Insta-Love: Why All The Hate?


Insta-Love: Why All The Hate?

Why does insta-love get such hate from book reviewers? Why are book readers turned off from books that others claim contain insta-love? Why is it that sometimes these books in question do not actually contain insta-love? Is everyone crazy, or just confused?

Insta-love is not the bane of YA books like many believe it is. Because quite frankly, it’s not happening as frequently as you think it does.

Twilight (Twilight, #1)Most people probably think Twilight is the worst, the most heinous, the biggest criminal of insta-love if there ever was one.

But it’s three months into the narrative and 200 pages (which is 40%, which, I stress, is nearly halfway) until Bella thinks she might be in love with Edward. That’s NOT insta-love. That’s plenty of time for an emotionally undeveloped teenager to fall in love. I certainly said ‘I love you’ to my first boyfriend much faster than three months after I met him. And you know the funny thing? Most break-ups occur between three and five months. You can have a whole relationship with someone in the time it takes Bella to say “I love you.”

I think the big problem is that readers think that the attraction part of the romance is instantly ‘love’.

Instead of complaining about emotionally underdeveloped teenagers being ‘in love’, consider the following:

  • It’s OK for a character to be attracted to another character.
  • It’s OK for that attraction to develop into a crush.
  • It’s OK for that crush to lead to infatuation
  • and for that infatuation develop into love
  • Equally, it’s also OK for these teenage characters to think that their crush means they are soul mates forever with the dreamy boy of their dreams. Because they’re teenagers, and everything is life or death.

I know a girl who’s supposedly been ‘in love’ with 27 boyfriends by age 26. I know girls who wanted to marry their high school boyfriends. This is real life, not fiction. Why is it so hard to accept in fiction that a teenage girl, in love for the first time, might just be romantic enough to believe it will last forever?

There is an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch where Sabrina has to pass a trial to prove her true love for her boyfriend, Harvey. When she passes, her aunt comments that, “She’s sixteen: it’s always true love.”

It’s OK for two characters to feel a strong connection. I mean, fuck what is wrong with reviewers who complain about this? Have they never been in love? Do they want one of those really unromantic love stories where the girl marries her ‘long-term friend’?

Love doesn’t have to take years to develop. Who invented this rule that you need to know someone for a specific length of time before it’s love?

On a personal side, within 24 hours of meeting my now-husband, I knew he was THE ONE.


About Nemo

A lover of kittens and all things sparkly, Nemo has a degree in English Literature and specialises in reviewing contemporary, paranormal, mystery/thriller, historical, sci-fi and fantasy Young Adult fiction. She is especially drawn to novels about princesses, strong female friendships, magical powers, and assassins.

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31 thoughts on “Insta-Love: Why All The Hate?

  1. EM @ Books and Iced Coffee

    This is such a wonderful post!

    Twilight is quite famous for it’s “insta-love” element and I totally agree with you when you said that there was nothing wrong with the way Bella’s feeling had developed for Edward considering that she’s a teenager. And I mist definitely agree on how you said that there are no written rules on how and when to fall in love, whether it’s in real life or in a book.

    Personally, I have nothing against insta-love as an element to a story. It became quite tiring for me when it began to trend within the book world. Everyone was writing about insta- love stuff. I felt the same way for paranormal, and dystopian… It came to a point when all I could find on the shelves of my local bookstore were either dystopian or about fallen angels etc. (depending on the trend). Furthermore, insta-love becomes a lot more tiring when it takes over the entire point of the story! For example, when the summary of the story claims to be a sci-fi or fantasy, you read it and find that it was all about the love story -_-‘

    I personally don’t hate insta- love. I just find that sometimes it isn’t written well, is inserted where it isn’t necessary or it takes over the entire point of the plot.

    Again, awesome post!!!

