So what are some examples of unhealthy and healthy relationships in popular YA? How can we ourselves write healthy YA relationships?
Unhealthy YA Relationships
I do like Twilight, but I'm not at all going to deny that the relationship between Bella and Edward is extremely unhealthy. There's too much evidence. This is also a good example of a bad relationship because it has all of the three above weaknesses -- the most famous love triangle of all time (Edward-Bella-Jacob), Bella constantly putting herself down in comparison to Edward, and some definite instalove. Ohhhh the instalove. How I hate you.
I could name so many more, particularly with instalove, but I won't. I don't think it's fair, and what's more, a lot of the ones that have this problem I never even bothered to finish. If you'd like to add your own in the comments, I'd be happy to see that.
Healthy YA Relationships
Switcheroo: A Case Study
Their romance begins as a farce in the midst of a love triangle, which is a large part of why it's so unhealthy. But worse than that, there is no communication. Peeta truly loves Katniss but she never communicates with him about her own feelings (or lack thereof.) Katniss and Haymitch manage to communicate more than Peeta and Katniss, and they're around each other much less. On top of that, Katniss herself has no idea of her feelings, which you see with that there sad little love triangle, and she's not making the active choice needed to create a relationship. She's stringing Peeta and Gale right along with herself.
It takes something truly horrible for the dynamic to shift -- Peeta gets hijacked. In his absence she realizes how much she needs his support; after his return, for the first time, she sees darkness in him and he sees darkness in her. That changes everything. She experiences, for the first time, something similar to what he had been receiving from her. She realizes at last that relationships are two-sided and that she hasn't been giving. And in that she realizes that Peeta is the one she loves and can have a stable relationship with. The dynamic between her and Gale is too volatile. Peeta has softened her and she has learned, now, to see him as an equal. Those two things together allow for the finally healthy relationship that they establish at the end of the trilogy.
Pretty cool, huh?
How to Write Relationships
Second and probably easier, we just have to resist the temptations to take shortcuts. When there's a love triangle, it needs to have purpose larger than just to cause conflict. Instalove should be avoided at all costs -- build the romance up for real, give us emotional background so we can have honest fulfillment. Earn our hearts with something sincere. Prioritize the "friendship" underneath before you add the sexy stuff in. Don't throw in self-confidence issues just because you can, just to make conflict. Add meaning. Too often that kind of thing becomes sexist and demeaning -- you don't see it with guys in YA the way you do with girls. Healthy relationships have equal footing and mutual respect. If you need some help with perspective on sexism, try reading The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. Just generally put sincere effort into it. It's hard. But it's something we all need. Think of the difference it would make to those struggling to find a good example. Think of how it could help others.
Then give us something good. (Unless, of course, you're intentionally writing a bad relationship, but this post has nothing to do with that. I'd hope not all of you are going for that, because then I have a very depressing readership.)
Images via popcrush.com, thehungergames.wikia.com, and Goodreads.