In Medias Res (IMR)

IMR | The Problem of InstaLust

I have a really bad habit of checking GoodReads while reading a book. The reason I do this is the same reason I write these IMR posts: I just read something and I have to talk about it. (It’s better than checking tumblr, which is just a free for all for spoilers.)

That isn’t to say that GoodReads isn’t sprinkled with spoilers, because it is, but in a more interesting nature. While tumblr has gifsets and quotes and fanart, GoodReads is riddled with the words “Love triangle,” “boring plotline” and, the worst of these, “instalove.”

All of these terms raise red flags when I’m reading a book, but the last one is a particular problem for me, especially when instalove is confused with instalust.

InstaLove: the sudden, and often inexplicable, romantic attraction between two characters in a romantic plot

InstaLust: the sudden, and often heavily described sexual attaction between two characters in a romantic plot

Honestly, both are bad storytelling, but I hold a special place for instalust because it is, in short, a cop-out. It’s a cop-out that’s been used far too much in YA fiction as a sign of a loving relationship.

To explain, I’m going to use a novel I recently finished, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas. While the romance had a few good scenes, I had huge problems with believing the relationship. The leads, Feyre and Tamlinhave been accused of instalove in Goodreads reviews, but I think this is more of a case of instalust.

Let’s skip the part where Feyre focuses a lot on Tamlin’s appearance, particularly his muscles. Let’s skip the part where Feyre keeps talking about how his touch and how he looks at her makes her feel different “between her legs.” Let’s skip to Calanmai.

Readers of ACOTAR know what I’m talking about. Calanmai, the faerie festival that begins Spring. How? With the coupling of a faerie high lord and some random woman releasing magic into the land. In the novel, Feyre is warned not to go out on Calanmai for fear of being sexually assaulted. Tamlin finds her anyway, and there’s a fairly seductive scene which culminates in her turning him down because she can tell he’s not himself.

You might think that this  doesn’t sound like instalust at all. She rejects him, after all, and listens to her heart. Good for her.

But what bugs me about this scene is that the apology afterwards. There’s a short paragraph describing how Tamlin apologizes for his behaviour the night beforehand, and gives her flowers.

My problem is this: it’s a paragraph.

No dialogue. No gestures. Just a paragraph, where the scene before was heavy with conversation and description.

Fast forward to the faerie court.

Let me set the scene: Feyre is fighting for Tamlin’s life by performing life-threatening challenges as dictated by the evil faerie queen. She hasn’t talked to Tamlin in months, the last conversation ending with him telling her that he loved her and she didn’t reply in kind. Since then, she discovered that he sacrificed himself and his court in order to protect her.

What’s the first thing they do when they are able to steal time alone? Make out and move on to do the deed. No words, just physical intimacy.

And this is a problem.

The more YA fiction I read that handles things like sexual attraction and desire, the more I find that authors are using sexual intimacy as a replacement for emotional connection. Kissing is not the same a trusting someone. Sex is not the same as telling someone that you love them and that you are scared for them.

And yet, more and more YA fiction seems to include sex scenes to “prove” that the romantic leads are desperately in love with each other. And, for me anyways, the need to reproduce with someone isn’t the same as the need for someone in your life because you want to keep them as safe and happy as they make you feel. Brazen touches in the dark are not the same as sharing dark secrets.

And this is rather infuriating, because a relationship is so much more than kisses and touches and moaning in the dark. And if this is where YA fiction is heading, I’m not sure I want to keep reading it. True, there are some well placed sex scenes in YA novels and I applaud authors who know when to include it and do it well. The more I read, the more it seems to be a cheap attempt at approximating a romantic relationship.

Have you noticed this too? Do you think I’m crazy? Let me know in comments.

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15 thoughts on “IMR | The Problem of InstaLust”

  1. This is a great discussion! I personally don’t empathise at all with instalust, so I kind of dislike it more than instalove in books. I can’t really ship characters just based on sexual attraction — for me I do need some kind of scene that…isn’t just physical intimacy. (That did contribute to my lack of enthusiasm for the romance in ACOTAR, I think.) I feel like instalust might be more popular in NA books? But I very rarely read those. Hmm…

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    1. What did you think of ACOTAR? Like you, I can’t sympathize with the idea at all. But I don’t think that instalust is limited to NA. YA books also do this, and while it doesn’t explicitly have to lead to sex, it’s just the idea of physical intimacy replacing actual closeness that bugs me.