    EM @ Books and Iced Coffee recently posted: For the Weekend (6)
    1. Nemo

      I kind of feel like that first rush of intense feelings, it’s OK for teenagers to call that love. They think it’s love. IT IS LOVE to them. They’re teenagers, everything’s life and death. I’ve been there, I know what it feels like.

      However I do agree with your other point, about when the romance takes over a cool-sounding plot. That’s just not cool!

  2. Jordon @ Jordon's Travels

    In my opinion the meaning of ‘insta-love’ is more of the fact that the characters just see each other or they meet once and they suddenly can’t stop thinking about this other person they barely know. They obsess, they pine and they make every tiny detail annoyingly important. And we have to read that. That’s what I classify as ‘insta-love’.

    For example in Fallen by Lauren Kate, Luce had only seen Daniel (Who gave her the fingers) and she was suddenly obsessed and in ‘love’, she stalked him, she thought about him non-stop, she practically begged him to get to know her, he treated her like crap and yet she still followed him around like a lost puppy. Ick. That was the worst case of insta-love I have ever read. Also one of the worst books I’ve ever read in my opinion.

    In Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Emerson meets Michael and the instant their eyes meet she’s suddenly thinking he’s the hottest man she’s ever seen. Nothing else matters. The next day she’s telling herself she can trust him with her life, seriously? Wtf man, you JUST met this guy. Then she’s smelling his pillows and things have gotten crazily creepy way too fast. It’s insta-love and it was eye rolling, cliché and just does hot happen in real life.

    In real life I can say I’ve experienced those moments of making eye contact with someone and instantly feeling drawn to them, wondering if they’re feeling the same thing right now. But that’s not love and you don’t go obsessing over this guy, and while these moments do happen and they do leave a lasting impression, its also only the surface.

    When I read romance I want tension, I want to see development in the relationship, I want to see the characters learning about each other and trying to figure out their feelings for each other, I want to see the moment the characters realise there’s something more there. I want more of a story than just the romance, the romance should be a by-product of the story not the leading act. That’s interesting to read.

    What’s not interesting to read, is when a 16 year old girl starts pining, stalking, and obsessing over a guy she barely knows, who treats her like crap and who she thinks is insanely hot so she thinks it’s all okay.

    To me, Twilight’s ‘insta-love’ has more to do with the fact Bella was annoyingly pining over this guy she barely knew at the time. Not how LONG it took them to say they loved each other. People can fall in love quite quickly, but they only fall in love because they learn about the person: they spend time with them, they want to know more of that person, they feel good around that person.

    Perhaps my understanding of ‘insta-love’ is slightly different though.

    Jordon @ Jordon's Travels recently posted: The Writer Behind the Words: My name is Jordon
    1. Nemo

      I just can’t comprehend that those crushes most teenage girls develop are dismissed as insta-love in fiction. When I was a teen I surely thought I was in love with boys I’d never even spoken to. Doodling names in work books and dreaming of a life together. I do understand what you’re saying about it being on the surface but we’re older and wiser (and more jaded?) than our teenage protagonists and I think they deserve to be cut some slack. Teenage girls crying because their jerkass boyfriend dumps them and they think their life is over – that’s real world stuff. It’s OK for teenagers to mistake those feelings for love, because everything is SO INTENSE as a teen – that’s why I love YA fiction. What I don’t want to read is about is a cynical, jaded grown up trying to figure out if they’re in love, if this is ‘the guy’ for them. I want my characters to jump in feet first and deal with the consequences. Sure, their love might not last forever, but they think it’s going to.

      I mean, does no one remember what it felt like to be a teenager?

      1. Jordon

        I suppose because I never felt like I was in actual ‘love’ as a teenager, I might see things a little differently. I remember I used to think I really liked someone or I had the biggest crush on someone, but never did I think I was in love with someone. Love always meant something more and something deeper to me.

        You’re right about some teenagers jumping in head first and thinking they were in love and their world was going to end if their boyfriend broke up with them etc, I suppose I never really experienced it like that, that sounds a little dramatic for me. I guess also that’s just not what I like reading, I can see we are the complete opposites on this matter though haha. Nothing wrong with that!

