Why We Believe in YA Romance

As a writer of YA Romance, I’m familiar with all the tropes and cliches, all the things that render a couple “shippable” or “unbelievable.” How crazy it can seem that all these storylines seem to suggest that Happily Ever After begins in high school.

And don’t get me started on instalove.

But a funny thing happened as the OneFours and I discussed the romances in our various books, and how they fit in to those tropes and cliches. Turns out, there’s a reason so many of us fall into the “traps” of instalove or HEAs.

They were our reality.

And maybe that’s why we write YA, and the romance within—because we, above all, believe in it, as true and real and magnetic and eternal.

I’m only one of the OneFour authors who met her partner as a teen. In my case, I was nineteen (now-husband was eighteen), and it was my first day of freshman orientation. (So, still YA by the rules of Fangirl and Just One Day, basically.) I was hanging out with another freshman friend, and we bumped into a sophomore guy she knew, and went back to see his room. He turned out to be my cousin’s suitemate, and as I was leaving my cousin a note, said cousin’s roommate walked in. I introduced myself, and he said, “Oh, I’ve heard of you.” Having known this guy had gone to school with another guy who did not talk kindly about me when he was drunk, I promptly flipped out to make clear that everything that other guy had said was a lie and he was mildly deranged.

Aaaand it turned out he’d actually heard of me from a very sweet rabbi at his yeshiva I’d done a favor for.

So, not so much instalove as the enemies-to-lovers trope, but two months later we were dating, and now we’re coming on eleven years together.

Can you guess who else are eighteen and nineteen when they get together? If you guessed Ally and Liam from my debut, Behind the Scenes, you win a prize 😉

Not convinced in YA love yet? I asked the other OneFours who met their partners as teens to share their real-life YA Romances, and whether their stories would work on the page:

It was straight out of High School Musical: I was a junior and he was a senior. He’d injured his knees playing football and decided to go out for Guys and Dolls. No one knew he could sing, but oh, could he croon. After the show, my best friend suggested we ask him to sing “Let It Snow” with us for the Christmas concert. For some reason, she dropped out of the trio, and Bobby and I have been a duo for the last 26 years (plus a houseful of kids). Would it work in YA? There were plenty of people that tried to tear us apart, so maybe?

—Louise Galveston (By the Grace of Todd)

I met my husband the summer before my senior year of high school. He spotted me at a sports tournament. It was awkward, because I didn’t like him like that at first, but we eventually agreed to be friends. Of course, after a couple months, I began to realize I cared about him as more than a friend, but I wasn’t ready to commit to a relationship with him. I put the poor guy through months of indecision.That New Year’s, I decided enough was enough and told myself that if I was going to be with him, then I had to stop waffling. There was even a brief love triangle (love caret actually!) wherein the second guy effectively eliminated himself. By the time he returned and asked to spend time with me again, it was too late. I had committed to being in a relationship with the man who would become my husband. We’ve been together ever since 🙂

—Lori M. Lee (Gates of Thread and Stone)

My husband, Scott, and I met freshman year of high school, but we didn’t really get to know each other until senior year when we were put into a small group together for a weekend “get to know you”-type retreat. I left that weekend thinking he was a cool guy but, alas, we ran in different social circles back then and that was basically that. (In case you’re wondering, he was pretty popular, and I was…decidedly not.) Flash forward to our high school reunion. I was the first of my friends to show up, and the only person I saw who I even kinda sorta knew was Scott. I said “what the hell” and went over to talk to him, and I knew. I instantly knew this was it for me. On the ride home later that night, I called my BFF and told her I’d met the man I was going to marry. And I was right. (This was almost 9 years ago, btw). So put me in the instalove camp!

