Wednesday, June 5, 2013

I Guess You're Just What I Needed

I'm reading a YA sci fi, my analytical mind clicking away, and my eyes roll of their own volition the moment the love interest is introduced. Of course. He's EXACTLY what our heroine needs. Her other half. The thing that makes her complete. It's overdone. It's predictable. It creates unrealistic expectations. 

Somewhere in the back if my head, I start plotting a different kind of love story. One where the love interest isn't gorgeous and doesn't have half the school pursuing him and hasn't hooked up with every girl who is prettier and more popular than the main character. A love story about choice instead of need. A story about two whole, valuable people who...

That's where it started falling apart. Because we all NEED relationships. Romantic or otherwise. Humans (even introverts who shun social interaction, like me) need other humans. Babies who have their physical needs met but aren't touched still fail to thrive. We NEED people like we need food and water and sleep. 

And we need some people more than we need others. 

This trope - the idea of finding a perfect match to make you whole - is singled out as particularly insulting and dangerous. We want our children to grow up to feel like they are perfect and complete on their own. That's a good thing. There is definitely value in making peace with yourself, with rescuing yourself, but to say any relationship based on need is bad is selling us short. 

I think back to the great friendships in my life and without fail, they each fulfilled a genuine need in my life, aspects of my personality and character that were missing or incomplete. My brutally honest friend who balanced my need to spare feelings at any cost. My wild-at-heart, impulsive friend who pulled me out of anxiety-induced paralysis. My stoic, unflappable guy friend who some how remained my friend through my angst-ridden, hormone-fueled years as a teenage girl. I needed them. They needed me. They were healthy, enriching relationships. They made me better. 

When I met my husband, he fulfilled needs too. He fulfilled an empty ache I didn't know I had. When we were together, I felt more alive. He was gorgeous. I felt like every other boy around him paled in comparison. 

I still do - because I love him and my view of him is always filtered through that lens. Wouldn't it be weird to fall for someone you DON'T find attractive? Isn't that feeling that the sun rises and sets on someone part of what marks romantic love as different from friendship? It is less objective because by nature is says this person is different. How I feel about him is different. How he feels about me is different. If there isn't a spark when we touch, if my stomach doesn't flip-flop just a little, that's kind of sad, isn't it? That's what romance, in real life, is made of.

I get that the trope can feel tired and unrealistic. But I'm starting to think it's not because it's wrong. Maybe we should teach our kids to find someone who compliments them, who challenges their weak spots and encourages their strong ones. Don't find your identity in someone else, but know it's okay for someone to make you feel more like yourself. Maybe it's okay to hold out for the fairy tale. I still don't believe there's only one person in the universe for you, but there are friends who click faster, easier and stronger than others. Why wouldn't romantic relationships work out the same way?

I'm not sure my (still cynical) mind is made up, so tell me: What do you think about the halves-of-a-whole trope in young adult romance? Healthy? Unhealthy? Boring? Dangerous? Maybe just overused? 


  1. If done well, I don't even question it. :) It's about believability that the characters truly feel genuinely for each other.

    1. Isn't that always the trick? If it's done well, I'll believe anything!

  2. I totally believe in the whole you feel more like yourself thing. What I would watch in YA is the shedding of individuality. Girls who check with or hesitate for their love interest's approval are bad business.

    I always think of my pairs as a puzzle pieces. They don't morph into a single unit but they fit together.

    Great post!

    1. That's an excellent point. Perhaps it's not the feeling of something missing as much as subverting oneself that I find so disturbing. I love the puzzle pieces idea too. Very much my idea of romance :)

  3. Great post!

    I think romantic love can awaken something inside you didn't really know was there before. But I suppose when you're young, it may feel as though the other person is completing you somehow, when really you were already complete and they're complementing you.

    I do agree that these YA love stories where one (usually the boy) is super hot, popular, rich, etc. and the other feels lucky to be with them is super boring and predictable. To me these stories are more about wish fulfillment than about actual love.