Is This Love? (TCWT)

Is This Love? (TCWT)

I actually remembered about my Teens Can Write Too! post this month, although that isn’t saying much. (It seems like hardly any time since my last one, which I suppose it is.) I spent quite a lot of yesterday thinking about how I would fill the prompt, and realised it’s a very difficult one for me to tackle. This month we’re being asked to write a letter to a fictional couple, so I’ve been wondering who to write about.

Then I started reading The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters and I decided to write my letter to Lilian and Frances, taking into account the fact I’m not quite halfway through this book. This letter is from the POV of somebody who is on page 215 of a pretty long book, not somebody who knows how it works out in the end. So I don’t know what’s going to happen to them, and I think that makes it more interesting.

PayingGuest_D-2Dear Lilian and Frances,

As I write you’ve acknowledged and acted upon your attraction to each other in a moment of passion while Frances’ mother and Lilian’s husband were asleep. I’m glad about this — that is to say, I’m glad you were able to recognise this in yourselves and to explore what you’re feeling.

But I have a few problems with how you’re approaching this relationship. And Frances, I guess this is aimed at you a bit more than Lilian, because I know what you’re thinking and feeling, whereas Lilian I have to guess.

I realise you’re existing in a time period where there isn’t exactly a lot of discourse about relationships, particularly non-traditional ones. You can’t just go onto and read advice about how to make things work, and as a result you’re probably working with incomplete information. But you — well. I don’t entirely know how to phrase this.

You see, I do think you care about each other, I do. But at the same time, you’ve had only the slightest hints of friendship compared to what is clearly physical attraction, and it’s the latter that you’ve been acting on. Your feelings don’t actually seem to have developed, just your desires. And that’s where my problem is. You may say you’ve fallen in love, but to me, it looks a lot more like lust.

More than once, Frances, you’ve admitted to not even particularly liking Lilian when those feelings are waning.

It’s true that I’m not the expert on love. I don’t understand exactly what the difference between friendship and romance is when you take away the physical side of things. The world packages romance as friends + kissing and holding hands and cuddling, but what if you’re not interested in kissing? So I suppose I’m not one to give advice.

But the fact is that what I’m seeing here is lust. Just purely sexual attraction. And that’s okay! You’re allowed to act on that. Well, I mean, technically you’re not because Lilian is married, but you don’t have to have romance to have sex if that’s what you want. You probably don’t know this as such, or not in as many words, but that’s okay.

My issue is that you seem to think you’re in love. Are you, Frances? Or is this just desire? And what about Lilian? Lil, I have no idea what you’re thinking. I know you’re confused and this is all new to you; I think perhaps you’re not sure on love given your somewhat negative experiences with your husband. Maybe, somewhere, there’s love. Maybe there is.

I’m not judging your relationship. Just the words you’re using to define it. And what right do I have to do that? I guess you know best what you’re feeling, and are the best qualified to put it into words, especially compared to me. I don’t even understand romance, so I certainly can’t give advice on it. Maybe I should never have written this letter.

I suppose I want you to think about how you’re approaching this, and whether you know the difference between mutual attraction and love. There is a difference, you know. A very clear difference. I’m just not sure you’ve grasped it yet.

But then, I’m less than half of the way through your story. You have about three hundred pages more of character and relationship development before the end, and I have no idea what’s still to come, so perhaps I should withhold my opinions until I know what you’re doing.

Maybe that’d be best for all of us, don’t you think?


A Reader

Here’s the rest of the chain:

and (We’ll announce the topic for next month’s chain.)

5 thoughts on “Is This Love? (TCWT)

  1. This was interesting! I think you’re the first in the blog chain to make a critique about fictional relationships. Relationships like these bother me – when you apparently don’t like someone very much but are head over heels in love anyway and happily skip off into physical territory. Or, more of what you said – the relationships don’t actually bother me, but them being labeled as ‘love’ do. Very spot-on! Good job!

    1. It’s something I’m always going on about, to be honest — there are very few fictional relationships that I’m completely happy with. I don’t easily get invested in romance, so they have to be really believable for me to care — and I have high standards of believability.

  2. I’m gonna sneak this in… I’m starting a writing blog chain from my blog and am going to have a video chat with a bunch of interested people for some Q and A May 17 at 2:30 Eastern time. Would you be able to share with your subscribers? Its going to be hosted here: and this pin covers all the details:

    I know a mention is a lot to ask, but I would love to reach as many people as possible and your channel seems to be connecting spectacularly with this teenage audience.

    Leave me a comment either way at my blog:

  3. I kind of feel like anybody who has even been written in fiction doesn’t know what the first thing about love is. I think it’s interesting that you take that perspective to realize that hey—if you’re going to do what you’re going to do, okay, but don’t call it something it’s not. There’s a lot of fuzzy lines in relationships and romances, but even so, I guess I kind of like it when characters have an accountability to their readers to not have ridiculous perceptions of romance that don’t work and aren’t true (read as: pretty much every YA novel ever).

    I like the take you took! You’ll have to update us on how the story ends.

    1. The story became very dramatic and turned into murder and a court case and all sorts of things, which was a little unexpected. But I don’t think it really changed my perspective from what I wrote here.

      I wish characters were more self-aware about their relationships, definitely.

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