It seems to me that I hear more about Rhysand than Feyre, Peter Kavinsky than Lara Jean, Will and Jem than Tessa, Gilbert Blythe than Anne Shirley, Peeta than Katniss … you get the picture. Whether we’re talking about books, movies, or TV shows, it feels like the love interests get more hype than the heroines.
Of course, I’m not saying that this is always the case — plenty of people stan Hermione Granger, Jude Duarte, Inej Ghafa; the heroines I listed above have ardent supporters, too. And maybe it’s just the online spaces I hang out in. Maybe it’s the “influencers” and friends whose posts tend to cross my feed. Maybe it’s exaggerated in my mind because it’s hard to stop noticing something once you pick up on it.
But I don’t think I’m totally imagining this fandom phenomenon, so here are a few of my theories as to why this is.
It wouldn’t be a discussion post from me without disclaimers, so here they are:
- I’m generally referring to heterosexual pairings in YA/NA novels, because this effect seems strongest in those cases. It may also apply to LGBTQIAP+ pairings too, but I haven’t seen or looked into these as much.
- However, I’m not generalizing readers as allo/cis/het or even female — I think many (if not all) of these ideas are still applicable if you’re not.
- I’m not judging or condemning you if you find that you have more to say about these book boyfriends than their female (co-)leads! This is something I do myself, after all.
- I know I have blind spots and biases, and like 95% of this post is pure speculation, so as always, please take my opinion with a grain of salt, and I’m more than willing to listen to yours.
Heroines as Reader Stand-Ins/Invisible Narrators
Probably one of the first social skills we learn is to put ourselves in others’ shoes, and I remember hearing that readers tend to be particularly good at empathy. That is, we often find it easy to project onto the protagonist — maybe to the point where we essentially forget that they aren’t us?
Or, alternatively, we might just forget about the protagonist as a character because they’re our entry point into the world — maybe to the point where we almost forget that they exist? Some narrators have more vivid personalities, while others kind of blend into their story. Some heroines are just more memorable than others.
I definitely don’t think this applies to every case; I can see myself in Meggie Folchart but not in Celia Bowen, and I could never overlook Babe Vogel. But at least for me, this might account for some instances where I get attached to the love interest far more than the heroine.
Book Boyfriends as Readers’ Love Interest
Unsurprisingly, if a heroine is going to fall in love with a guy, they’ve got to have traits that (some) readers will also find attractive. Whether or not the reader identifies with the protagonist, it’s pretty natural to dream about your own happily ever after. (Especially since you don’t have to deal with the realities that make relationships hard work. Not to say that they’re not worth it, but they certainly aren’t zero-effort.)
The only caveat I want to add is the possible factor of internalized misogyny — based on my experiences and what I’ve heard from others, a lot of girls/women are taught that other girls and women are competition, that guy friends are better than girl friends, that it’s cool to be “not like other girls.” So maybe we’re predisposed to dismiss and/or dislike heroines while we swoon over heroes?
To be clear, I’m not saying you’re an irredeemable misogynist if you’ve ever thought the male lead was more interesting than the female lead. But I do think it’s worth some introspection.
Overemphasis on Romantic Storylines
I enjoy a well-written romance as much as anyone, but let’s be real: not every novel actually needs its romantic storyline. And in a lot of cases, the romance is overemphasized too. (Of course, I’m not referring to stories where the romance is the primary plot, whether a romance is “too much” is up to individual reader preference, et cetera.)
Since the narrative is telling us the romance is so important, it might follow that it leads us to care more about the relationship drama than the external conflict even if the latter is the purported focus. Which might in turn lead us to care most about the love interest, above everything and everyone else in the book.
Or maybe I’m just overthinking.
- Do you agree or disagree with my premise?
- Who are some of your top book boyfriends? (I’m not judging you for having them, I have plenty of my own!)
- What are some of your favorite reads where the love interest doesn’t steal focus from the protagonist? Or reads where there is no love interest?