What I Think of “Instalove” As A Trope

While I try, overall, to keep this blog positive outside of reviews, I love reading snarky and negative posts from time to time. I especially like reading people’s negative opinions on common tropes, whether I agree with them or not.

However, finding posts that aren’t about the same five tropes over and over is difficult. And one of the tropes these posts are always talking about is instalove, which, according to many, is the worst trope.

But is it really?

What Instalove Is

According to TvTropes, Instalove, or “Love at First Sight“:

Two characters meet, and fall deeply, madly, passionately in love with each other immediately.

Sounds bad, right? It’s forced, lazy storytelling, and while it could make sense in something intentionally cheesy, it’s not what you want in your average novel.

However: I’ve never read a book like this.

No, wait. Technically I have, but it’s not an American YA novel. It’s an Italian YA novel I won’t mention – bad hype, still hype, and anyway, I don’t like to trash books no one has ever heard of, there’s no point to it. In said Italian paranormal YA novel, the main character saw the male love interest, was struck by his beauty so much that she felt like the world had stopped, and felt an instant connection (without talking to him). He felt the same way (without talking to her), and they almost immediately start to act like a couple.

This is instalove.

33797105Another thing I could say is instalove are the one-day romances like The Sun Is Also a Star and They Both Die at the End. While I didn’t think they were unrealistic – some people do fall in love that quickly – one-day romances, love or hate them, are very uncommon and definitely don’t explain how much hate the “instalove trope” gets.

(Another uncommon thing that is often accused of instalove are reincarnation-related tropes, but then, that’s not first sight, is it?)

But in the average, post-2015* YA SFF novel that has a major romantic subplot and isn’t about reincarnation?

  • I have never read one that had actual instalove in it
  • I have never read a popular one that wasn’t said to have instalove in it, no matter how absurd the “accusation” was
  • read the bad reviews of a relatively well-known post-2015 YA SFF novel with a relevant romantic storyline: chances are there’s someone who says the romance is instalove. There’s almost always someone saying it’s instalove, even when the romance is slow-burn.

*[I haven’t read enough (and don’t remember well enough) pre-2015 YA stuff to know if there’s actual instalove in it often]

A Small Experiment

I’m going to sort the goodreads reviews to only see the 1-star ones for some popular post-2015 YA SFF books that have an unambiguously romantic storyline, and I’m going to CTRL+F instalove/insta-love and see how many times it comes up (only counting one per review).

  • Warcross by Marie Lu [2 reviews mention instalove]
  • Caraval by Stephanie Garber [9 reviews mention instalove]
  • Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor [3 reviews mention instalove]
  • Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan [3 reviews mention instalove]
  • An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson [8 reviews mention instalove]
  • Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi [4 reviews mention instalove]
  • Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young [2 reviews mention instalove]
  • Mirage by Somaiya Daud [4 reviews mention instalove]
  • Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan [1 review mentions instalove. This is specifically a slow-burn romance that develops over months. Lovely.]

I’ve read all of these, and I can say none of them employed *outright love at first sight* as a storytelling device (the only one that comes close is Strange the Dreamer… and it’s not the one with the most instalove points!), and that many people who claim to hate instalove like many of these books. However, some people think they’re instalove. Why?

What I Think Has Happened

Instalove has become a synonym for “I didn’t feel the romance”. Which isn’t a trope: that’s like saying that romances you don’t believe in are your least favorite trope. Of course you don’t like if you find it badly written, rushed or unbelievable – that’s kind of a tautology.

I think instalove accusations aren’t actually about how much time the main characters spend together. They’re about how much time every single reader perceives the characters have spent together, and about how much every single reader believes they have chemistry. It doesn’t matter if they spend months together: to a reader, it might still feel rushed (I’ve felt this way too – sometimes you just don’t feel the passage of time) and so they might mistake it for instalove.

But this is subjective, and not a trope – I might argue on the execution being good or bad, but if a book has a love triangle or a lost princess or an evil queen, most of the time it is a matter of fact and not of opinion. Which doesn’t seem to be the case at all for instalove.

Since nothing ever works for everyone, and since “instalove” became a synonym for “romance that in my opinion was rushed or lacked chemistry or that just annoyed me” [the way I used the word too, when I still used it], the majority of YA books that have been read by a reasonable amount of people will get bad reviews mentioning “instalove”.

And even if a romance is objectively, unrealistically rushed: that’s usually a flaw in the writing/plotting, not a device an author consciously decided to use to tell a story, and to me, it really doesn’t make sense to talk about it as a trope.

It’s not that I think “instalove” as a trope doesn’t exist (again: that one Italian YA book in which the characters literally fall in love at first sight without talking, what in Italian we call “colpo di fulmine”), it’s that it has been used so much to mean other things – from bad pacing to a perceived lack of chemistry – that at this point, this word is pretty much meaningless.

Do you see instalove as a trope?

24 thoughts on “What I Think of “Instalove” As A Trope

    1. I will say I did mention the word “instalove” my Enchantment of Ravens review, but I was more nuanced about it. It’s that it *feels* like instalove, even if it’s technically not:

      “The romance is equally baffling at the beginning, since it’s not really clear how or when the protagonists fall in love. In theory, they have days of interaction; in reality, Rogerson fails to actually describe their conversations or what might have led to their romantic feelings. It’s not necessarily instalove because there is some build-up; it’s more that the build-up is bafflingly off-page.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I totally agree about AEOR- the romance felt rushed, but it’s definitely not at first sight? We’re just not given a chance of seeing it develop, which is a baffling writing choice.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I’m really confused by the Girls of Paper and Fire one too – but I guess they just didn’t feel the Lei-Wren connection and called it instalove because that’s how the word is used at this point.