    2. Eilonwy

      No kidding about Fallen! The story had such a great set-up, and then it just slid into “Daniel Daniel Daniel Daniel” instead of any of the interesting aspects. Ugh.

      And Hourglass, too — that whole “cataclysmic” set-up with Michael was seriously just downright creepy. Didn’t he move into Emerson’s building right away, too? Good grief, people, have you never heard of *boundaries*? I was really disturbed by the whole “romance” in this particular book. I’m glad to see someone call it out!

      1. Jordon

        Yes! Fallen was a huge disappointment in that area. I haven’t touched the series since!

        Yeah he did! Like the very next day, it was all too convenient and set up. I feel like if you’re sneaking into someone’s flat whom you’ve only just met to smell their pillow, it’s a little obsessive and completely not okay. Sounds way too stalkerish to me… I was really disappointed by this in Hourglass because the beginning of the book was so interesting and made me think it was going to be an awesome story. But then the romance happened and ruined it all… I still haven’t picked up book two of this series…

    3. Katie @ Doing Dewey

      Well said! My problem is also not necessarily the amount of time taken to develop a relationship (although I do think this is often a problem), but the amount of interaction leading the feelings of love and the level of obsession. I was a teenager once without ever becoming an obsessive stalker.

      1. Nemo

        Yes, but I was a teenager once who fell in love with someone who didn’t know I existed.

        (well, it was a crush, but it sure felt like love at the time – which is my whole point.)

      2. Jordon

        Yeah, that’s true. You can have a big crush on someone after only meeting them once or a few times, but love? It makes my eyes roll. My friends and I joke about meeting our ‘soulmate’ after one meeting, but we never imply we’re in actual love, just that we really connected with this person.

        As a teenager I too didn’t experience love like some teenagers do in YA books, I did have a few crushes though! Just never that intense…

  3. Hebe

    I think that, though insta-love in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and there are some very good YA insta-love stories out there, it’s also very easy to get wrong. In Twilight, Bella obsesses over a guy who apparently hates her with all his being, and the narrative presents this as an OK basis for a (very) long-term relationship. (I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t be OK in real life.) In The 5th Wave, Cassie and Evan spend like a week during the apocalypse sitting around together drinking hot chocolate, which, priorities. I think there’s just this all-pervasive attitude in YA that Romantic Love is The Most Important Thing Ever, that it should take priority over self-esteem and survival, and that every YA novel needs a Great Love if it’s to deal with Teenage Feelings at all. Which is not true, and can be damaging, because the vast majority of teenage relationships don’t end well. I want to read more stories about individuals, not about couples; more stories about characters going through multiple relationships in a healthy way and that being OK for everyone concerned and not slutty or unfaithful. (I think The Fault in Our Stars is a fairly good example, actually: it acknowledges that Gus has had a previous relationship, and probably Hazel too, and that Hazel will go on to love others, and that this is fine for both of them.) It’s not insta-love per se that I find annoying, just that all the YA books are ones about insta-love.

    1. Nemo

      But she doesn’t really obsess over him, she’s interested and attracted to him and confused about why he’s so hot and cold: one minute he’s happily talking to her and the next he coldly pushes her away. They develop an actual friendship surrounded by sexual tension and it develops into a relationship after three months of knowing each other. It’s not instant at all.

      I can’t comment on The 5th Wave as I haven’t read it and have no interest in it.

      But yes, I do think you’re correct when you assess that most YA does present love as the most important thing ever, and it’s refreshing when we see something different like friendship between two girls taking priority over a boy – but even then, in my personal experience, my teen best friend stabbed me in the back to go out with the boy she knew I fancied the pants off, so again, YA is really presenting teenagers being teenagers.

