Blog, Bookish Life, Social Justice

Our Problematic Faves: Another Side to Romantic Tropes

Romance is my guilty pleasure. I’m a hopeless romantic and I love love. The tropes and formulas are so predictable, but they are addicting and keep us coming back for more.

We all know the plotlines and have our favorites. From enemies-to-lovers, to the fake relationship, no matter the story, these tropes lie at the heart of them all.

Now, I’m going to rain on your love parade and ask you – what if our faves are more problematic than they appear?

Here are some really popular romance tropes and why they’re great to read, but also why we shouldn’t always “ship” them.

Love triangles

I’m a sucker for a good love triangle. When I watch K-Dramas, I have what is known as “Second-Lead Syndrome”; I always fall for the guy that is obviously not the guy the show intends to have win in the end.

Let’s start off with the fact that someone has to “win” another person, and that ultimately there are two people in competition, whether they know it or not. Sometimes the person who is caught in the middle genuinely has feelings for both the other people, but oftentimes it’s someone who is framed as clearly superior.

And it’s never ok for the person in the middle to use, emotionally manipulate, or gaslight someone they are not actually in love with.

Fake relationships

Some of the best romances include the absolute healthiest fake relationships! They can be a great example of good communication and asserting and respecting boundaries (so they don’t catch feelings, ha!).

But is it really a healthy relationship if they are lying to everyone around them? Do the ends justify the means if someone is using another person to maintain their image or status or achieve a certain goal (like making someone else jealous)? 

So many times in these relationships, one person is coercing another person to be in this relationship. We need this relationship to include mutual benefits!

Enemies to lovers

The hottest, but most toxic of them all, in my opinion, is enemies to lovers. Our culture loves hate so much.

Yes, they might be enemies over minor inconveniences and miscommunication, but the way some of these enemies treat each other is the worst! The worse they treat each other in the beginning, the more powerful their love is in the end.

That’s not how love works! Healthy relationships are based on respect. Maybe it’s because I’m a Cancer and I hold grudges,but treating me with such ire and disrespect will never make me love someone back. 

We’re not those little kids on the playground picking on each other because we have a crush (which is an annoying side effect of gendered socialization anyway).

These are only a few tropes from romances, and this is not to say there aren’t plenty of healthy examples of these tropes. I’m also not saying that I only ingest and enjoy the healthy stuff.  I simply offer a different perspective here.  

Are these toxic tropes written by women a product of patriarchy or a side effect of patriarchy?

Tayler Simon is a nerdy black woman in search of liberation for all. When she's not reading/listening to audiobooks and writing, you can find her laughing at memes and chatting incessantly about astrology (Cancer/Sagittarius/Cancer). Favorite genres: African American fiction and memoir.


  1. Diana

    Ugh. The Korean in me cannot help but love love-triangles. Second lead syndrome is so real 😅

  2. Clare

    I completely agree with you on enemies to lovers. It just doesn’t sit right with me, and I think some of it is that I don’t know that I could trust a person who was so awful to me to treat me well later in the relationship. Any trope based on lies is hard for me to swallow, too. It’s amazing what we will put up with in books that we would *never* stand for in real life!

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