Think Aloud explores book-related discussions encompassing reading, writing, blogging, and perhaps newsworthy content. The focus is to push the boundaries, stretch the mind, and encourage dialogue within this community. Let’s all think out loud.
Relishing the Single Life
in a Couple’s World
Stop pining for someone when life’s calling you.
The featured blogger in this post is Josephine who’ll carry the word vomit torch in my steed.
In my early 20s, a friend asked in a very [concerned] tone, “Are you sure you don’t ever want to get married?” That question caught me off guard. Despite being pre-occupied with school, apparently I didn’t care enough about my future because I was single and romance was shoved to the back of my mind.
The thing is, I was happy then and I am happy now. I have other single friends who are off pursuing their dreams, unconcerned about the lack of romance in their lives. Yes, romance is a beautiful part of life but that doesn’t mean we can’t relish the single life. As much as romance is a huge fixture of YA fiction, being single doesn’t have to be a curse for characters. Just consider the following five factors.
1. Space for Self-Exploration
Being unattached allows for greater self-exploration. The focus is entirely on the self and there’s no one to stand in the way of pursuits.
Take Elise from This Song Will Save Your Life who wanders off into the night in search of herself. It’s unlikely she would’ve ghosted around the empty streets if she had been bound by a partner and wouldn’t have discovered the make-shift club in a warehouse, and ultimately, her passion for DJing. It’s through music that she came to find herself.
2. Ambitions Matter
While a partner can be the most supportive cheerleader ever, being single is practically a guarantee that you’re free to pursue your ambitions.
I know A Mad, Wicked Folly is set in Edwardian England when the Suffragette Movement was just taking off, so Vicky’s rein was already severely limited. It wasn’t becoming of a woman to pursue a man’s craft and her husband-to-be refused to support her ambitions. This is singledom at its finest — one less obstacle closer to freedom. Alternatively, Josie in Out of the Easy focuses on walking a better life–pursued through education (college)–and thus rarely sought out romance as a medium for success in her future.
On a personal note, I’ve seen former teammates and opponents from other clubs give up competitive sports because of their significant others. For some reason guys can be very obstinate when they’re against girls pursuing sports. Whatever it is, being single also means that there’s much more time and energy that can be invested in pursuing ambitions.
3. No Ties Holding Back
Single people have no ties holding them back.
The lack of a suitor allowed Lee in Walk on Earth a Stranger to uproot herself in search of gold. Though she was on the run, Lee traveled across the vast expanse of America and made something of her life even if it meant giving up the greener pastures of home. A suitor would’ve forced her to stay put or in the very least, slowed her down.
4. Possibilities of Romance
Many find the chase to be the most exhilarating part of romance. When characters find themselves in a relationship, the chase is effectively over; on the other hand, a single person sill has all these possibilities. Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares is a prime example of possibilities. Both were single when they first came into contact through Lily’s red notebook. When Dash found the notebook, he read instructions that he must be a boy and he must be single. Should either not be the case, he was to return the notebook where he found it. That notebook represented the possibilities of a single person.
When you think about it, possibilities are what makes love triangles such a common trope in YA books. They offer options and make readers choose their ships. The possibilities are there because the protagonists are single and we’re left wondering whom they’ll choose, if anyone at all.
5. There’s More to Life
If there’s one thing I never understood about romance, it’s how it can trump life or death situations. In so many dystopian and fantasy novels the protagonists are fully aware that they might die the next day. The natural thing to do is to plan and ensure they stay alive, right?
For some reason a lot of them seem to think the night before is the time they should kiss and maybe even make love to the person who may or may not love them back. I mean, come on! A couple of days working towards a common cause of rebellion or war doesn’t cement soulmates. It takes time to get to know someone.
Single protagonists theoretically have a higher chance of survival because they’re not distracted by romance. They’re fully focused on self-preservation, which is important in order to be able to enjoy many more decades of life.
At the end of the day–romance or not–what matters is characters soundly represented given their unique story. However, amidst all these books that contain romance, I do wish that more would portray the single life in a positive light. Excitement can be derived from many things in life, and it’s important to remember that. Stop pining for someone when life’s calling you. The plot moves with the present – carpe diem!
Joséphine is the blogger behind Word Revel. She resides on an island affectionately known as the Little Red Dot and can be found on Instagram, Twitter, and Goodreads celebrating the written word.
Why do you think being single isn’t such a common status among YA characters?
What were some motivators pushing you toward a relationship (or otherwise not)? Were they intrinsic? Extrinsic?
How else do you think characters could relish the single life such that romance wouldn’t be necessary to move the plot forward?
As always, think aloud.
connect: afterthoughtAn // twitter | anotherafterthought // goodreads
I screamed into the void and Josephine was one of the first bloggers to respond to wanting to help out/be featured.
This is Day 4 of of my week long 2016 Valentines Themed Week!