      And yes, i do agree that it is nice when we can see a protagonist enjoy multiple relationships, like Rose from Vampire Academy who dated both Adrian and Dimitri and dealt with the consequences of a very bad break up.

    1. Nemo

      Thank you. I just think it’s very sad that a lot of adult readers of Young Adult fiction seem to have forgotten what it was like to be a teenager themselves.

  4. Eilonwy

    This is a great post, Nemo!

    It is a really good question as to where the line is between “insta-attraction” (which I think is fine) and “insta-love” (which I dislike). For me, instal-love tends to be lazy relationship-building, where the heroine meets a boy and immediately feels drawn to him for no good reason at all (like, he’s not even nice to her), or some kind of “fated” love.

    As a reader, if I feel the attraction along with the heroine, then I don’t care how quickly it happens. But in so many books, I’m only *told* that the Love Interest is handsome and magnetic and intriguing, but I don’t feel it, because the writer has skipped the development of any kind of genuine spark between the characters. I’m coming down with a cold, so I’m having trouble thinking of any specific examples, but if I feel brainier tomorrow I’ll come back and mention some.

    1. Nemo

      I think too many readers accuse insta-attraction as being insta-love.

      The other issue I have is that it’s OK for a teen character to think they’re in love when they barely know the guy. I know a poor thirteen year old girl who desperately wants a ‘hot boyfriend.’ Not one who cares about her, but one who will elevate her social standing. Unfortunately teen girls don’t often go for the guy who treats them right. Even grown up women can manage not to do that.

      1. Eilonwy

        This is such a good point, about the cute/hot guy as a status symbol for girls, and one that I don’t think gets addressed very well — are there any YA novels that tackle that? I can’t think of any off-hand, but it also seems like a topic for grittier contemporaries than I gravitate towards. It’s sad to be trying to gain social worth through someone else’s good looks, but it’s not unusual, since guys with “arm candy” are doing the exact same thing.

        And as you mention to Ashley, it can be really hard to separate a boy’s physical attractiveness from his personality when you’re a teen. I can remember both wanting that status (“if people see me with him, then they’ll think I’m worth something”), and projecting all kinds of positive assets onto good-looking boys — “He must love the same music I do, and the same books, and we’ll go running together in slow motion like in the movies, and understand each other without talking, and it will all be perfect!” As you say, it’s amazing how real that all felt in my head, even though I had no reason to think any of it was actually true. And of course, none of those boys turned out to be my Edward Cullen.

        All the comments here are so interesting! I’m finding myself paying extra attention to the romance elements in the YA books I’m currently reading.

        1. Nemo

          The hot guy as status symbol thing is why the guy is ALWAYS the most gorgeous being on the planet and the girl is usually some Mary Sue doesn’t-know-how-beautiful-she-is. There is one series, Nevermore by Kelly Creagh, that switches the trope and uses a popular cheerleader and an outcast goth boy (whos is still attractive, but bullied), but I can’t think of many others. Normally it’s the hot guy bringing the outsider girl into a better world like Cinderella. Everyone loves a good Cinderella story because she doesn’t have to do anything to be rewarded.

          1. Eilonwy

            That’s true, about the guy always being super-attractive and the hottest boy ever, and being a “reward” of sorts. So I guess what I’m really wondering is, is there any teen book that actually calls that out as status-seeking for girls, and makes the point that it’s not really a healthy motive/reason for being with someone?

            The Cinderella story really is awfully pervasive, but it’s sad that as girls and women, we’re still being taught that the attention of handsome boys/men is what validates our existence and makes us worthy. (And I’m really sick of the not-knowing-you’re-beautiful-is-what-makes-you-beautiful trope, too.)

            Maybe it’s not exactly insta-love that’s so irritating to some readers, but the combination of all these tropes that seem to show up together all the time?

