If the timing could have been worked out, I would do a post on Valentine’s Day itself to talk about romantic tropes that I enjoy in fiction, both in reading and writing. But I’m trying to keep this blog on a regular Sunday schedule for my own sake more than anything else, and the belated date day my partner and I had set up had to be postponed due to an interview. Certainly we COULD still go on the 14th itself, but we’re old ladies who don’t like dealing with the throngs that are certainly going to be present.
And since Valentine’s Day falls on Wednesday this year, right smack dab in the middle of the week, if I wanted to talk about romantic tropes (spoilers: I do), doing it the Sunday before or the Sunday after doesn’t change things up much.
So since next Sunday I’ll probably be a decompressing mess after my interview, now’s a good time. I’m absolutely not going to cover everything here; I (like most people, probably?) have a lot that I enjoy to varying degrees, and what I remember immediately isn’t really indicative of favoritism or lack thereof. There’ve been plenty of times where I try to make a list, only to come back later — as soon as minutes, as late as months — to be like oh! Why didn’t I remember [x]?! Jeeze!
Therefore I’ll just stick with three. Again, not necessarily my top three, but three that I could talk about, and three that have come to mind while I’m writing this post.
1. Loyalty(/dedication), sometimes to the point of obsession.
This is one of those things that I always feel I have to caveat — of course in real life, between actual people in a relationship, while loyalty is important, there is a certain point where it goes too far. I have had friends stuck in relationships where there’s too much blind acceptance going on, where everyone BUT the person involved can see how toxic the situation has become, and yet that person refuses to hear anything wrong about their partner. As far as a thing that happens to real people, this is one that I’d take with a grain of salt.
But in fiction, where there is the freedom to explore and dig in deep without hurting real people*, I love it. My favorite characters tend to be the ones who are faithful — devoted — sometimes to the point of their own personal detriment. These are the people who wholeheartedly commit themselves to a person, ideal, or position. Maybe they suffer for it, and certainly some of them are punished for it, but ultimately (because we ARE talking about this in a romantic context), they are rewarded.
(* Of course, I also feel I should disclaim that I know sometimes fiction can hurt people. Maybe it’s intentional; maybe it’s not. But I would still argue that overall, fiction is meant to be exploratory, not weaponized. That’s something to discuss another day.)
I like characters who are intensely, incredibly in love with something or someone. It’s one of those things that I can point to in a variety of media and say yes, this character, that’s one I like.
2. Mutual understanding
This one is surely straightforward enough, though — to tie it into point #1 — I do like it when the audience isn’t immediately aware of this, either. And again, there is a fine line between a relationship where it’s mutually destructive and unhealthy and disastrous, and a relationship where the people involved understand each other and don’t need to justify that connection to others… even if “others” in this case is the audience.
Obviously this works better if the balance between the characters is made more apparent in the text. It doesn’t need to be blatantly spelled out, but if the context clues are there, such that a reader (or viewer; I’m not limiting to just written media here) can pick up and put together. Maybe the ice-cold closed-off director treats everyone with apparent disdain, but always checks on his right-hand man first in times of trouble, to make sure he’s okay — or he relaxes some of his posture around this person, even if only a little, in private.
And yeah, that does smack up against veering into “staying with your abuser” territory, which is awful. At the same time, I think that a skilled writer can pull it off — and sometimes one just serendipitously creates a relationship that works out. But when it does work, I have to say, I am honestly all for it.
Maybe it’s because I’m a homebody myself. Given the choice, I prefer to stay home rather than go out. Restaurants over bars, home over restaurants. (Especially living in a big city, where the delivery options are plentiful and varied.) But I want to see characters interacting the way they would if plot weren’t happening. I want moments that aren’t fueled by high octane circumstances, internal or external.
If a relationship can only exist in times of strife, where there are forces propelling the relationship, then that’s honestly not a relationship I want to read much about. I want to believe that characters can have quieter moments together — even if it’s not something that I personally would do, I want to see how they’d come together afterwards. I want to see signs that these characters can stick it out and last even when their main story is over. It doesn’t have to be intense — rather, I’d like to see the defusing of that tension, instead.
But when all is said and done, these are only three of many romantic tropes I enjoy in the fiction I pick up, and neither of these are a make or break scenario, either. I’m not going to be upset if you don’t have characters who have intense loyalty as a defining trait; I’m not going to disbelieve in a set of characters forming a lasting relationship if I never get to see them in those softer moments.
I hope that people who are planning on celebrating Valentine’s Day, whether with romantic partners, friends, or taking advantage of chocolate says, have a good and fun one! But let’s be honest, Wednesday is the midpoint of the week for most of us in office jobs, so maybe that’s cause for celebration in and of itself.