Day 1: “Books, Be Mine: Valentines Day Event Introduction”
Day 2: Top Ten Tuesday – “Inseparable Fictional Pairs”
Day 3: “Why Your Book Boyfriend Is A Cheater”
26 thoughts on “[Think Aloud] – #29 – Relishing the Single Life in a Couple’s World”
Once again, you got me with such a perfect post, Joey, well, and Joséphine, too, so thank you for that! I agree with everything that’s been said in this. I guess that romance takes such a big part in YA books because a lot of readers are looking for it, because everyone loves a great couple over which they can swoon over, and stuff like that, I guess. I’m part of those people, I guess, since I always love a great romance. That being said, I agree and I really like when the story focuses on a characters’ growth, too, and I would love to read that more often, with romance being kept on the side for THE WHOLE BOOK. I need to read more of that, but somehow, I keep finding books with the hint of a romance in the synopsis, so…there’s that. And, THIS: ” In so many dystopian and fantasy novels the protagonists are fully aware that they might die the next day. The natural thing to do is to plan and ensure they stay alive, right?” YES YES YES YES A BILLION TIMES YES.
I guess being alone scares a lot of people, and given every Relationship we see in books, movies etc, we all kind of seek at some point, being in a Relationship, I guess.
And this is getting out of control haha so I’m just going to stop there. Such a great post 🙂
I’m glad my post resonated so much with you, Maria 🙂 I suppose you’re right — many people do swoon over fictional couples, which does make them happy. I’m fine reading books with or without romance. It’s just that romance is so prevalent, even for stories they’re unnecessary, that it’d be nice if there were more that show the excitement of stories that hardly contain romance. Just, y’know, to show that lives are more than worth living too even when there’s no romance. And you’re right, not being in a relationship does scare a fair number of people, so all the more do we need books to show that being alone doesn’t automatically have to mean loneliness or less of meaning and goals in life.
LikeLiked by 1 person
You’re definitely right about this, Joséphine! I love a good romance, but I’d love to see more books without it. Where there’s just friendship, family, just all of the things that are usually on the background in books, while the romance takes the first place. We really need to show that, because even if being in a relationship is great, being alone isnt the end of the world, and both situations have their meanings, and lives can be great, full of goals and purpose, with or without a love interest ! 🙂
I love this Josephine! I think as a plot device it’s what readers are looking for. I know I do. I like books even if there isn’t a hint of romance, but you’re right, I do like books a little more even if there is just an undertone of romance. I like the OPTIONS a character has. The choice between people, but I I think what we should also see which sadly we don’t see enough of is the character CHOOSING to go it solo. And why shouldn’t they? Not everyone wants to be paired up. And it’s more than that. Sometimes it’s just not the right time. When a character is battling for the well being of all of human kind, their relationship goals are a bit paltry in comparison.
I do think it’s funny how in a series you’ll spend an entire book rooting for a pair to get together in book one but once they’re together the author sort of has to split them up again in book two or else the tension fizzles out. Lol. Just and observation. It’s like, we want to see our OTP together, but only for a little while. Then we have to see them suffer in long distance relationships….or whatever.
Thank you, Nicolette! I like books that portray romance when it fits as much as when there’s none. If the romance is unnecessary, I like a book much less as a result for trying to force it. Haha. And yes! CHOOSING to go solo! So important and yet too rarely portrayed, in YA fiction, at least.
As for OTPs, can’t say I’ve ever shipped any xD Though I have gotten irritated by characters swaying to and fro ALL THE TIME. It’s annoying because if stories rely on the indecisiveness to build tension, then there’s nothing to set a book/series apart from others with the same tropes.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I do love romance I my books but this post has me questions why it’s so important to me!! I do agree that sometime romance should be the last thing on characters minds and yet it’s what dominates! Great post 🙂
I think there’s comfort in knowing that (most of the time) romance leads to a happy ending in books. Maybe that’s why it’s so important that amidst a world that’s falling apart, there’s a glimmer of hope to hang on to.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I don’t know why there aren’t more YA books without relationships as a focus. Maybe because hormones are going crazy in those YA times? I do remember the social aspect of junior high and high school to be mostly be about crushes, relationships and friendships. I think most of the “finding yourself” happened after that time. Maybe in college? I do feel like I discovered more about myself in my early to mid 20’s than I did in high school. It was really when I was out of my parents house, on my own and single that I really became my own person. Everyone I dated before that helped shape me, but I’m glad I didn’t end up any of them! I don’t think it would have worked out. Having that single time made me firm in my beliefs and confidence. I think having that time actually helped when I met my husband. I was myself when I was with him and not trying to just be who he wanted. If that makes sense. So, maybe there should be more New Adult books with single characters?
Hmmm. Maybe it’s culture-dependent… because where I went to secondary school, crushes mattered but so did many other things. Many graduated secondary school without ever having been part of a relationship. True, many dated but there also were single kids and their voices are grossly missing in YA lit. Though I agree with you, self-discovery becomes more central towards the end of teen years and during the 20s, so it would be nice to see some non-romance NA books too.
LikeLiked by 1 person
This is a great post, with great questions posed at the end. I’d be so interested in reading more where there may be a romantic interest, but then the main character decides to walk away from the option because they’re better off alone. Deciding to be single, rather than circumstances just dictating it, would be a beneficial message in the YA genre (or even in fiction as a whole).
