One of the criticisms often thrown at the Romance genre is that it portrays “instalove.” In other words, the characters fall in love too fast, too easily. Instalove can be a whole plot—see fated mates. It can be a writing mistake—a lack of tension or internal stakes. But it can also be an unjust accusation. Sometimes critics cry instalove when what they really mean is instalust or NRE.
NRE stands for New Relationship Energy, and it describes that head-over-heels, you’re-the-most-important-thing-in-the-world feeling that I imagine many of us are familiar with. NRE doesn’t have the depth and commitment of love. In some ways, it’s the antithesis of love. If a couple is going to last, they need to make the transition from NRE, where spending every minute cooing and billing seems like a reasonable option, to a more mundane, everyday existence. But in other ways, it’s what we imagine love to be—all-consuming, all-important, and certain.
I was introduced to the term NRE by the poly community. For monogamous couples, NRE plays an important biological role in bonding. We’re too besotted with our new partner to notice their flaws until we’re good and stuck with them. But in open poly arrangements, NRE can be a mine field—relegating existing relationships to the back burner while the sparks fly high in the new one. By the time NRE has died out in the new relationship, the previous relationship may have died from neglect. Which is why NRE is a topic openly discussed in the poly community. Someone entering into a new relationship has to be careful not to starve out their old one, and their existing partners need to have patience, realizing the NRE is temporary.
But poly or not, NRE is common, and so is instalust. Some people are demisexual or asexual, but allosexuals often have an immediate interest in getting naked with an attractive person of the right gender, whether acted on or only fantasized about. Instalust isn’t a plot hole, nor is it unlikely that instalust could lead to a period of NRE. And although fated mates aren’t a real thing, they’re a valid plot device in an omegaverse world. Authors still have to keep some kind of tension in the relationship, whether through external factors trying to pull the couple apart or internal factors that seem likely to doom the relationship before it can transition to a real HEA, but none of that is instalove.
I try to show NRE becoming something more solid in my books—how the characters go from sexual attraction to obsession to a committed relationship built on trust and shared goals—but I don’t write a lot of slow burn. For the most part, my guys jump into bed with each other pretty darn fast. Maybe because I always did that myself! I’m hugely susceptible to NRE, and there are definitely a few times I got burned by it.
How about you? Where do you fall on the instalove/NRE scale, and what do you like to see in a story?