The Fault in Our Stars and the Romance of the Teen Cancer Love Story

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I’m 80% sure I’m never going to fall in love again. I mean, at least 75% sure. It’s a pain and a lot of crying and smoking cigarettes when it ends. Because it always ends. Some people (liars) will tell you that it always ends until it doesn’t but the truth is, it always ends. Even if you are the happiest, most perfect, picket fence couple (or triad, no judgment), someone’s got to die. I mean, EVERYONE’s got to die.

Which brings us to the romance of attractive teens dying of cancer. Last night I had the chance to see a sneak preview of The Fault in Our Stars, a top-level Book-to-Movie-Teen-Cancer-Romance, and it completely reenforced my current stance on love: don’t do it. Love nothing. Be an island, be a mountain, stay away from feelings. Unless you want a headache, which I mean literally. TFIOS (as superfans call it) is such a tear-jerker that it needs a new word. It’s not a tear-jerker, it’s a chainsaw-your-chest-opener. It’s a cry-until-your-sobbing-and-you-can’t-breath-and-you-can-tell-by-the-sounds-around-you-nobody-else-can-either-er. I cried so much I really did leave with a headache, the kind you get when your heart is broken, after you’ve cried straight into your pillow for two hours, two days, two months. In this way, it is crying porn–it evokes a physical reaction that is outwardly exactly the same as a physical reaction you get when you love somebody, but it is (thankfully) a hologram copy of real feeling that disappears when the movie is over. Sex porn is a hologram of the fun part of a relationship. TFIOS is a hologram of the hell part.

It isn’t hard to figure out why Attractive Teens in Love Dying of Cancer is such a popular genre. A. The idealized Hollywood teenager is a mix of everything that we all wish we still were but will never be again and probably never were in the first place: thin, hopeful and unspoiled by bad sexual experiences, cruelty and tragedy. In reality all teenagers are a mess. They look weird, have bad skin and know basically nothing about anything. I imagine the one’s with cancer are even more of a mess because they get all of the above PLUS CANCER. And B. Everyone, at least at some point, wishes they had quit while they were ahead. I personally remember a surprise party my friends all threw for me when I was 16 and about to leave as an exchange student for a year. I remember cupcakes and a perfect wild dusk feeling while the sun set and I remember everyone loving me so much. That would have been a romantic time to die, certainly. But, like a lot of us, I did not die then or on any of the many other nights and weekends and mornings and lunch breaks where I felt every single thing in the universe was humming together and I was perfect and that boy was perfect and blah blah everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

What I am saying is when I was watching TFIOS, I couldn’t figure out if I was sad I would never feel anything so acutely as that again or if I was really, super fucking glad I wouldn’t feel anything so acutely as that again. Ultimately, I think that is why this movie works, both as crying porn and a pretty okay movie–it’s why the whole Attractive Teen Cancer genre kind of works maybe–because it’s actually right on, it just ends before things get uncomfortable. When I was 18, I was in love. I looked great, the boy looked great, we made out everywhere we could and it was a dream. For eight months. Then it turned horrible and the horrible part, as well as the growing up part, the healing part, the forgiveness part, that lasted for three more years or maybe it’s still going on. That part is hard to put in movies. When teens get to die of cancer in movies, it’s quick and they get to stay pretty up until the last minute and then all there is is to let go. In real life, we all have to die, all relationships have to end, and almost no one accepts either of these things with serenity or style of any kind. I’ve seen old people struggle to hold on for one more minute. I’ve seen people who hate each other stay married for 20 years. Cancer Teens don’t have to suffer these indignities. They get to leave the party first, sober and cool without saying one inappropriate thing, their clothes still on, not having set off fireworks in the house.

I am, I would say, a solid 70% sure I won’t fall in love again. But if say we get multiple lives or something, I would like one of mine to be an Attractive Cancer Teen life. I want to feel the sublime true love that lasts a couple months and ends in tragedy, just once. After that, please bring me back as a tree.

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