So for the day before Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be interesting to talk about the importance of platonic (instead of romantic) relationships in YA books.
A cornerstone of the YA genre is romance—and I’m fine with that. I love that actually. I love watching pairs of characters go from friends to significant others (or from enemies to SOs…;) ). If I didn’t want to read romance-centered books, I’d probably read a different genre, but YA is my love—which means I’ve signed up for a lot of romance.
But just because a story contains romance doesn’t mean that friendships should be neglected.
I know, I know. That statement isn’t anything new; it’s barely even worth writing. Of course, we all know that friendships help round out series. Basically every book has some kind of “best friend” character to fill this role.
But these best friend characters are often underdeveloped and underutilized. They exist to support the main character, to help the main character achieve their goals, and to create some minor conflicts throughout the book or series. But they couldn’t stand on their own. We don’t really know anything about them besides how they relate to the main character.
Sometimes, of course, these friendships are the BEST—they’re the thing that makes the book come alive for the reader.
And often, we only see friendships with people who are the same gender as the main character. A girl main character will have a male love interest and a female best friend. If another male character is presented, he’s probably a love interest, at least for a bit, before he becomes her friend.
Again, I’m fine with reading books that have this set-up. They’re simple and easy to read and they’ll probably put a smile on my face. But I want more.
I want to see girls have friendships with guys that never dabble in romance. And not because one of them is gay. And not because the guy is “in the friendzone” (ugh I’m puking just writing that disgusting phrase). Not because of unrequited love or because an SO is standing between them.
Because they’re—wait for it—friends.
In pop culture today (and basically forever) there is the prevalent idea that “girls and guys can’t just be friends.” There are a lot of problems with this narrative. It promotes a hetero-normative world view by presenting guy-guy and girl-girl relationships and friendships and guy-girl ones as romance. It implies that any girl who crosses the invisible boundary must be a tomboy (and she probably plays sports) because why else would a girl hang out with guys? It suggests that any guy that hangs out with girls (probably in some kind of artsy setting) is gay, because apparently it isn’t “masculine” to be able to talk to girls without flirting.
But most of all, it means that teenagers today have virtually nowhere to look when searching for examples of how to form friendships with other genders.
I’ll be honest—I don’t have very many guy friends. The ones I do have, I’m not very close with. We’ve had classes together for long enough that we’ll hang out at lunch, crack jokes with (and at) each other, and we do the same extracurriculars. We don’t talk about our lives beyond how much homework we have and how little sleep we’ve gotten.
And that kind of sucks. I know that a lot of the reason I don’t have more male friends is my own personality. I’m shy, and I find it about 12,000 times easier to talk to girls than guys. But when I really stop and think about why that is, I realize that the “guys won’t be your friends, just your SO’s” narrative is a big part of it.
When I’m talking to a girl, I feel comfortable seguing from random schoolwork into more meaningful conversations. But when I’m talking to a guy, there’s always a voice in the back of my head, wondering if something I said sounded like flirting (and hoping it didn’t, for the most part), if they’re flirting, if I like them, if they like me….
You get the picture. And it’s a picture I hate.
I’m not saying that I’d be a stunning conversationalist if I’d read more books that showcased male-female friendships. Let’s be honest, I’d still be me. But I’m tired of having that voice in my head reinforced by the thoughts and actions of characters in the books I read.
Again—I love reading romances. I’m not condemning the giggly, accidentally flirtatious trope—I love that trope. But could we have another, platonic character set-up? One that appears often enough to become it’s own trope? Pretty please?