but thinks she's a *bleep*. Please explain to me why she's popular. Everone hates her and everyone knows everyone hates her, so why do these morons flock to her if she's that bad? They have safety in numbers. And "Well, all the boys want to... you know" is not a good answer. It's not like she's the only hot girl who'll have sex.
I have a friend who's a cheerleader. She's a brunette with a lot of allergies. Because she has allergies, she wants to start up a bakery to bake healthy food that anyone can eat, even if they're allergic to almost everything. Isn't that sweet? She wants to help others with allergies by making food they can enjoy! Clearly, she's not nasty like dem stereotypical cheerleaders. She's had a few boyfriends but she's no slut. And she's very empathetic and understanding of others.
See? Real life cheerleaders aren't that bad. And yes, I know some of them are catty, but so are some of the nerds and some of the band geeks and some of the punks in the smoke pit. It's not like they're actually any worse than anyone else.
The Fiery Redhead:
She's a ginger with a quick temper. She usually appears as the female lead in the Love-Hate relationship and is usually short and touchy about her height. She may have green eyes and she's likely Irish.
Think about this statistically: one percent of the world's population is redheaded. Three percent of the Irish have red hair. So she's already quite rare. And it's nearly impossible to find a ginger with green eyes. So, be warned, your character may be dismissed as a Mary-Sue before we get to know her, especially if her eyes "glisten like emerald fire".
Also, I know a few redheads (no green eyes, by the way). None of them have a temper. One can be a bit sarcastic from time to time, but she's no worse than me.
The Brainy Brunette:
She's usually the female lead and a bit of a wallflower. She may wear glasses, but when she tries out contacts, everyone does a double take. She gets good grades, either because she has a good work ethic or because she's effortlessly smart.
I have nothing against smart brunettes, but can't we have a stupid brunette for once? Honestly, the ones who get lower grades seem to have more character-depth.
The Dumb Blonde:
She's usually the stunning girl who is the nemesis, in which case she's cunning, but stupid. Or she's the sidekick of the bad girl, meaning she's only got her looks and cluelessness going for her.
Why can't the bad blonde be intelligent? If the blonde was the good guy, she'd be portrayed as smart.
Also, dumb blondes are also portrayed as sluts. Why is it that she's considered a slut? The brunettes and redheads behave the same way, but they don't get called sluts.
Too Stupid To Live:
This has nothing to do with the grades the heroine gets. In fact, too-stupid-to-live heroines are actually said to get very high grades in school, even straight As. Heck, she has the grades to get into an Ivy League university.
When I say "too stupid to live", I'm referring to the protagonist that has so little common sense that I'm surprised she's still alive. She's the type of girl who runs across the road right in front of a speeding truck. When someone tells her "That guy over there is dangerous and has been following you around for months", she isn't disturbed but is instead flattered by his obsession. If a vampire tells her "I want to kill you and eat you", she just replies "I'm all yours".
Not only does she have no common sense, but she's also as dense as heck. She can't read people at all (except when she's cheating at narration), nor can she tell a guy is romantically interested in her even though he's done everything short of proposing to her.
This is a cliché that has to go. Too stupid to live needs to die.
The Love Triangle:
Love triangles are pointless and stupid. There are only two reasons why the love triangle even exists in the story a) to make the heroine look more attractive, since everyone is in love with her b) to add more drama to the story. Why can't she just pick one?
I usually fail to see why the herione has even one guy vying for her attention. I mean, she's too stupid to live and keeps telling us "I'm only average-looking". Why are they tripping over themselves to be with her? There is nothing special or alive about her. She doesn't even have a personality (or a life) to call her own. She has no emotional depth and selfishly leads both guys on, sometimes knowing full well what she's doing.
The love triangle doesn't add anything to the story. Before the first chapter is even finished, I know exactly which one she'll end up with. And I'm never wrong. There is no extra conflict or drama. Yes, I realize it really can be agonizing when you have two guys that you deeply care about who are both in love with you and you know you're going to have to reject one of them. I've been in this situation before. But the difference is, I didn't try to lead anyone on and I had made up my mind on which one I would choose. Plus I actually did have deep friendships with both, unlike the herione who is torn between "Oh em gee, they're both so hot".