      And I haven’t read any of the instalove-books mentioned on your blog, apart from Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – but I don’t remember anything that happened there and so I can’t say (who knows, maybe I have read more instalove books than the ones I mention on this post, but I’ve found them so aggressively forgettable that I don’t remember one of them?)


  1. I always say in my reviews that I am not someone who doesn’t like instalove, but now that I read your post, maybe I’m not characterizing the romances properly… this is a lovely post and I’m gonna be a bit more thoughtful from now on 😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you liked this!
      I think that for the way we use the word instalove, no one could reasonably say they like it as a trope? (At least, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone say so.) I think most people would agree that it’s annoying when romances feel unnecessarily rushed.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great discussion! I have thought of “instalove” as more of a high infatuation which feels like a more proper term. People fall for each other all the time, like in the type of books that you mentioned, but since we read books centered for teens, I think it might be mislabeled as “instalove” by adult readers. I know with Strange the Dreamer, the author does use that trope of instant love and that’s a device she likes to use and I can understand that one. With An Enchantment of Ravens, the main character thinks about this very trope and questions what she’s really feeling which I found refreshing. Great post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!
      Yes, I feel like people often mislabel “I am fascinated by this person” and “I am attracted to this person” (which are feelings that are… normal to have even on a first meeting, I’d say) with “I’m forever in love with this person”. I don’t see characters who actually start to act like a couple after a first meeting that often, definitely not as often as I see books being labeled as having instalove in them.
      And I feel like keeping in mind that some people – especially teens – can fall for others quickly would be a good thing, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such an interesting post! The only time I can think of seeing insta-love is when it comes to paranormal fated mates stories. I’ve read some where they’ll see/smell each other, have mating sex immediately, and immediately profess their love for one another 🙄 but outside those kinds of fated mates stories, I really don’t see insta-love so much as really fast paced relationships.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thinking about it, the only book I’ve seen actual instalove in (the Italian paranormal YA) is basically a fated mate story, just with no sex because of the age range.
      And I agree, in YA books that are described as instalove I mostly see fast paced relationships too.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Of the books on your list- I’ve only read Wicked Saints and Sky in the Deep but neither of those are instalove (in fact I think they are enemies-to-lovers). But I have read books where this is a thing. The one that came to mind immediately is The Lost Queen by Signe Pike in which the characters fall in love at first sight, and spend a running total of like 24 hours together over the course of like 10 years. That one was really badly done.

    But I think you make a good point about people (especially teens) falling in love quickly. It definitely does happen!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never heard of The Lost Queen, but that really sounds bad. When I see that kind of thing, I wonder whether the author actually did it on purpose.

      Also: I messed up the scheduling yesterday and two posts that shouldn’t have been up today went up at 4 AM in my time zone and that’s why I removed them, but to answer what you asked in the comment section of the award: we don’t really have required reading for Italian unless the teacher really wants to, but we read the I Promessi Sposi (second year in high school) and the Divina Commedia (third to fifth year) together in class.
      [And don’t worry, I wasn’t stressed! I just second-guess myself a lot when it comes to the “talk about yourself” parts]

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah- I think it was because the nature of their relationship kept them apart in The Lost Queen. He was a warrior she was a queen so they had to fall in love at first sight because they were always apart, but it just wasn’t all that believable in that instance. Loving a guy you met as a teenager that you meet up again with randomly after 10 years? I would think the “Love” would have faded. It would have been better as an unrequited love story I think.

        And no worries! Divina Commedia- Divine Comedy? Did you enjoy it? I read parts of it for college and it wasn’t my favorite. Most classics don’t become favorites though. Also- we started in the middle somewhere so that probably affected it a lot.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, it’s the Divine Comedy – I can’t really say I enjoyed it, because of my feelings about having to read something, but I can say that while the Inferno had some parts that were at least interesting, the Purgatorio and Paradiso are so boring I forgot everything about them, and we spent a year on each…

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Yeeeees I feel this so much. Depending on the genre I feel like “instalove” actually usually means instalust (especially in NA romances) or instainfatuation/fascination. Which are things that are very much real and can happen very soon after meeting a person, unlike love. But sometimes it’s true that the narrative actually says the word “love” and it usually means it’s bad writing from the author’s part. I’m much more interested in how a trope is achieved rather than whether it’s there or not. If I feel it, if it’s well done, if I have fun while I read it, it doesn’t matter even if it was my least favorite trope.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s true too – and I’m always surprised when I see people say things like “character A found character B immediately attractive, and that’s instalove, so it’s bad” – it really doesn’t make sense to me, finding people physically attractive without needing an emotional connection is… common, I think. I wonder if this happens because people are annoyed that in most books you can spot the love interest the moment the main character meets them? I don’t know.
      And I mostly agree about execution mattering more, but some tropes aren’t… as easy to write in a way that doesn’t feel cheap? I feel this with actual, intentional instalove, but it’s not the only one (mating bonds, for example: never seen one that didn’t make me go “but why did we need this”).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No, you’re right. Execution matters but some tropes really are cheap and “easy” to write because I feel like they let you skip some important parts like “how do the characters actually fall in love”. But except for harmful tropes (white savior narrative, bury your gays, etc) I don’t feel like equating the trope to a book being bad. Maybe the trope isn’t for me (age gap, for example), but a good writer can take, for example, actual instalove and make it good and make me love it! (Like the sun is also a star)

        Liked by 1 person

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