Does romance need an “I love you”?

A look at six LGBTQI books and three words.

[This post includes vague spoilers for a number of novels: Idlewild by Jude Sierra, Fenced in Felix by Cheyenne Blue, The Better to Kiss You With by Michelle Osgood, Lynn Charles’ new novel Beneath the Stars and my novels Into the Blue and Storm Season. But the spoilers are only for the fact that in a romance novel the main characters fall in love]

In real life I say, “I love you,” a fair amount. It’s not much of a mystery to me. Love is love whether of a partner, a friend, a child, whether all-encompassing or more fleeting, and I might not have learned to be a cuddler but I am undoubtedly in love with people.

My real life first “I love you” scenes have often been casual, sitting on a stoop, in a bar with a loud band, as I leave for work, in bed.

I am intrigued by the conversation about whether the “I love you” scene is essential to a romance novel. For me that scene is essential to some stories, stories where admissions of love are hard, stories where people are unsure of that love. It’s enjoyable in all stories, because it requires vulnerability, it’s hard to do, it means something. There’s a stillness and a fragility to an “I love you”. But in fiction where every scene must be essential, is that scene always needed?

I have two romance novels out there in the world. So far they’re 50/50 on the “I love you” scene front.

My stories

ITB

Tai and Ollie in Into the Blue are best friends, they love one another from the beginning. They also tend to be pretty straightforward with one another; they express themselves rarely and with simple words. So saying the actual words “I love you” was important. I needed them to claim the way their relationship was changing, even though it looked a lot the same.

storm-season

In Storm Season, Claudie and Lien meet and have an electric connection. They blunder through iterations of their relationship and demonstrate their love to one another in music and writing and action. I didn’t set out to avoid the “I love you”, but the women are wordy and complicated. Lien says “I love you” to her friends more than she says it to Claudie. That’s probably part of the reason their “I love you,” scene is more about the choices they’re making and the songs they’re writing, more subtle. They talk about love, but never in those words.

I think I could have written an I love you scene, but I couldn’t find a way for it to be necessary.

Other people’s stories

So then I pulled out a few romance novels I had lying around. All of them had “I love you” scenes.

idlewildIdlewild by Jude Sierra is a thoughtful and lovely rebuilding of a restaurant and two lives. The characters are complicated and their hearts are wary. The “I love you” is repeated, is caught up and examined by the characters, is explained and important.

felixFenced in Felix by Cheyenne Blue is a human and earthy romance about real women living with the dust and loneliness of the Australian outback. The “I love you” is a realisation for them but it’s not enough, it’s trust and promises for a future that these women need.

kissMichelle Osgood’s The Better to Kiss You With is light and feisty and full of human (and werewolf) reality and the “I love you” between its leads is similarly delightful: funny and fiery.

btsAnd in Beneath the Stars, Lynn Charles’ gorgeous romance of small towns and long legacies, the “I love you” scenes are caught up in families, in fathers and sons and lost mothers, in the people who might make love harder but also make it better.

So maybe an “I love you” scene is more needed than not. There’s so much variety, it’s not always swelling music and a perfect moment. But it all adds to the story and the characters and brings into focus the way that they love.

I guess I’ll try and write one next time. But maybe, like in Storm season the characters won’t let me.

What do you think? Is an “I love you” scene needed in romance?

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