Blog, Bookish Life

Toxic or Titillating: The Romance Tropes


romance tropes - hand holding a red glitter heart ornament

Does anyone else devour romance novels like you devour a bag of chips, or is it just me?

Over the past year, I’ve found myself gravitating more toward the romance genre rather than my beloved psychological thrillers. I chalk this up to the stressors of the world being so overwhelming, I no longer want to read about how a dysfunctional family killed each other off one by one (it has nothing to do with the fact that I come from a dysfunctional family and that my fictional boyfriends are dreamier than the men I find on Bumble). I believe that romance authors have provided us with an ideal escape from our reality. Now, we can imagine ourselves as the main character in our own (fictional) rom-com.

However, and this is a big however, nothing is more frustrating than a poorly chosen romance trope ruining an almost perfect romance.

Granted, there is no such thing as the “perfect romance.” And this doesn’t negate the fact that I like my fictional love stories having a happily ever after.

I would just prefer that the main character does not accept or tolerate toxic behaviors in their partners.

The Issue

Here’s where the miscommunication and power dynamic tropes come in. Authors and publicists romanticize these tropes when they should really be avoiding them, or tweaking their premise. Miscommunication and off-balance power dynamics in relationships are harmful to each partner’s mental and emotional well-being.

The Miscommunication Romance Trope

A miscommunication trope occurs when there is a breakdown in communication between the main characters (MCs), a.k.a. the love interests. This breakdown typically happens because the two characters decide to either not talk to each other after a tumultuous event or purposefully omit important information to keep their partner in the dark. Sometimes, the miscommunication also comes from assumptions the MCs make about their partner’s feelings and/or personal history. When this miscommunication arises, instead of initiating a conversation, one of the characters calls quits on the relationship.

One book that incorporates the miscommunication trope is The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren. I’m a huge Christina Lauren fan. The Unhoneymooners is one of my favorite books and I cannot wait for the movie. But the love story in The Soulmate Equation was ruined for me due to miscommunication. The male MC, River, decided to end all forms of communication with the female MC, Jess, for a WEEK after something significant happened to their relationship, all without telling her why.

A normal reaction to your partner ignoring you for a week, especially if your relationship is somewhat new, would be to assume your partner was thinking about ending the relationship. This is the conclusion Jess came to after being ghosted by River.

Nevertheless, the week went by and River swept back into the picture. River reassured Jess that he would never leave her and that she is the only woman for him. How could she possibly think he would want to leave her? He explained to Jess that he just needed some space to sort things out in order to make his own, well-informed decisions about the relationship. Okay… but it seems like a week-long break is something you should at least give your partner a heads-up on.

The issue is not that River needed some space. The issue here is that River did not communicate this need to Jess. Then, when Jess voiced her concerns, River dismissed them and essentially told her she was insane for thinking the way she did. This type of communication, or lack thereof, is harmful to the well-being of any relationship. Partners who validate each others’ emotions and concerns in a constructive way can build emotional intimacy.

Positive communication is important in order to build a strong relationship rooted in trust and openness. Miscommunication in relationships should not be romanticized because it can lead individuals to believe that poor communication is acceptable and should be tolerated.

The Power Dynamic Romance Trope

The power dynamic trope is another popular storyline in romance books, typically seen in an enemies-to-lovers or age-gap romance. The power dynamic occurs when one partner has more power in the relationship. Or it comes from a situation where one partner exhibits more control outside of the relationship. This control can then influence the behavior of their partner inside the relationship. Examples of power dynamic relationships are employee-boss and professor-student relationships.

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood was first published in 2021 and is still taking the book world by storm. As spot-on as this Rey-Kylo Ren fanfic is, the story is heavily tainted by Title IX jokes and an unethical relationship. In this book, Olive is a Ph.D. candidate studying biomarkers for pancreatic cancer. Olive begins a fake relationship with Adam, one of the professors in her department, so her friend will butt out of her dating life. Adam takes advantage of this opportunity to show the school he’s making roots.

I went into this book with high expectations, but the way the romantic relationship is portrayed left me feeling icky. One reason for this is because of the ethical dilemmas surrounding student-teacher relationships. The influence a professor has on their student’s success feels exploitive of the student in the relationship.

Additionally, what was supposed to be the comedic side to this rom-com fell flat. Some of the “romance” scenes and inside jokes seemed to make light of sexual assault and Title IX. There is a complete disregard for the severity of Olive’s non-consensual kissing of Adam in their place of work, and the Title IX jokes sprinkled throughout the book made it challenging to finish. Furthermore, the ethical dilemma of a professor dating a student within their department adds another problematic layer to The Love Hypothesis.

So What?

The Soulmate Equation and The Love Hypothesis are both popular books within the romance community. Romance novels are entertaining and published for our reading pleasure. The miscommunication and power dynamic tropes are popular and deliver on portraying certain romantic fantasies. However, it is essential to be armed mentally and emotionally before reading these types of books. Knowing the problematic nature of these romance tropes and understanding the importance of healthy communication, boundaries, and signs of manipulation will allow you to avoid the toxic pitfalls that are romanticized within the pages.

Poor communication/miscommunication and certain power dynamic imbalances can harm your mental and emotional well-being. Romance novels will continue to let us vicariously live out our rom-com dreams. However, we’ll leave the acceptance of toxic behaviors in our partners at the literary doorstep.

Florida born and raised. Jordy began her professional career as an officer in the Coast Guard but has recently transitioned into the civilian world. When she is not obsessing over her fur babies, you can find her at the beach reading or staying up late to embroider while watching the latest true crime docuseries.

Comments:

  1. Becky

    As a long-time reader of romance I am with you. The miscommunication trope is so frustrating, I have stopped reading certain authors because of it. There’s a good amount of this in historical romance novels as well and I’ve become pretty adapt at DNF’ing when I see things going that way. “Oh you’re not going to talk to each other? No thanks!”

    I enjoyed The Love Hypothesis but definitely see where things got a little gray. What fell flat in the story for me were all the interactions where the best friend was involved – all felt way too forced and innuendo making just for the sake of it instead of adding anything of value to the story.

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