Meredith McCardle (The Eighth Guardian)

I was 17 when I met my husband…but, of course, I had no idea he would become my husband at the time. We were just friends. Good friends. My mother would ask me “Hey, why don’t you date that nice boy Andy?” and I would groan and say “Jeez, Mom, can’t you just let a guy and a girl be friends?!?!”  I guess that we wouldn’t have made very good protagonists for a YA novel, since by the time we got together six years later we would have aged right out of that genre. But even if the timeline was shorter, critics probably would have called our
love story a cliche. I mean, what could be more predictable than the best friends realizing they’d been perfect for each other all along? 🙂

Tara Dairman (All Four Stars)

I met my fiancé when we were freshmen in high school, but it wasn’t until our senior year, when we were both cast in the school production of Arsenic and Old Lace, that the sparks began to fly. (I played Elaine, he played Einstein. So the sparks were off set.) There were some complications (he liked someone else, someone else liked me, you know, stuff that could fill a YA novel), but eventually, after a depressing prom night and a boring graduation party and the 4th of July, we got together. It was strange, because he wasn’t the kind of person I usually went for. But now I can’t imagine myself with anyone else. So I don’t scoff at YA or MG romance, because in my experience, IT TOTALLY WORKED OUT.

Robin Herrera (Hope is a Ferris Wheel)

The summer I turned sixteen, I met the boy I’d eventually marry. We were not friends first. The night we met, I swear I saw zaps in the air between us, blue and green specks like electricity. So, no–we were never going to be friends first. If our early months were written into a YA story, I don’t know if readers would understand the attraction, the pull we both felt. How believable is it to write this about a character: she felt a hum in her blood, a whisper that said: I know I’m supposed to know you. But I did feel that. (I do.) We work because we balance and buoy each other, because we laugh and talk for hours. Because there is no one I admire more in this world. But I didn’t know that then–couldn’t have. At first, all I knew was my pulse like beating wings and the words this, this this every time he looked over at me in the car.

Emery Lord (Open Road Summer)

My husband and I met on AOL Instant Messenger when I was 19…in 1998. It wasn’t exactly common to meet online back then. In fact, it was downright weird. But I was bored online one day and so was he, and we just started talking. We didn’t have too much in common, but we enjoyed talking to each other. (Online insta-love?) We liked talking so much so that he gave me his pager number (hey, it was 1998!), and we started talking on the phone for hours. Eventually we met in person, and we’ve been pretty much inseparable since then. However, we didn’t tell people we met online until recently. We’ve had a fake “how we met” story for years.

Jessica Love (Push Girl)

I met my husband 20 (<–a whole score!) years ago as a rising high school senior at “Geek Camp,” where we quickly became an unlikely pair of best friends: I was artsy and garrulous and dramatic; he was math-y and cerebral and had that quiet, still-waters-run-deep thing going on. Our best-friendship lasted throughout senior year (during which we wrote letters that spanned the 60+ miles between our respective hometowns) and into our university years, but it wasn’t until after college graduation (and years of criticizing one another’s various significant others, go figure) that our friendship, um, graduated into something else. It was terrifying, putting our friendship on the line like that…but also thrilling! That moment of no-going-back, falling headlong into a love that had quietly been there all along: That’s the kind of thing YA books and movies are made of, right? I even remember thinking how much I felt like Mary Stuart Masterson’s character in Some Kind of Wonderful…and some kind of wonderful it has been, more than a decade of marriage and two kids later.

Sarah Combs (Breakfast Served Anytime)

I met my husband in the Fall of 1991 at a party. I was eighteen and had just sworn off dating. He was painfully shy. We sat on opposite ends of the sofa and made polite conversation until an attractive flirty girl plopped down purposely between us. At that moment, I figured our conversation was over, but he continued talking around her. We left the party without asking each other’s names. Later, I would find out we both went home and inquired about each other to friends, each of us searching the “Who’s Who” school catalog until we found each other. That was 23 years and two children ago. Call it insta-love. Call it instinct. Something clicked between us — a series of brief and subtle clues — and I knew (and our friends knew) we would be something to each other.

Elle Cosimano (Nearly Gone)

I met my partner when I was 15. The day we met, I confessed to my journal that I’d found my “soul mate,” and by “soul mate” I absolutely meant “BFF.” We were the children of Navy parents, living in Japan during our freshman year of high school, and our friendship formed over a mutual appreciation of Star Wars. We didn’t key into the fact that we’d be spending the rest of our lives together until college. So, if our story were a YA novel, we’d be the stealth couple, too blind to see what was right in front of our eyes until well past the last page.