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    2. Hmm…I just wasn’t really inspired by it. I did manage to finish it, but once I had I kind of realised that I didn’t care for any of the characters, and for me the plot just felt dull. The romance creeped me out. So, yeah, overall I didn’t like it that much at all. (I’d ask what you thought, but I’m off to read your review now!)

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  2. I don’t actually notice a lot of this in YA. Also, ACOTAR is actually NA, where that is really common and a serious issue. ACOTAR was publicised as YA by bookshops etc. which is a mistake.

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    1. This is my first time hearing of the NA genre…and after a quick google search, I’m not surprised that sexuality is a prevalent topic. I just don’t think sex is the proper representation of a romantic relationship. Yes, sex is part of that, but it isn’t the sole component. YA and NA books like ACOTAR that try to establish a romantic relationship on sexual attraction alone is what irks me, not necessarily the sex itself.

      I might have liked ACOTAR if the reason that Feyre can’t break the curse is because she doesn’t actually love Tamlin, she’s just attracted to him. (And Amarantha actually makes a point in demonstrating this, though she’s never proven right or wrong.) That makes sense considering how the relationship is established, but it is never addressed and Feyre insists that she’s in love with him even though there’s no real basis for it.

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    2. Yes 😀 I just meant, that the problem I don’t find so much in YA with instalust but in NA and it is a problem there. You get more instalove in YA, I find, just because of the age group the books are written for.

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  3. This is the most annoying thing! I haven’t read that particular book, but I’ve seen it in a lot of others. Physical and emotional attraction are not the same thing, but too many authors think that they are. I’m really hoping this isn’t a trend that continues. I want some more traditional romances, please!

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    1. YES! This is exactly what I mean. Seriously authors, your target audience has raging teenage hormones and so do your protagonists—isn’t it good to make a romance that shows that there’s more to a relationship than just that? That’s why I like books like Aristotle and Dante and Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda where the romantic interests build a relationship on conversations. Another good one is Isla and the Happily Ever After. Isla and Josh have sex really early in the plot, and yet they realize that they need to work on a relationship afterwards if they really want to be together. And that’s great! That’s the kind of story I can get behind.

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    2. I haven’t actually read any of those! This is making me put them all higher up my list. I was thinking of Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, where they don’t meet each other I’m person so don’t have a chance to be physically attracted to each other.
      Maybe it’s a gay thing? Maybe author’s find it more weird to talk about gay sex? Just thinking of two of your examples 🙂

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    3. Hm, maybe. Though I do recall the characters talking about more intimate relations. I haven’t read that book either, but now I’m thinking about Ready Player One, and the romance between Art3mis and Parzival.

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  4. I sooooo agree, and had the same thoughts throughout the same books! “They’re hot together, but why should I care?” I would go one step further and say confusing Instalust with Instalove is a problem in our culture broadly. I would love to read something that allows Instalust to exist, but throughout (or after) both people know that’s all it was….hmmm, actually, I’m wondering if that’s what Pride & Prejudice was. Hahaha! Elizabeth lusts after Wickham, then realizes that’s all it was, but she had the deeper emotional connection to Darcy. Wow, Jane Austen was anticipating this problem centuries ago.

    (That was a little rambly, but I was having epiphanies as I wrote.)

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    1. That’s an interesting take. It’s odd that you mention Pride and Prejudice though, because I was thinking about other Beauty and the Beast retellings, and thought that Pride and Prejudice seemed like it could be one (even if it wasn’t intended).

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    2. I love the idea that Pride & Prejudice is a version of Beauty and the Beast. I suppose any form of “You’re gross….oh wait I learned to love you” could be argued the same….but I’m okay with that. It’s a great storyline.

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  5. I hadn’t thought about this in exactly these terms before, but I feel this on a spiritual level now that I’ve read it. I felt ACOTAR specifically included some of the sex for the “shock value” or to separate it from “other” YA to keep it “edgy,” but I think I’m going to have to use this insta-love/insta-lust distinction in the future…I think it makes more sense to use insta-lust in the case of Feyre and Tamlin, because I can’t think of a single reason why/how they love each other, but like you point out, I don’t know if that is for the better or the worse!

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