Have you ever read a book and thought “Wow, this author does not remember what being X age is like?”
I get that feeling a lot, especially when reading a YA/NA book in which a teenage romance is more dramatic than the average soap opera. I am willing to suspend my reality in cases of paranormal romance or other fantasy elements–I’m sure that being the Chosen One during a major apocalyptic event is going to make a relationship feel more dramatic–but in a regular ole contemporary novel? Yeah, I don’t buy it.
Personally, when I dated in middle and high school, my relationships were never this dramatic. There were some stupid teenager dramatics about them, but nothing that led to the amount of tears and insanity that some YA contemporary novels think will happen. Even my more dramatic friends never quite made it to That Level. The more folks I talk to about their experiences and observations, the more I come to realize that contemporary YA and NA books are just overdramatizing things for the sake of it.
The number one most frustrating part of this phenomenon is that it diminishes the autonomy and independence of the characters involved. Yes, a sixteen or seventeen-year-old will make some stupid mistakes, but they are still a person. Overly dramatic teenage romances seem to remove that logical decision making ability from the teens involved and implies that they can’t be responsible, intelligent, or even know what they want for themselves. Strangely, this phenomenon diminishes once the characters are over eighteen. Even when a relationship is between say a seventeen-year-old and a nineteen-year-old in a book, the younger of the two is over dramatic, fatalistic, and unusually immature to emphasize that they are only a child compared to their counterpart.
There are definitely times that the character is behaving as expected, and that’s totally fine. If a character is already over dramatic then I expect they’ll treat their relationships like melodramas because that’s their personality. But I find it incredibly annoying that characters at an age I can still remember being are so initialized–probably because of what it means for the real world. Fiction definitely influences reality to an extent, and to tell adults and teenagers that all teen romances are moody, broody, and messy can result in adults dismissing teens and their feelings, and teens employing the dramatic tropes they read about in real life.
It’s relatively common for folks to not have their first real romantic relationship until they’re young adults. However, many sources of fiction portray high stakes dramatic relationships during high school as common, normal, and even expected. This in turn puts pressure on real teenagers, who feel like they have to meet the expectations of this fiction if they are dating at that age. Reality is rarely that dramatic, though, leading to some impostor syndrome and melodramatics in order to achieve the fictionalized expectation.
All in all, it’s both annoying and potentially damaging for every teenager in a romance in fiction to be melodramatic. Not only are these unrealistic expectations to set, but a lot of times it’s lazy writing. Having a character that would not realistically cause drama create a conflict just because the plot needs to move along just doesn’t work in the long run. It’s especially frustrating in YA novels where the characters are set up to be one thing, and then devolve into stereotypical teen hysterics regardless of how this fits into their personality and background. Then, you have the teens who are consuming these stories who may take inspiration from the melodramatics, or may feel they’ve missed out on a formative teen experience because media routinely tells them that they should be in a dramatic high stakes relationship before turning eighteen.
Let me know down in the comments what you think about this trend!