Thanks to young adult fiction, I may never find true happiness.
Sure, some people like to blame Disney for giving them a skewed life view when it comes to what to expect from relationships, but somehow I never found any of the princes to be all that charming. Attractive? Sure. But good-looking animated boys are a dime a dozen. I always knew that I wanted more than a pretty smile and a castle full of riches. Sorry, Prince Eric.
For me, the first fictional men that I would fall in love with would be in literature.
It happens all the time. For me, it’s always the same type -- the tragic, good-intentioned golden boy hero who is willing to sacrifice just about anything to help those around him. Harry Potter is a good example of my type, but as I was already almost 18 when I started reading about the awkward 11-year-old, I managed not to fall hopelessly in love with the boy wizard. Creeping on minors just isn’t my jam.
Well, not exactly my jam.
Enter Peeta Mellark. If you’re not familiar with "The Hunger Games" series -- wait, seriously? What is wrong with you? Do you hate awesome things? You must. You are obviously a hater of all things awesome.
I should probably try to alienate readers less.
Anyway, if you’re not familiar with "The Hunger Games," you should cancel your weekend plans and go buy the series immediately. I'd suggest borrowing them from the library, but with the movie coming out on March 23, I'd imagine that the wait lists are pretty intense.
The trilogy by Suzanne Collins is about a dystopian future version of our country -- now called Panem -- which, after centuries of exploitation, greed and war, has devolved into not a very nice place to live.
The population has shrunk considerably, and the remaining population is divided into 12 “districts” which are subject to the complete and utter domination of the Capitol, a small but powerful stronghold filled with futuristic technology and wealth.
As punishment for once trying to rebel against the Capitol, every year each district must send two young people (one male, one female) to participate in the Hunger Games, the ultimate hedonistic reality TV show. It's an all-out fight to the death among children -- called “tributes” -- until only one victor remains.
I know, right? But back to Peeta.
Peeta is the male tribute from District 12, and we meet him through the eyes of our narrator, a 16-year-old girl named Katniss. (If you find the notion of these futuristic names to be slightly ridiculous, I will remind you that "Renesmee" is apparently starting to catch on. Dystopia is closer than you think.)
Peeta does not immediately seem like the kind of character you would expect to fall in love with. The story is told through a fist-person narrative, and Katniss is understandably preoccupied with things like staying alive and being a total badass. She also has every right to be distrustful of Peeta, considering that only one person can make it out of the games alive.
But even still, Peeta manages to steal my heart. He's the perfect blend of charm and patience. Of loyalty and sacrifice.
[WARNING: if you really haven't read the books, the next few paragraphs do contain very slight spoilers. Honestly, go read the books. Don't be that person.]
We learn that Peeta has had a crush on Katniss for years, despite the fact that she only barely managed to notice the fact that he exists. While our narrator ruthlessly works on plans to save her own hide, Peeta talks of wanting to stay true to himself. Of accepting death, but not accepting the fact that he has to die the kind of death that the Capitol wants for him. For Peeta, life is about something more than simply staying alive.
Recently I've done (another) re-read of the series, and as usual, I got sucked into staying up until 2 am to finish every page. And even then, with my mind on the brink of exhaustion, I laid in bed feeling anxious and awake.
What is this feeling, I wondered? What is wrong with me?
My heart was aching for Peeta, I realized. My entire body felt emotionally anxious because of how much I loved his character.
Does that sound insane? Am I no better than the Twilight fangirls who camp out overnight for a simple glimpse of Robert Pattison's sparkling ivory skin? Have I ruined any possible remaining chances of ever getting a guy to propose to me by writing this article?
But here's the truth. As I lay there in my bed, filled with angst over a fictional 17-year-old boy (not-so-legal alert!) I wondered if I would ever find someone as good as Peeta.
The answer seemed to be an unequivocal “no.”
You have to admit, it's a little depressing. Not to mention unfair! The men I date shouldn't have to compete with a fictional character.
But some stubborn part of me just can't help but compare fantasy to my real life. It's a curse! And not a cool curse, the kind that gets cast on you at birth by an evil sorceress. Just a lame metaphorical curse. My life never seems to measure up to what I read about in books and comics -- and while we're on the subject, I'm still upset that my mutant superpowers haven't kicked in yet.
But that's the power of great storytelling. "The Hunger Games" aren’t the world’s most prestigious work of literature or anything, but Collins weaves a story packed with characters who wiggle their way into your heart. Which reminds me: Peeta's not the only great thing about the books.
In fact, I know that Peeta isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The other male character in Katniss’s life, Gale, is featured prominently on several of the Hunger Games advertisements, and I know some prefer Gale’s beefy manliness. To them I say: Peeta knows how to frost cakes. How can you choose anything over cake?
To be clear, "The Hunger Games" is not about romance or love triangles. There are aspects of those things, yes. But the main focus is on action and rebellion. It’s about what happens when a totalitarian government exerts total control and its citizens value entertainment over substance -- and the sacrifices that rebellion against these things requires. Rest assured, this isn't a love story.
And as much as I adored Peeta, I didn't even care so much as to whether or not he ended up in a relationship with Katniss. Mostly I wanted him all for myself.
Have you ever fallen in love with a fictional character, or is this a problem ? Let me know in the comments; I’ve always sort of wanted a good reason to go to therapy.