Quick: what was the last book you read that included some elements of romance? Where did that romance lead?
Would you have wanted your child to read that book?
Romantic elements are present in a large number of books today, from the earliest stories of a boy and a girl who “like” each other to more detailed stories whose plots focus almost entirely on the romance between the main characters. As they get older, girls, in particular, tend to choose titles that center around these types of romances. They are fascinated by love.
But what are these romances teaching them?
So many times, romances fall into one of two categories: number one, a very young girl (because of course the audience is young, and must identify with her) falling in love with that one person that she’s going to be with for the rest of her life; and or number two, a girl who is all too causal with her favors. The two are, unfortunately, not mutually exclusive. The first is entirely unrealistic, leaving a girl with the impression that she will be with the first person she falls in love with forever; and the second continues a growing trend in today’s society that devalues a woman’s virginity and purity.
Very, very few young people—particularly in modern society—will be with their “first love” forever. Unfortunately, a romance wouldn’t be a romance if the love were not deathless, enduring, and worthy of marriage; and so authors tend to close the curtain with the “happily ever after.” The boy and the girl are in love; they will remain in love regardless of what life throws at them; and they will never leave one another, because the intensity of their feelings is such that it will last for eternity—for some, in the growing vampire trend, quite literally. It makes for a good story—a few hours’ escape from reality.
What it does not make is a good model for a girl’s romantic exploits. Teenagers fall in and out of love as regularly as they change their jeans—or, in some cases, even more frequently. Is this genuine emotion? Certainly. The love hormone is active even this young, and is in fact magnified by the other hormones coursing through an adolescent system. It is also more properly termed “infatuation,” and will most often fade with time. Falling “out of love” is as simple as the initial hormonal burst wearing off, and the teen in question turning to the next target of their affections.
Yes, there are a loyal few who will remain with their partners throughout high school and beyond; but they are the minority, not the majority. Many times, even those who make it through high school will not maintain a relationship throughout their college years. People grow up. They change. They discover things about one another that they didn’t know previously, particularly in a stage of life when many of them are daily discovering new things about themselves.
But that’s not what their books teach them. Their books teach them that love should be endless. If they are in love with someone, they shouldn’t fall out of love with them just because they’ve discovered something new—even if it’s something that the relationship can’t survive. Or worse, because it tends to be only girls who have this inappropriate view of young love lasting forever, the boy “falls out of love” with them, and they are left reeling, wondering what on earth could have gone wrong and how to get him back.
Early relationships aren’t supposed to be the “real thing.” They are, in a sense, practice for the real relationship—the one that matters, and will end in marriage. Of course, no teenager will ever be convinced of this. Every love is “the one”—and isn’t that what their reading material is preaching to them?
Of course, if they are with “the one,” then the physical intimacy that follows is almost expected. Many teenagers, even those who aren’t religious, can get on board with the idea that their virginity is a special gift, and should be reserved for that special someone that they want to be with for the rest of their lives. That is, after all, what their heroines are doing. They’re saving themselves for the men who matter most—it’s just that the one they’re with right now must be the one who matters most.
Very little reading material—even Christian romance material—offers a physical and emotional separation from the moment—an awareness that no matter how intense the love may seem, there are boundaries in both the physical and emotional arenas that should not be crossed until marriage. It is so easy for teenagers to give themselves completely to their partners—physically, emotionally, in every way that matters.
And their heroines aren’t doing any better. “The one” is the one right there with them, so there’s no reason to hold back. Why not just go ahead and get the jump on that whole “marriage” thing a little?
No one fails to acknowledge this tendency in our television shows. It’s expected that teenage girls will be portrayed wearing things that would get them kicked out of a normal high school, doing things with their boyfriends that their parents would never allow. Many parents carefully monitor the television programs their children watch for exactly that reason.
But what about the books?
What do you think? Is the idea of “eternal romance” too adult for a teenage audience? Do you think these books are going too far to inflame hormones that are already alight?