  5. chucklesthescot

    I despise instaluv in books. For me it’s nothing to do with finding it hard to accept that teenagers are convinced they are in love five minutes after meeting someone and think this is a soul mate forever. I was a teenager once and I well remember first love. It’s not about me mixing up instaluv and instant attraction because I can tell the difference. For me, hating instaluv in books is about me not finding that plot interesting to read. That’s why I avoid it.

  6. Ashley

    The problem with Twilight isn’t how long into the book it took. It’s how little communicating Bella and Edward did before she decided she loved him. She had ONE SINGLE honest conversation with him and then decided she loved him. Everything before that was just a shallow 5 minute chat where she didn’t really get to know him.

    It may have been 3 months from when she first sat next to him from when she decided she loved him, but she didn’t actually spend much real time getting to know him.

    1. Nemo

      I see your point, but I stand by own – she’s a teenager, and one who’s never been in love before. Her feelings overwhelm her, as a teenager’s do. I can recall a number of teen girls from my own high school who were convinced they were in love with boys they’d never spoken to.

      I think the other issue is that she’s overwhelmed by his physical attractiveness. My own boss’s daughter has told me she wants a ‘hot’ boyfriend – not one who likes her or treats her well or genuinely cares, just one that’s hot. That’s all some teens care about, mistaking physical attraction for something us experienced adults know as something deeper.

      1. Ashley

        It does still make it insta-love though. But you are right, it is typical teenage behaviour. I think the problem is that at least for me, typical teenage behaviour isn’t always fun to read about. Just because it’s realistic doesn’t suddenly make it enjoyable.

        Maybe that’s a sign that I’ve just outgrown certain parts of YA?

        1. Nemo

          True! It’s fiction for a reason. I still love reading about the most banal of teen shenanigans.

  7. Dita the Squirrel

    I gotta say, I guess I kind of get the problem people have with insta-love, but I also don’t get it. And it’s also not really a problem for me.
    Supposedly it’s teenager behaviour, so be it. I can’t say I thought of anyone as someone I love in high school (scratch that, last year of high school I met my current BF, and love happened there sooner or later as well, therefore, technically once in high school :D). But usually it’s just – I like this guy, or this guy looks good. Or this classmate smells good. And so on. (But I never really thought that I want to go out with this pretty guy, because he’s pretty AND that will attract attention to me.) So I guess sometimes teenagers do obsess about others for no apparent reason. Let them have it.
    What I really wanted to mention is that there’s also no clear definition of love. And a lot of plot often revolves around the question, whether this is it, is this really love. And for that madly-in-love teenager it is love, even though for the reader it might not seem so. So, just let them have it! Let the fictional teenagers and other characters have their insta and other loves! Love is love. Though the book should have something more than just love as it’s plot. Then maybe say that it lacked in this or that and don’t blame it on inst-love.
    I guess I just really dislike the term insta-love and books getting labeled with it, especially because it is considered such a negative. I guess I might look closer at a book because of insta-love mentioned there, but I guess it would be more because all the overall insta-love hate is getting at me.
    Wow, what a jumble of thoughts!

    Dita the Squirrel recently posted: Throne of Glass
  8. Annie

    I’ve seen other posts in defence of insta-love (including my own: Most start with Twilight but your the first to point out how deep into the story it is before any of the “love” actually happens. I think it’s a valid point. And I love your example from Sabrina because it’s totally true – emotions are huge for teenagers and a stray glance can translate into unfaltering love.

    The thing about Twilight that people don’t talk about – and I just thought of from your post – is that while the “love” might happen quickly she spends time in it afterward. Bella and Edward talk for hours, they get to know each other and that time only confirms their connection to each other. They fight and they go through trouble and they come back together through it. For all it’s other faults, it’s not an unsubstantial relationship.

    1. Nemo

      You’re about the first person I’ve come across who recognises Bella and Edward’s relationship as ‘substantial’. Thank you.

      And that Sabrina example has stuck with me my entire life. It especially meant a lot after my ex dumped me and I had to rebuild myself.

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