Popular Relationship Tropes

by Altea

Media is peppered with various romance tropes: second chance, enemies to lovers, friends to lovers, love triangle, fake dating, soulmates, etc. These tropes usually appeal to a wide audience, tugging at pretty much everyone’s heartstrings. But what’s most interesting about them is that they can be applied to so many different characters, settings, and plotlines, and it still manages to work. Some people hate these tropes because of how boring they can get, but I find them endearing. It’s as if I’m actually experiencing the media because I can connect it to something familiar. Despite how almost infuriatingly predictable these tropes can get, readers and viewers still continue to eat them up. Everyone knows they’ll end up together in the end, everyone can imagine the meet-cutes that will happen, everyone knows that there’ll be a fight and a brief breakup leaving someone crying in the rain. So why is everyone still on the edge of their seats even though we’ve seen these stories time and time again?

  1. Soulmates
via NBC

Let’s start off with a trope that while it has no scientific or factual basis, people still obsess over. I’m sure we’ve all fantasized at one point about finding “The One” or our “Soulmate.”The Soulmates trope typically details some sort of supernatural occurrence leading you to your soulmate, your other half, whatever you want to call it. Maybe the characters  can’t see color until they  meet their  soulmate. Or maybe they have matching tattoos that reveal themselves once they both turn 17 (which I personally find a little weird, but who’s asking me?) Or maybe it’s much simpler, and the two are just inexplicably drawn to each other . Whatever creative or not so creative fated circumstance that the writers come up with, it makes sense why it’s so popular. The idea that we are all tied to someone else is objectively comforting. It is a guarantee that no matter how unlovable you might think yourself to be, no matter how many people reject you, there’s still someone out there who’s destined to love you. I guess we can only hope that it’s true to some extent.

One of my favorite tv shows that features this trope is The Good Place. The show is based on the premise that when you die, you go to the Good Place: the equivalent of heaven. In the Good Place, along with other things, you’ll meet your soulmate and theoretically stay together forever. While the show gets much more complicated than that, the idea of getting to live happily after with my soulmate, naturally appeals to me very much.  Yes, the whole point of fictional romance stories is to have ridiculously complicated relationships to an almost unrealistic extent for entertainment value. But there are times that I, and I imagine many of you, wish characters could just reside in happiness together. When I really like a TV show relationship, watching things get tumultuous can be very stressful. It’s a delicate balance: we want our favorite characters to be happy, but things can’t get too boring or we’d all quit watching.

  1. Friends to Lovers
via Shutterstock

Most people have probably started to have romantic feelings towards a friend, but some forms of media take this phenomenon very far. In simple terms, the friends to lovers trope is a pair of friends who pine after each other for years, and it’s eventually revealed that they have feelings for each other. Fans of this trope typically find appeal in the ideas of years of pent-up pining and tension suddenly becoming actualized, as well as how compatible the two characters are, since they know each other so well. Logically, it’s so much easier to love someone that you’re already close with. 

My absolute favorite film example of this is 13 Going on 30. Kind of a strange pick, I know, considering just how popular this trope is. Yes, I’d pick Jenna and Matt over Ron and Hermione, Amy and Laurie, and even Anne and Gilbert. (Of course, these relationships had their own issues, given that most of them were written in the late 1800s.) Jenna and Matt were best friends growing up, and then had a falling out. Jenna accidentally travels forward in time 17 years, to a reality in which adult Matt is engaged to someone else, but he confesses his love for her. Jenna travels back and kisses teenage Matt, and they end up getting married. The reason why I love this movie’s take on the trope so much is the simple fact that Matt sustained his love for her for 17 years. Is it healthy to pine for that long? Probably not. Is it incredibly romantic? Absolutely. 

  1. Love Triangle
via CW

Yes, yes, I know, we’ve reached the epitome of tropeyness, but hear me out. The classic love triangle, so painfully overplayed. I’m honestly not a fan, but I get the dramatic appeal. One character, typically a girl, has to decide between two love interests, typically guys. It’s a bit poorly named, since it’s not really a triangle, more of a vertex but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s exhaustingly popular and it’s easy to see why. Firstly, it typically causes divisiveness and discord within the fandom, which is good for publicity. To see a lot of discourse about a topic welcomes more viewers/readers. Secondly, the idea of having to choose between two people is exciting and gives power to the protagonist. It’s no wonder Netflix has been pumping out movies littered with this trope nonstop since 2016.

Choosing my favorite love triangle trope was probably the hardest out of all of these. Of course the YA books that plagued my middle school self were out, so I chose something that I haven’t seen talked about in quite some time, in terms of this trope: Jane the Virgin. Jane is engaged to Micheal, but in a freak medical accident, she becomes impregnated with Rafael’s baby, who she actually had a brief fling with. The reason why I love the way that this trope is shown so much is because of all the added complications. Rafael is a married cancer survivor with a cheating wife, and Micheal is a cop who ends up dead, only for it to later be revealed that his death was faked and he actually has amnesia. They manage to keep this love triangle going on throughout the entire show, and it’s not clear who Jane will end up with until the very end, which will constantly keep you on your toes. It’s actually quite impressive.

While tropes can sometimes get annoying, what with their predictability, there’s a certain comfort that you can only get with the more familiar things. It’s almost relaxing knowing how things will turn out, and just sitting back to enjoy the probably trashy media you’re consuming. I have a very deep relationship with my favorite TV shows and media, and sometimes I even talk to the characters as I watch, as if I was actually there. If only they took my advice.The theory of the Jungian archetype is based on the idea that humans like to see familiar content, and this probably extends over to tropes. Fairy tales feature familiar characters, mentors, children, family members, etc. People continue to hate tropes, and then turn around to teach their children stories like Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel. Overall, tropes are ridiculously over hated considering how many people still continue to consume and enjoy them on a daily basis. These tropes are only popularized by people’s inner need for love and validation, and this manifests in the tropes that they prefer to engage with. After all, aren’t romance movies so popular because they show what people want to see?

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