In defense of Insta-love, or How long should it be before my MC’s can believably say “I Love you”…

In defense of Insta-Love or How long should it be before my MC’s can believably say “I Love you”…

…according to the readership?

Before I get started, I need to make a few things known. I believe in insta-love. My husband and I met some fourteen years ago online through the, then, only major Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game: Everquest. We spent VERY little time together before we knew we were in love. When compared to a couple of the couples in my books, less time than they did, in fact (Bathasar & Teman, I’m lookin’ at you).

Fourteen years later, we’re still together. We’ve had bumps, but nothing unusual for any married couple.

I’m also going to give another caveat. A sentence that has become a mantra to me. I have it printed out and taped to my monitor.


No matter what the readers expect, what other people thing or what the reviewers say, if you try to force something into a story that it doesn’t want, it will show. The story will not work as well. And, in some cases, may fall flat entirely. I’ve been blocked seven ways from Sunday when I tried to make a story work one way and it wanted to go another (Deception is a prime example of that. I hadn’t intended for it to end up polyamory. Nadir and Bathasar decided they fell in love and it would not work until I just gave in and did it).

Lastly, I believe, firmly, in the necessity of saying the words. I spent ten years married to someone who refused to talk to me (unless it was the news or some TV show and certainly NOT about feelings or problems). There’s a reason we’re divorced. The men in my story will fuck up and not say things they need to, but in the end, I like to teach them the importance of communication. So, it’s very likely going to show up, in some form, in every story I put out.

I’m stubborn like that.

Those caveats aside, however, I have to wonder. How soon is too soon for you, as a reader? For other authors? Is there some standard that you like to see? Some general guideline you prefer to go by?

I want to point out here that writing believable human relationship is hard. Partially because, I think, none of us are all that stellar at it. Some of us get it right and those are the things we draw on to make the endings work. Some of us… don’t. And those are the challenges I put my boys through.

But making things work and believably so is, in my not-so-humble opinion, very difficult to do.

I know I sound quite crazy when I talk about my characters. They live in my head. They have attitudes, wishes, hopes, and faults. They can be stubborn about what they want and how they want things to be. And they can be incredibly stupid about things (*coughPatrickcough*).  Sometimes, that’s blurting out those three little words before they mean to (Chance). Or not wanting to it to be true at all but are pretty damned helpless to keep it from happening (Teman).

I have, in fact, managed a story where they didn’t say it at all, and still I got called on insta-love. In Celebrating You, Daniel and Jake just meet. They have a meal together, play some chess and sleep together. And in there, they both realize that they could love the other person. Not that they do, but that they could. They say this, in their heads, to their dead husbands, but they never say it out loud to each other. Yet, it was still called insta-love.

So I’d like to know, what constitutes insta-love to you? And what would be “acceptable” time period for someone to fall in love?


  1. January 26, 2014    

    Hi Grace! Lovely post 🙂 I need to go on record here to say that there is no magic formula, no calculation by which one can say the time span is acceptable. (Lover A + Lover B x (initial meeting + last bad relationship end date – paranormal influences) does not equal time span)

    It’s all in how the story is presented. How the events, the characters, their thought processes are presented to the reader. I’m a huge believer in insta-lust. Heck, that’s what pick ups in bars are all about. Insta-love is a harder sell for me in fiction even though I know it happens all the time in real life. But that’s just it – it needs to be better crafted in fiction to be believable, in a strange bit of paradox. Make me BELIEVE and any time span is acceptable.

    • Grace Grace
      January 26, 2014    

      I think this, right here, is part of the problem. Jamie mentions it down in his comment. Despite it being a real thing, people can’t accept that. They want reality in some things but not in others. And for me, well, if I’m not writing how something really happens, it’s no longer reality to me, but now fantasy and, thus, not realistic.Because “insta-love” that’s drown out or built up… isn’t “insta-love”, it’s not “love at first sight.” But I think it’s like (I’m sorry, I can’t remember who) says farther down, people who’ve never experienced it, can’t really accept it as possible, even if they *know* it’s possible; they’re bringing their own experiences into the story.