I have seen a love triangle done well once. First of all, the girl wasn't too stupid to live. Second, I could see why she was torn between the two. The first love interest was her best friend and the second was a man who'd saved her life countless times (and vice versa), so I could see she had a very deep bond with both of them. Anyway, the best friend wound up accidentally killing her sister, so she went with the other guy. Yes, I saw that coming, but it was fairly well-done.
The Love Confession:
I hate the love confession. It's always so drawn out and melodramatic. It's as simple as just saying "I love you" and just looking into each other's eyes without saying another word. Sometimes they don't even need to say anything. I've actually seen a movie where the woman knew her man loved her because he did the dishes and went grocery shopping (her dad almost died and no one else would help her take care of him).
Yet this love confession is always accompanied by some stupid speech about how he loved her from the moment he saw her. Might I say love at first sight is not real? Attraction at first sight is, but love? That takes knowing a person.
Another phrase that comes up is "I've loved you since the third grade" or some variant of that. Let's take a quick look at the typical male mind. At the elementary school level, boys think girls have cooties. They might even think girls are some type of alien or monster. Whenever they do try to kiss girls, it's to freak them out.
In high school, unless the boy is exceptionally mature, they don't fall in love. They lust. They like. And those who actually are mature are incredibly rare and tend to be kind of clueless about the dating scene. So clueless that they won't even know how to let the girl know his feelings.
The Forced Kiss:
This sometimes accompanies the love confession or takes the place of the love confession. I'm not talking about him unexpectedly kissing her; I'm talking about him disrespecting her boundaries and forcibly kissing her. The moment he knows that she does not want him kissing her, he needs to stop. If he doesn't, she is perfectly within her rights to repeatedly punch his face and press sexual assault charges against him.
Signs of her not wanting the kiss are her pulling away, pushing him away, struggling in any way, and directly or indirectly telling him no.
Even if she reflects on the forced kiss and thinks "He was actually a good kisser", that does not make it okay. That does not change the fact that he violated her boundaries and her body.
A forced kiss is a form of sexual assault. It is not romantic.
The Drunken Love Confession:
This is one of the stupidest plot devices I've ever seen. The girl is drunk and the guy is sober and confessing to her (after saving her from being raped by one of the other guys at the party. She isn't traumatised by the near-rape for some dumb reason.). She doesn't remember any of it until way, way later (all she knows is that something happened) and the guy hides it from her because he's embarassed. If he didn't want her to know, why did he tell her in the first place? Don't give me some crap like "He loves her so much and couldn't contain it any longer!" I mean, I've never met anyone who'd just blurt their feelings like that.
The leading female sees her man with another woman or something along the lines of that and she fights with him, bawling then running off. The guy is utterly confused as to why she's so upset and tries to explain himself on multiple occasions. Of course she doesn't listen until the stupid book finally ends and it turns out that it was either his gorgeous sister giving him a hug or another pushy woman forcing herself on him and putting him in a compromising position.
This is a very flimsy plot point because this misunderstanding could've been cleared up with just one talk, but our stupid, stubborn characters are just too stupid and stubborn so it takes at least a third of the story to clear this up. Seriously, there are better ways to up the drama factor.
Or on the rare occasion that he actually did cheat on her, she forgives him pretty much instantly once they talk about it. I know forgiveness is a beautiful thing here, but c'mon, girl! Make him sweat a bit! And make sure he's actually sorry and not just talking his way out of it.
The most well-known story of star-crossed lover is Romeo and Juliet. The two teenaged love birds fall in love, but the hatred their families have for each other, combined with other circumstances, eventually result in their deaths. This is the best example of star-crossed lovers that I know of, even if the whole love-at-first-sight thing is kinda sketchy.
Nowadays, many authors refer to their characters as "star-crossed" lovers. But there's one problem with this: these so-called "star-crossed" lovers actually wind up together and living happily ever after. The term "star-crossed" means that fate is against them, which means that they can't ever be together because no matter how hard they try, a higher power will always hold them apart.
Same concept with forbidden love. When something is forbidden, that means that there is a punishment involved. The "Forbidden" couple may wind up together, but in order for it to truly be forbidden love, they have to make a sacrifice. It ain't all roses and ponies because even though they have each other, their choice has cost them something very important to them. So the ending for forbidden romance shouldn't be happily ever after; it should be bittersweet.
