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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Romance in Art and Real Life - What Are The Limits?

Hi everyone!
I am YA author B. A. Binns. It's October, the year is almost over. I'm deviating a little from this month's theme. Instead of Paranormal Romances, I'm going to discuss something from the recent news, something that hit me hard. It's about age differences between couples, and what that implies in fiction and in real life.

A four year age difference. It doesn't sound like all that much. Not when we have a host of popular paranormal books featuring teens falling in love with hundred year old vampires, and thousand year old angels.

Hand me a romance between thirty-four and thirty-eight year old main characters and I sit back and enjoy how the author makes the love flow.  Or a New Adult couple of twenty-four and eight, people just on the other side of adulthood, in an equal relationship, learning about life together.  A child's story about friendship between a four and eight year old can also move me.  In all three cases, the power balance is roughly equal. The four years mean little.

Things change in the teen years. That's the difficulty in writing YA romances. When one partner is fourteen, and the other eighteen, adulthood lies between them, separating them.

 A power imbalance is inevitable in any relationship where one paty is an adult, and the other is not. Especially a sexual relationship. I saw that in the book Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr.  Deanna was thirteen when her older brother's seventeen year old best friend initiated a sexual relationship between them. The story illustrates the power imbalance. As Deanna says in her own words,
"I didn’t love him. I don’t even think I liked him."
She just didn't know how to say no. In fact, she didn't really understand what he was asking that first time. The relationship continues for months with him happy and her never quite knowing what to do or say. Two years later, when they meet again, he still feels justified, still honestly believes she wanted sex just as much as he did.


The very first (unpublished) novel I ever wrote involved a relationship between a sixteen-year-old girl and a man in his twenties. It still exists, but only in my computer's memory. In my heart I told myself their relationship was different because they were soulmates. But my heart was wrong, and my head and guts told me so. No matter how mature a sixteen-year-old is, a true human adult who really felt love and not lust step back. He or she would wait for the child to become an adult with more age and life experience, and then see if they had something between them. And if the adult is not a true human, he, or she, deserves what happens to them in court.

In PULL, my first published novel, my hero was seduced by a college girl when he was thirteen. Now seventeen, he tries to pretend that event had no effect on him. But he admits that for months afterward he could not pass her house without closing his eyes. The good news: that history gave him the empathy he needed to make him help a girl with self-esteem issues of her own after being molested by a foster brother.

This was not the subject of my original post. But sometimes life cuts a little to close, imitating, maybe even overwhelming fiction. Last week I saw the story of gay Florida teen Kaitlyn Hunt, an eighteen-year-old arrested following a sexual relationship with a fourteen-year-old schoolmate.  Kaitlyn said the issue was that she was a lesbian, not the four years. She doesn't see the younger girl as a victim.

I understand why. If the girl is a victim, then she might have to accept herself as a victimizer.


Sexuality is a huge issues for teenagers. Is the right answer the one being advocated by some of Hunt's supporters, a law that lets any eighteen year old have a relationship with any fourteen year old, as long as they attend the same school?   It may be difficult for adults, even new adults, to remember the hesitancy and uncertainty of the younger days. It is easy to think that someone we care about is "older than their years."

But don't we as a society draw a line between child and adult for a reason?

4 comments:

Judith Ashley said...

Well said!!!

Sarah Raplee said...

You have eloquently presented a clear picture of this disturbing issue. The line, 'adulthood stands between them' says it all!

It is that imbalance of power, knowledge, and experience that creates victim and victimizer, even when no violence is involved.

Diana Mcc. said...

Very good, thought provoking post!

Paty Jager said...

Wonderfully worded post. I agree.