      Yeah, paradoxical and a bit cyclical, but there it is.

      • January 27, 2014    

        the science suggests men fall in love faster, are faster to say the words, and faster to make the initial exclusive commitment. Yes, I know it’s counter-intuitive. But I think those expectations play a role in actually realistic scenarios being judged as insta-love.

        For the record, I’ve had insta-love. A heady wonderful and terrifying experience, because yes, it is absolutely possible to have insta-love with someone you are totally unsuited for a relationship with.

  2. January 26, 2014    

    I whole heartedly agree with your mantra…”Write the story that was meant to be written” As the writers we may have some ideas, but when giving ourselves over to the characters they do tend to make their own decisions, ones the readers don’t always agree on. Is insta love wrong… meh.. love doesn’t care about timing it also doesn’t vcare if we’re willing either. lol

    My personal preference is while the attraction might be instant, I do like to see them drag about or avoid it. I want to see resistance, issues and development. But, that doesn’t make me dislike a story if that isn’t the case.

    The one scenario that does turn me off though, is the met today, fucked that night and proposed marriage before the morning coffee. <=== a common arc in the erotica hot reads.

    Great blog topic by the way !!! <3

    • Grace Grace
      January 26, 2014    

      Hmm, well, my guys certainly don’t propose marriage before coffee! XD And, they all have something they get through. But I think my problem is that, even though there’s romance, the main couple falling in love isn’t always the central plot to the book. That, falling in love (even admitting it) is only ONE portion of their journey to get there. In fact, in all but my free short, that’s the case. And I think that, for me, that’s more interesting than just someone resisting falling in love. Resisting admitting it, yes, but not the actual “falling in love” part. Maybe I’ve always just fallen in love too easily. LOL

  3. January 26, 2014    

    Instant love is not only believable, it happens-all the time.

    I’ve had more than one reviewer make a comment about what they referred to as “insty love” but let me tell you, they’re full of bovine excreta.

    It can happen, and it happens. My partner and I have been together for eighteen years. A friend brought him over to my house one evening for a visit. He returned the next evening and never left.

    When readers/reviewers scoff at “insty love” what they’re really admitting is that they want a long drawn-out and possibly topsy-turvy romance with twists and turns. And that can happen in real live.

    To those readers and reviewers: “Don’t scoff at what you cannot possibly understand.”

    • Grace Grace
      January 26, 2014    

      Exactly! I think it’s just a lack of understanding. They’ve never experienced it themselves and, thus, have a hard time believing it. And I think you’re right, what they’re really looking for is (like Angel above says) just more conflict between the MCs before “I love you.” I just think there can still be a great story with lots of conflict after real “I love yous” are said.

  4. January 26, 2014    

    Up until about 2.5 years ago I scoffed at love-at-first-sight. Then it happened to me. No happy ending, but it still made me look at love in a different way.
    I think most of us feel love a lot earlier than we care to admit (especially to ourselves). In those first 9 months of a relationship, we tend to brim with love (vocalized or not): He’s perfect, he’s the one, I’ll never love another like I love him. It’s what romantic movies, books and songs are about.
    To me this is infatuation, not love, but our minds/bodies/hearts don’t understand the difference when it’s happening.
    In short, I think love can happen very quickly, even instantly. Saying “I love you” sometimes comes in the heat of the passion, but it doesn’t always mean “I love you”. It could just mean “You just gave me a level 3 orgasm”…

    • Grace Grace
      January 26, 2014    

      ROFL!! “Level 3 orgasm…”

      I can’t say I’ve ever said it for those reasons. And “infatuation” vs “love” has always been a fuzzy idea to me. I’ve never really been given a satisfactory (to me) explanation of the differences.

