Let me start off by saying this is, largely, directed at fanfiction writers, but also for new romance writers. Now, I am not an expert on romance; I have yet to be in a serious relationship, or to write one. However, this is something that has been bugging me for a long time, so I’m just going to say it:
Every single character the main character’s age is not automatically a romantic interest.
Why? Think about it this way: you probably see a lot of people at school, right? Or work, if you’re older than that. Are you attracted to every single one, or do you have a type? Well, that’s funny, because every character has a type too. I’m sure there are rare exceptions of ‘will-sleep-with-anything-that-moves’ but for the most part, everyone has a more specific set of characteristics they’re looking for, whether they realize it or not.
Also, there are different kinds of attraction. Take it from my asexual friend, you can notice someone is attractive but still not want to sleep with them. You can have a connection with someone and not feel romantic towards them. For example, I have a connection with my best friend Nico. I think she’s pretty and awesome and we can spend hours talking. Do I want a romantic relationship with Nico? That would pretty much disgust me, not just because I’m not a lesbian, but because she’s like my sister and I could never think of her that way.
The same goes for my brother and one of his good female friends. They joke and talk for hours and game together, but he would never make a move on her. It’s not only because he’s a good guy who intends to go into the priesthood, but because they’re buddies, not romantic interests. Guys and girls can be friends without having benefits.
I understand that maybe your characters are in a hypersexualized, morally murky environment, but even then, people have taste for one type of person or another. Even if they’re pansexual, there are going to be types of people they avoid. Maybe they’ll sleep with people to gain something, but sex does not equal love or romance.
It’s important to keep in mind that there are different types of love, from brotherly-sisterly to friendship to parental to romantic. People all fit into your life in a different way; it’s the same with your characters.
In short, if you’re going to write a romance, a couple or even three love interests at a time is fine, but not everyone who falls into the same age category as the main character. Try to discriminate by the character’s personality who they would go for and who they would not, or if they would even go after anyone.
And have fun. Romance can be a really interesting topic to explore. <3