Ooh! I’d love to see this happen in a book some time too. It would surely force readers to re-evaluate the place of romance in fiction.
LikeLiked by 1 person
This is an amazing post, especially for this time in the year. I know that for some people, this weekend can be hard, and people forget how good single life can be! Especially us bookish people, when romance is now a big part of a lot of the books we read.
Anyway, addressing some of your questions… I think being single isn’t a common thing amongst YA characters because it’s YA. YA characters are usually teenagers themselves, and are going through big steps in life, which include first romances, and exploring relationships, etc.
With the second question, for me, it was really peer pressure that dating is the ‘norm’ that pushed me towards a relationship. There were a few intrinsic factors, such as that I really liked the guy as well.
Some fantastic questions you have here too – the third one is hard for me to answer xD
I knew a lot of friend in secondary school who had zero interest in relationships 😉 School and co-curricular activities were so demanding, it was a wonder we got any sleep at all. Lol.
Peer pressure has such an effect on everyone, huh. I think the saddest cases are those who enter relationships purely because that’s what “they’re supposed to do”. I’m glad that peer pressure aside, intrinsic factors played a part for you too!
And well, for the third question, I’d say fantasy paves the way pretty well for this. Though for contemporary, I guess a greater emphasis on major life events would be a good start.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Oh that’s definitely true – I didn’t think of fantasy at first! Love your reply, Josephine! 🙂
I love this piece! I recently read an ARC for Will You Wont You Want Me? The premise is that the main character is at a crossroads in her life and needs to decide where she wants to go. She doesn’t find out who she is or what she wants until she breaks away from her relationship and is single- able to focus on herself and her needs. I wouldn’t mind authors focusing more on this coming of age/sort of mid life (28) crisis, where the next step you take will determine what you’re going to do with your life, because starting a new career/changing careers in your 30s is a very difficult thing to do (this is more NA and YA but the basics of the plot could transfer to YA stories).
To answer your questions: 1. I think author’s find that it’s easier to write plots with romance and couples; it’s easier to get the drama that way. Also, I believe that readers would rather read about a character who is a part of a couple vs. being single (they tend to get whiny sometimes). 2. I have actually avoided being in a relationship because I wanted to focus on myself and my career. I didn’t want someone to maybe hold me back if I needed to move for job. Also, I don’t believe it was the right time for a relationship. 3. I think with coming of age stories, authors can focus on the character finding themselves without the help of romance- what would be a good college for them or college major, going and living some place where they don’t know anyone, etc.
Thanks for mentioning that book, Liz! I must definitely check it out! 😀
1. Really? I’ve not noticed such a trend of whiny single characters. I mean, I’ve noticed whining when they’re single but dealing with unrequited love but when romance isn’t even on the table, I’ve not noticed single characters being whiny.
2. I’m totally with you on knowing when a relationship just won’t fit into life. It’s not fair to someone if there always is the possibility of uprooting the next day and then being confronted with splitting up or setting up a long distance relationship.
3. Yes on every point made here! I hope more authors will pick up on sentiments from readers like you and me — I’d love to read these kinds of books too.
I read somewhere recently that romance and shipping is so big because it gives us a hope of a happily-ever-after. And, while that isn’t how real life works – compromises and hard work and sorrow with joy – it’s nice to have that in fiction, so I think that’s why romance is so present. Then, too, a lot of YA books are about coming-of-age, and sexuality/romance is often considered a big part of that, and sometimes finding who you are gets equated with finding who you’re meant to be with.
This isn’t to say that’s all there is to coming of age, but it is something ‘easier’ in that it’s often applicable to more people, as compared with college, which isn’t always something feasible or even desired (trade schools, apprenticeships, direct into the workforce, Peace Corps, etc. being chosen instead). Also, a lot of us are conditioned to look for romance, especially in fictional media be it books, TV shows, etc., so, again, much ‘easier’ for an author/creator to go that route.
That’s pretty much what I figured too, though I also believe happy endings can and should be found elsewhere too. Then again, romance is a basic comfort for many people, so it’s only natural to translate into books… As for the idea that including romance might be “easier”, that’s a good point. Including romance often means half the story is already planned out. If there’s no romance at all, then that’s a lot of pages to fill with other things.
It’s hard to think of a YA protagonist who’s not in a relationship. That would probably be a good diversion to this genre. You are right about the singles not getting distracted. Tywin Lannister won almost all his wars and look where Rob Stark ended up. Haha! Not being bitter or anything, but there’s really some truth into this. And ugh yes, making out before the peak of the war – Clary and Jace, hello! – is becoming a cliche. LOL.
You’re right. I’m sure most of us couldn’t list more than five single YA protagonists because even those who start off single generally end up with someone in the course of the book. Haha.
I just saw this discussion–this has been on my mind since before some of you all were born! I’ve been happily married for nearly 15 years now, but before that I was happily single for twice as long. It was so weird to me that I never saw myself represented in books. In high school and college, I knew more people who were single than who were dating. I traveled extensively in my twenties, which definitely supports your reason #3. Almost all of my Peace Corps buddies were also single. The idea that happiness is postponed until you are in a romantic relationship is really unhealthy.