      I personally think that it’s all “love.” Love is a changing and growing thing that shifts as the relationship grows. In twelve years, I’ve never stopped looking at my husband and thinking, “I love you. I love you *so* much. I have no idea how I’d breathe without you.” And I thought something *very* similar the first time I saw him (in person).

      • January 26, 2014    

        “And “infatuation” vs “love” has always been a fuzzy idea to me. I’ve never really been given a satisfactory (to me) explanation of the differences.”

        I’m not sure there IS a difference, on an emotional level. If an “infatuation” continues for long enough, we say it’s “love.” “Infatuation” is “love” we don’t completely believe in yet.

  5. January 26, 2014    

    I knew Bobby was the one for me as soon as I saw him, but admittedly, I was sixteen, and you could reasonably call it a crush. We became friends and remained friends for two years while I watched him date girls who cheated on him and held my tongue. I knew if I ever told him I loved him that I’d scare him off. I got a job that required me to move. He realized that he missed me and came to visit. When we went out to dinner, he said he wanted it to be a date. When I finally told him I loved him, it was after he said it to me, and then I confessed that I’d loved him since I’d met him. He asked what took me so long. We’ve been married for 39 years.

    I think I’m trying to say that if you feel it, you should say it, no matter how early in the relationship it is. If you feel it, you should take the chance or you might miss out on years of happiness. So I guess I have to believe that love at first sight is possible, but I also believe that building a good relationship takes a long time. Sorry for the long story.

    • Grace Grace
      January 26, 2014    

      I agree, Connie! Don’t aplogize for the long reply. 🙂 I’m happy to get it!

      I think saying the words is very important. It’s way too easy to misread behavior, facial expressions, etc. And it won’t take long for the lack of verbal expression to lead to disaster. I’ve seen it too many times (and wrote about it in Deception).

      As for building it… yes. I said above that love changes and grows with a relationship. relationships are hard and take work. I think it’s one reason why I like to write about the “after” the “I love you” because I think that’s some of the more interesting parts of a relationship. Just because the words are said doesn’t mean the conflict is over.

  6. January 26, 2014    

    I had all this stuff floating around in my head as I read your post, but the short-and-sweet version is that some people are going to complain no matter what you write. Readers bring their own experiences and beliefs into every story, and those aren’t always going to mesh with yours (or those of your characters). That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re wrong, and it certainly doesn’t mean you are. It just means you’re different.

    Sick with your mantra: write the story that needs to be written. You can’t please everyone, so you might as well please yourself. 😉

    • Grace Grace
      January 26, 2014    

      Yes! And that is what I will go back to–write the story in my head. I think your comment about bringing their own experiences is the crux of it. For many, they can’t undersand the idea of insta-love because they’ve never experienced it and, thus, can’t find it believable in the story.

      But you’re right. If they accept the when of the “I love you,” then something else will be a problems. XD

  7. January 26, 2014    

    I really don’t have a problem with two (or more?) people realizing they’re in love after just a few days or a weekend together — or even a single night. Yes, I expect them to have some doubts, but it’s human nature (at least for a lot of us) to feel that connection and think, “This might be IT!”

    Saying “I love you” out loud may take a bit longer, because of those doubts. But it’s very common for people to say it as an automatic reflex after or during sex. In real life, that might be followed by some anxiety about whether we should have held back. Certainly, that’s happened to me. But when I experimented with that idea in a recent story, having it slip out and then the character wonder if he shouldn’t have said it, it fell flat with readers. This was clearly an instance where what might happen in real life violated an established romance genre formula — or perhaps I should say, one that has been emerging in recent years, as a reaction against the romance novels of a decade or so ago.

    So the real question isn’t what happens or can happen in real life. It’s what the popular formula is for the genre at this point in time, and determining that can be an exercise in frustration. Because it isn’t based upon real life. It’s a reaction against too many romance novels that readers found unsatisfying. The best analogy, I think, is to say that romance novels are like sex. Readers are growing tired of the novels that start quickly, don’t get very passionate, and are over before the reader is fully involved (hence the current disdain for short stories and novellas). They are demanding more foreplay, more passion, stronger climaxes, and a little cuddling when it’s over.

