Romance in Fiction
One of the things that has been bugging me for a while is how romance is portrayed in media and right now I feel like talking about it. Now romance is a common fixture in our storytelling due our own base instincts to procreate. We literally live for it and cannot live without it. It is one of our commonalities that we share with everyone on the planet, the need to be with someone else. We can all recognise where it comes from so it’s understandable why it’s a rarity when it’s not used in any way.
So I’ll be looking at the things that annoy me whenever I see romance being depicted anywhere. From movies to TV shows, cartoons to Anime, comics and novels, they appear in them all in some manner. This isn’t a comprehensive list but the things that stand out to me as the most overused.
The big one, of course, is the “Will They/Won’t They” plot. Two characters meet and there’s sexual tension, but they can’t get together right away for whatever reason, so the story plays on the drama of if they will or won’t get together. Usually if it’s a TV show they do this by stretching it out so much that it’s impossible to care anymore. When it goes on for a season (let alone two or three) it’s frustrating to see this constant audience tease of nothing actually happening. It’s used a lot in ongoing media and as a way to stretch out any romance plot so the writers don’t have to write an actual relationship.
Next are the traditional “Rom-Com” hijinks. The massively over the top romantic gestures that would get someone arrested or just extremely creep out the person they’re trying to impress. These are one of the most annoying unrealistic versions of romance that gives us wish fulfilment on what we’d supposedly like romance to be. I can see the urge to overly romanticise things in writing, and have done so myself, but when looking back on it that romanticising just seems silly.
Another tradition of the “Rom-Com” that is used in a lot of other fiction is the idea that stalking equals love. The dark, brooding, mysterious man starts following the main girl around, knows more than is healthy about her, and does this because he “loves her” according to him. But enough about Angel and Buffy this trope comes into play far too often. Stalking isn’t love, its obsession, an entirely unhealthy obsession. Its non-consensual love and any sensible person would run away from someone who would stand over their bad watching them sleep. It’s a little creepy and disturbing how much this comes up at the moment. I’m not sure which I should be more worried for, the writer who thinks this is a good expression of love, or the audience who start thinking stalking isn’t something to call the police over.
Now one thing that’s bothered me for a long time now is what is not shown a lot of the time, and I just wish they’d just show a goddamn relationship. They have all these “Will They/Won’t They” stalking “Rom-Com” plots, but we hardly see an actual relationship just the build-up and the tease of one. I get the feeling some writers can’t write an actual relationship but they like the build-up to one. Joss Whedon especially loves this as he feels relationships are boring so in any of his shows he’ll have characters get together and then break them up a relatively short amount of time later. I don’t really get this logic as surely if you want to do a romance then the outcome of that is a relationship, well the positive one in any case. So why shy away from that? Other than the perceived notion of “things getting stale” and other such idiotic ideas I think for ongoing fiction, like novel series, TV shows, and comics, having a long term relationship is a fundamental change to the status quo as well as locking the characters together. Unlocking those characters and breaking them up requires some backbreaking plot twisting to make the status quo stay the same. As those characters now feel differently about each other so that should be reflected, which is the hard part. See Spider-Man: One More Day for a truly awful example of this idea that “the relationship is boring” and the “status quo must be maintained without changing characters” with Spider-Man literally selling his marriage to the Devil and now he and Mary Jane have never been married nor do they remember it. You know what that means for any new relationships with the character? That none of them can last or go anywhere because “that’s boring” so why should we invest any time or emotion in the romance if it will go no where. If you’re going to get rid of relationships due to boredom don’t do it in such a way that makes any other romance plots you want to do utterly pointless.
And finally the one thing I wish to see more in media, platonic friendships between males and females. The writing cliché that if a man and a woman are even slightly close to each other they must have some sort of romance is really annoying. I just want to see more friendships that don’t end in them having sex for no real reason or having the man only interesting in the woman because all men ever want is to get laid. I have close friendships with women I’m not sexually attracted to and I’m sure all the guys reading this do too. That needs to represented more often in fiction and show it’s not a bad thing to just be friends. Maybe once that happens the idea of a “friendzone” being a bad thing that stops men from getting sex will disappear. Probably not because men are idiots like that.
There’s a lot more I could talk about but these are just general thoughts on the general problems with romance we use in fiction. Maybe we’d have better expectations in real life if our fictional representations weren’t so stupid. The again maybe not.