Natalie C. Parker (Beware the Wild)

Dahlia Adler is an Assistant Editor of Mathematics by day, a Copy Editor by night, and writes contemporary YA and blogs at the Daily Dahlia and YA Misfits at every spare moment in between. She lives in NYC with her husband and their overflowing bookshelves. Her debut novel, BEHIND THE SCENES, releases from Spencer Hill Contemporary on June 24, 2014.

7 thoughts on “Why We Believe in YA Romance

  1. LOVED reading all your stories!! Can’t believe I missed this!! Here’s mine:

    My husband and I met on a friend’s porch when we were sixteen. I was attracted to his voice before I even saw him. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but his voice had this mellow confidence about it, with an undertone of hey I know where the fun can be found. And he made me laugh. I’m not sure what we talked about, but at one point he told me I was a trip. Not in some cheesy way – it was like he was surprised about it. And I liked it. A lot. But…I was dating this guy who was away at college, so we cultivated a friendship. I ended up encouraging a close friend of mine to ask him out. We went over what she was going to say to him and I sat with her when she made the call and high fived her when he said yes and I was really excited for her but in the midst of it had this really nagging (and surprising) core feeling of “Why did I just do that?” – which felt awful because they were both great people. They dated for about a year and since we all sort of hung out in the same circle, we remained friends. We didn’t get together as a couple until we were both broken up with our respective others – I’d been going through an awful break up with my college boyfriend – one of those that really screws with your self-esteem, and he was there to listen. We were still just good friends for a while until we couldn’t deny we both wanted more. That was over twenty years ago…he still makes me laugh every day.

    So how would that hold up in a YA novel? I’m not sure. Instalove – check. Love triangle – kind of, maybe? I know writing about being attracted to someone’s voice would probably be dismissed as unrealistic and sappy– but that’s how I felt. It’s hard to capture that something – that instant spark you feel when you are interested in a person because I think it’s so subjective. That’s why it’s great there are so many books that cover a spectrum of how relationships begin. There’s no one right way to fall in love.

  2. I always have to backtrack when I say I met my husband in high school. Neither of us remembers exactly when we met (Sometime between October of sophomore year and the following summer), but we were relatively good friends by the start of our junior year. I had a circle of girl friends, and he had a circle of guy friends, and when we wanted mixed company, our circles would mix.

    My best friend dated his best friend. He had a crush on another friend of mine. And we were friends. Unlikely literally every other guy who made an entrance into my journal, he never got an introduction. He just sort of showed up.

    We lost touch after high school and reconnected at a multi-day concert six hours from home. He was there with many of his old circle, but one of them I didn’t know. I asked his name and he said, “I’m the guy who stood there awkwardly whenever you ran up to give Colin a hug.” I had forgotten about his hugs. I would leave best friends and boyfriends when I saw him show up to church because–in the language of adulthood–his hugs made me feel safe.

    By the time we started dating six months after getting in touch again, we realized we had IM convos nearly every day in high school and were better friends than either of us realized. So I guess the closest trope is the best-friends-fall-in-love thing, but even that wasn’t quite right. oh well. Our meeting was ten years ago. Six years ago we reconnected, it’s been three since our wedding, and it’s three weeks until our first child is due to be born. I’d say it turned out all right.

  3. This makes me wish I’d met my partner in high school! Except I’m seven years younger so that would have been awkward.

    Loved everyone’s stories! Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Loved reading these stories! My husband and I met in high school, too, through a mutual friend. I instantly disliked him for no reason other than I felt like it. He pursued me, I caved, we started dating and we’re still together almost 18 years later.

  5. I loved reading these stories so much! My husband and I met when we were 20 and in college, and we definitely had the “oh, no, we are not going to be friends, we are going to be SOMETHING, and now” thing going that Emery mentioned 🙂

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