Speaking of fate, it really bothers me when two characters are "fated" or something silly like that. The author takes two completely incompatible characters and pushes them together in a romance without developing the relationship at all, insisting "It's okay. It'll all work out. It has to because they're fated." That is a load of bull! That's just what lazy authors say so they can focus on wish fulfillment and kissing while skipping right past the character development and actual plot.
I'm a person who believes in choice and I have much more respect for a character who makes her own decisions instead of just letting "fate" handle it all for her. After all, all the great stories told of human history are about the people who made choices to change a terrible situation and took risks, not some wimp who just lets any conflicting force push him around.
Arrogance Is Not Attractive:
I'm sick of arrogant male leads who get everything that they want. I'm sick of the female lead giving him everything he wants.
There's nothing wrong with being confident or even a bit conceited from time to time, but constant arrogance does not make for a healthy, happy relationship. The guys I'm talking about here are the ones who stalk, bully, and harass the heroine until she finally goes out with him.
Believe it or not, respect is important in a relationship. When someone is arrogant and thinks he is superior in some way, or that whatever he wants is his, or won't take no for an answer, that is not healthy and does not end in happily ever after. I've been pursued by guys like this and I hated it. It actually ruined my graduating year and trashed some of my friendships.
Perpetual arrogance is not attractive. It's destructive. Portray it right.
And one last thing that bothers me in romance is abuse. It's actually so misrepresented that reading some of these stories makes me physically sick.
In romance, I see that there's a girl who was abused by her father and some guy sweeps her off and makes it all better. As an abuse victim myself, I know it takes more than just a guy in my life to heal me. It takes a variety of different, uplifting people in my life and a belief in something bigger than abuse to help me recover my self-esteem and years and years of time to heal the gaping wounds that abuse has left on my heart. I still think about the abuse every day. There is no magic button that makes the past disappear.
In stories, the physical abuse is always acknowledged, but the emotional aspects are completely ignored. A person doesn't have to hit you in order to be an abuser. He may yell at you, or insult you, but often it's far more subtle than that. He may control your finances, your education, or your job opportunities so you can't leave him. He'll isolate you from your friends and family, take away your support system so you're dependant on him. But worst of all, he treats you in a way that makes you feel worthless and makes sure that you're convinced that he is the only one who will want ever you. You become worthless. You become less than human. And this hurts far more than any kick or punch ever could.
Sometimes, abuse victims don't even realize that they're being abused until someone points it out to them. Blackmail is an abuse tactic, as is the cold shoulder at times, and abusers tend to use your words against you. Many aspects of abuse are so subtle that I can't even explain them with words.
Another disturbing trend that I notice in modern chick-lit is an abusive love interest. Of course, he's not portrayed as abusive, but he does many things that cross the line into abuse territory. In fact, it's arrogance-is-not-attractive on steroids. Stalking, harassing, and even raping are portrayed as romantic.
He is extremely controlling. Like, one male lead removed the engine from the female lead's car because he didn't want her to talk to her male best friend. Or he slaps her when she says "I'm so ugly" and tells her never to say that again. This is shown as 'romantic', but it's not. If he truly cared about her, he wouldn't raise his hand to hurt her; he would just look at her with sadness in his eyes and gently say, "Please don't call yourself that. You're beautiful." When he slaps her, he is trying to take away her right to say what she wants.
And there is one line he always uses, the one he uses to explain why he harms his love, one used by almost all abusers: "I only did it because I love you." Those words are nothing more than an excuse. In fact, if you think about it, it's also quite arrogant; he's implying that she isn't smart enough to make her own decisions and that he always knows better.
In the case of romance, the love interest may have other obstacles to overcome, even if he's not abusive. There is the possibility that after being abused by men, the girl fears and mistrusts the entire male population, including him, maybe even hates them. I'm not saying that all battered women fear men, but it sometimes happens.
So, the point of my spiel on abuse is that abuse is never romantic. It's a horrible, scarring experience that haunts you every day, even after you've left that abusive situation. So for the sake of all abuse victims, do some research and portray it right!
Don't promote abusive behaviours.