    • Grace Grace
      January 26, 2014    

      I’m reminded of another problem that comes with comments: people reviewing the book (story, whatever) they want to read instead of the book we’ve written. It’s why they complain about short stories –they wanted a novel. And this stems from the formula you mentioned–certain expectations about the story. Many readers go into a romance thinking they’ll absolutely get x, y, and z.And when that deviates, they freak out. (See my only editorial review for Deception. :/)

      And I think for a lot of us who already write in a niche market, formulas chafe. I know they do me. I looked into another publisher that a friend of mine wanted to recommend me to, but they have a list of do’s and don’ts for their stories that just… I wanted to reply and ask them if I should just write a dozen of the same story and just slap different names on them. Seriously.

      But these expectations are a big reason why some of the things we want to do in a story–write about the after-“I love you” instead of the before–end up falling short of the best seller list or top ratings. Because it’s not that formula.

  8. January 26, 2014    

    It’s been said before, but IMO, as long as it’s true to the characters anything goes. I believe in insta-love and I also believe two people can be together for years without ever saying “I love you.” I don’t have to have personally experienced something to buy it in fiction but some people do (which may be why Contemps outsell PNR?).

    If you’re not being dinged for insta-love, then maybe your stories will be labelled as HFN because nobody says those three little words or proposes after one night or moves into the other guy’s house. (Yeah, those last three are me.:D) Every story takes two to bring it alive–the writer and the reader–and unfortunately no reader will love every story.

    Cool thinky-post, Grace! 😀

    • Grace Grace
      January 26, 2014    

      And no story will capture every reader. I know. That’s why I remind myself of my mantra above and to write what *I’d* like to read. Because if I do, someone else does.

      I consider my stories (except for one: Celebrating You) as HEA. I believe that, from that point on (the end of the story), they will be together to the end. I don’t for one minute think it’ll be without its bumps. But I do believe that the relationship part will be strong enough for the long haul.

      Incidentally, in my head, not saying the words isn’t what makes CY a HFN, to me. It’s that they *aren’t* in love yet. They like each other, a lot. They are aware that they *could* fall in love–because they’re the kind of person, personality, everything that they are attracted to. But they’re NOT in love. So I see that as “potential” but not “HEA.”

      Thanks!! 😀

  9. January 26, 2014    

    I’m totally like you. I believe. I met my husband in a bar, of all places. We flirted one Friday night, We played pool the next Friday night, he came to my place the following Friday night to play cards and basically, never left. Sixteen years later, you guessed it. Still here.

    So how fast is too fast? You got me. I basically sum it up this way: Write the story that needs to be written. Oh. Wait. You already said that….lol!

  10. January 27, 2014    

    Great post, Grace. I so agree with your Write the story that must be written mantra. I say that more often than not. I’m noticing a “trend” in “reviews” and that is the reviewer trying to rewrite the book the way they want it. Offensive in the extreme as far as I’m concerned.

    We hear complaints about formulaic stories, then when something is different, they can’t take that either. They don’t get “what they expect,” and they rant about that.

    I have a theory and perhaps I’m off base, but here goes. E-book writers are so much more accessible than writers used to be and because of that, reviewers (some, not all) feel an obligation to take us to task for every little thing. Some reviews get personal (a recent one for Freedom in His Arms) and rather nasty.

    Everyone has their own experiences in their life. Cynics will not believe in love at first sight or perhaps they don’t believe in love at all. A recently divorced readers will be bitter or someone lonely might latch onto your characters and identify with them completely. For as many people in the world there are scenarios.

    A friend of mine says that if a reader doesn’t like your book, they aren’t your reader. One day I will embrace that concept and when I do, the bad reviews won’t hurt so much.

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