Modernity meets historical fiction - and sometimes elevates it. al - and sometimes elevates it.
Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t actually enjoy bursting a romantic bubble. However, since I have a bone to pick with the collective human psyche, I’m about to take that risk: we need better romantic plots. There. I said it.
There are plenty of interesting romantic leads out there for sure, as well as intriguing premises for captivating love stories, and yet it turns out that many of our heroes are rather like us: as soon as they meet someone that makes their knees rattle like maracas, their brain takes a plunge into their stomach, and it’s self-destruction and abusive decisions from there on. Don’t get me wrong: I love when literature puts a mirror to its audience, but the dreamer in me can’t help but full-body twitch whenever she gets emotionally attached to a set of characters and, not only do they dive head-first down a spiral of dysfunctionality, but they END UP TOGETHER. Cue twitching. Cue drowning my sorrows in Earl Grey.
Surely we can separate a good story with a bad relationship from a good relationship in a nice story (critically acclaimed or not is irrelevant), right? In the spirit of raising our standards and debunking the myth of what true love looks like, here’s a handy dandy rundown of what not to look for in a relationship (provided you want a healthy one), as exemplified by some of our more popular romantic heroes:
- Romeo and Juliet (Romeo and Juliet)
Let’s go through the facts: Romeo is sixteen years old and Juliet is thirteen, and in the span of four days, they declare their undying love for each other, get married in secret, have sex at Juliet’s parents’ house, and commit suicide one after the other because of poor communication. Maybe have dinner first?
- Tristan and Iseult (The Romance of Tristan and Iseult)
A first cousin of Romeo and Juliet, this is the tale of a young Irish queen and a Cornish knight who would have hated each other, had they not accidentally drank a potion that made them fall in love with one another forever. Before their fateful drink, Tristan has killed Iseult’s father and bargained for Iseult’s hand in marriage to his benefactor King Mark (hurray for patriarchal weirdness). Iseult (known as “Isolde” in some versions of this tale), in turn, has plotted Tristan’s death, from poison to stabbing him in a bathtub, and beaten herself up for not letting him die of blood loss and foreign wound infection when she had the chance.
- Noah and Allie (The Notebook)
Noah and Allie are an on-and-off couple that is always fighting and is never actually together. Allie is so bent under the pressure of society, that instead of owning up to her love for Noah, she instead strings him along for a decade or two, depriving herself of fulfillment and Noah of a committed partner. They get married. Don’t do codependency, kids.
- Tita and Pedro (Like Water for Chocolate)
Upon having his request for Tita’s hand in marriage rejected by Tita’s mother, Pedro goes ahead and does what any stable-minded, devoted partner would do: he marries Tita’s sister in order to be close to Tita. If you found that unrelatable, I’m proud of you.
- Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey (Fifty Shades of Grey)
This is not a story about a couple who is into BDSM; this is a story about a controlling, possessive, wildly narcissistic rich dude and a young woman with no boundaries whatsoever, who happen to have kinky sex. Wake up and smell the enabling, Ana.
- Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger (Harry Potter series) I had to end on a controversial note. Even J.K Rowling (unsettling as her opinions are lately) has spoken about the incompatibility of Ron and Hermione, and the truth is that these two would have never made each other happy. Ron is in the habit of ridiculing Hermione: he consistently dismisses her by calling her “mad,” “scary,” and a “lunatic;” he takes her for granted, makes no romantic moves whatsoever when their famous crush begins to bubble, and then bullies her when, instead of sitting around and waiting in vain for him to show interest (and ready to once again write his essays for him), she goes ahead and dates Viktor Krum. Hermione, in turn, is in the habit of talking down to Ron, belittling his intelligence and contributions to the group. She chronically keeps her budding romantic feelings to herself and later on projectile-launches magic birds in Ron’s direction when he starts dating Lavender Brown.
I’m aware that now I owe the constructive version of this list: couples in literature who could teach us a lesson on problem-solving in relationships. I will compile that list as soon as I have put together a meaty-enough one. In the meantime, I will continue to scour the bookverse with some hope and plenty of Earl Grey.
Feature image via Bookstr