I don't read many books that would be classified as "romance," nor do I usually read books in which a love story is the main plot. They're not really my thing.
I can, however, enjoy a book that includes love/romance as a major theme if it has one or more of the following attributes:
1.) No instalove.
Few things irritate me more than the idea of instalove. I mean, I know it's fiction, but I still want it to feel somewhat realistic. You can like someone, lust after someone ... Whatever. But to truly love someone, you have to know them.
2.) The relationship isn't portrayed as "perfect" or "easy."
I love my husband, but our relationship is far from perfect. Relationships can be hard, and they require work to remain strong. If a fictional couple is presented as being perfect with no issues whatsoever and nothing can shake them because they're just so in love ... Well, you've already lost me.
3.) Bad behavior (such as possessiveness) isn't portrayed as "normal" or "okay."
I was once in a horrible relationship with someone who couldn't control his jealousy and seemed to think he "owned" me. I wouldn't wish that kind of hell on anyone. It's not sweet and it's not romantic -- it's fucking scary. Books shouldn't romanticize this sort of thing.
4.) Unrequited love.
I'm sure most of us have, at some point, experienced unrequited love. Whether it's a friend who doesn't feel the same or an ex you still have feelings for, it's heartbreaking. It also makes for good reading because it can evoke strong emotions.
5.) A will they/won't they situation.
This is one of the reasons I loved shows like The Office and Friends: Jim and Pam and Ross and Rachel are just two examples of how this type of scenario can suck you in and make you care about the love lives of fictional characters. This is also true when it comes to books. I'll want to keep reading if I'm not sure how the situation will play out.
6.) A difficult situation is presented in the relationship.
This could be anything: death of a child, infidelity, the onset of a debilitating illness, etc. I enjoy reading stories about how people deal with personal struggles, and this is true when it comes to reading about couples as well.
7.) The story follows the dissolution of a relationship.
I love a good break-up story, especially if the author is skilled in character development. If I care about the characters, my heart will break right along with theirs. I'm especially drawn to this type of story if it jumps around in time, allowing me to see both the good and bad aspects of the relationship and to truly understand where it all went wrong.
8.) There isn't a happily ever after ending.
I'm probably in the minority with this one, but I don't really enjoy endings in which all the pieces neatly fall into place. (This is true for all types of books, not just love stories.) It's not that a happy ending will automatically make me hate a book -- I just prefer bittersweet (or even heartbreaking) endings if I'm reading a love story. (As for other types of books, I love ambiguous endings that force me to create my own interpretation of how the story ends.)
9.) Obsession plays a major role.
This may seem odd, considering what was said in #3 on this list. However, if the obsession is not portrayed as normal, I'll enjoy reading about it. (Some examples of this include You by Caroline Kepnes and The Woman Before Me by Ruth Dugdall.)
10.) The relationship is completely fucked up.
A book that features a completely fucked up romantic situation will very likely catch my eye. I tend to like my entertainment dark, and that extends to love stories as well. You can interpret this however you like ... You probably won't be wrong.
This Valentine's Day/love themed list was inspired by this week's Top Ten Tuesday prompt. I wasn't sure if I would participate this week at first since I don't usually read romance novels. I guess I thought coming up with a love-related post would be difficult. I really enjoyed thinking about the types of things I like to see in fictional love stories, though. It's not something I've ever really given much thought.
Linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for Top Ten Tuesday!