In The Hunger Games, one of the main plotlines is, to put it in the simplest way possible, a love triangle. I remember being on Twitter prior to the release of the last book, and people couldn’t stop posting about whether they were Team Peeta or Team Gale as they waited for the author’s reveal. And now, now that we’re only a few months away from the release of the movie based on the first book, people discuss the three leads’ looks as much (if not more) than they do their acting abilities.
But I don’t think Suzanne Collins intended her books to be love stories. Katniss is far too concerned with other things to want to deal with choosing a boyfriend. I get a strong sense from her that she could live easily without either male (if “easy” is a word that can accurately be applied to the life of the Mockingjay), and that’s why it cuts Katniss so much when, in the third book, Gale says that she’ll pick the man she can’t live without. As if it’s about need. As if this type of romantic love is just as essential to survival as eating, breathing.
I’m beginning to get to that age where many people say it’s time to be thinking about starting a family, settling down. What people mean when they say this is that it’s time I found a man. Five or so years ago, I would have agreed. Back then I was stuck on that ever-pervasive idea that a woman’s worth is measured by the man or men who have interest in her. But like Katniss, I know better—or at least I do now. So many stories focus on love as the main plot (or at least one of the main plots). This is especially true when stories are aimed at girls or women. In many ways, I fall victim to this easy story myself, though I’m much more interested in the stories where relationships fall apart, where people just miss each other, where people are together but oh-so-wrong for each other.
Young girls—and even older women—need stories that speak of other things. Even in a trilogy like The Hunger Games, where the love story takes a back seat to much more engaging and important questions (of survival, of human nature, of our capacity for evil and destruction, of picking ourselves back up again and again, etc.,) however, the question of romantic love is too often the one we find ourselves focusing on. (Point: I was on a blog the other day where Hunger Games fans were asked what one question they would ask Katniss if given the chance, and a huge number asked questions about one or both of the boys in the story. In her own first-person narrative, her own character and her own story have come secondary to that of her potential loves.)
A few days ago, I happened to run into an old acquaintance who was in town for the holidays and who had brought his significant other with him. I remember those days of splitting the holidays, of one meal here, a long drive, then more holiday cheer, food, and gifts. I always felt bad that I had to work to be gracious, because while I really enjoyed spending time with my then-boyfriend’s family, I hurt for the time I missed with my own. There’s love for you, but of a different sort.
There’s not much point to that story, I suppose, except to note how pervasive the idea of “the other half” has become in our culture. I don’t like the idea (implied or otherwise) that I need someone else to make me the best I can be, that by myself I am only a part of something that could be much larger. That sharing a bathroom sink and a dresser means love means ultimate achievement means the thing that should be striven for.
In the end, Katniss does get married, but it’s not a love story. She makes a choice, but she doesn’t make it out of some fluttery feeling in her stomach. It’s about hard work, and shared experience, and companionship. It’s when she’s ready, and there’s no sense that she would be lessened in any way had she never been ready. The story, in the end, is about her, and not about her+Peeta or her+Gale. It’s about her strength, fear, survival, experience, growth. It’s about her humanity, and, whether fiction of not, that should be enough for anyone.