I love a good romance in a book. Star-crossed lovers, the girl next door, the unexpected crush, I love them all. But there are some times you read a book and just want to shake the characters. Scream at them in an older and wiser, holier-than-thou voice, “What are you thinking?! Do you have any idea how much therapy you’re going to need to recover from this? Do you have any idea how much therapy costs?”
I’m not under the impression that all characters should make good life choices, let alone good love choices. That story would be thoroughly disinteresting. Where would Emma be if she hadn’t decided to meddle in other people’s love lives? She probably would have married Mr. Knightly, but her journey wouldn’t have been very interesting. Juliet would have ended up better off if she had just told Romeo “No,” but then we wouldn’t have one of the classic, tragic love stories to moon over. Bad choices, Jules, but it makes for a good story.
So I want to look at some of the modern fiction examples of bad relationship choices. ‘Cause how better to celebrate Valentine’s Day?
Not long ago I read a great book by Neal Shusterman titled Scythe. It’s a very cool YA book. There are people whose job it is to go around killing other people for population control. There are two teen apprentices of death, and they end up pitted against each other and only one can survive. Any normal person who was told, “Hey, it’s you or this other person you just met” would probably be like, “Okay, I’m going to fight for my life.” But no, no, there’s a vague crush, so death is worth it for the other person to survive.
What? They’re teenagers. Seventeen-year-olds shouldn’t be allowed to get tattoos, let alone die for this person they think they like but haven’t even tried to go on a road trip with. But they’re pushed into a high-stakes situation where momentum forces their relationship into instant codependency and forces the story to a point where death seems the obvious choice. I mean, who doesn’t dream of sacrificing their life to save someone they haven’t even kissed?
Okay, let’s move it back to a more well-known venue.
Let’s talk about Maze Runner. I know, not something that you would turn to in search of romance. But we have a boy who wants to be near a girl due to a deep-seeded, scientifically-induced need/her being the only girl he’s ever actually known. We’ve got telepathy, covert plans, and the desperate need to only trust each other. That creepy trust pushes the entire story forward. They have been made to think together, and while that co-dependency is shattered, it is the bond that sets them apart from everyone that surrounds them. Bad love choices = heart-pounding thrills.
Diving further into the mainstream for some even worse choices in love, let’s talk about Peeta. Poor, poor Peeta. He doesn’t have the guts to tell the girl he’s been in love with since before puberty that he loves her, but he’s willing to die for her no questions asked? Granted, it’s a great read. I love The Hunger Games! I even like the movie version. But for a teenager to say, “You sang, and you’re a badass, so I’m totally cool with dying for you even though I’m really not the guy you like,” is a terrible decision. Never be on the death end of a love triangle. It leaves the living two each other for comfort and you in the ground!
But without Peeta, Katniss would lose her relatability in the first hundred pages. She’d just be a chick in the woods covered in other kids’ blood. But Peeta’s love for her, even though he’s trapped in a love triangle of doom, gives us something to love about Katniss. He sees every good feature she has, and his version of her not only gives Katniss something to strive for, but gives us a person we hope she’ll become. He pushes her and her story further than could be done if it were just a book about a girl with a bow and bad government.
There are a few lessons to be learned from the fictional follies of love. If you’re going to risk your life for someone, maybe be sure they’d bother to do the same for you. Bad choices makes great stories. And if I ever find myself stuck in a fictional world, I’m going back to school to be a therapist, because God knows these poor kids need some serious help.