It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife… and if either of these characters seem incompatible or unattainable than we will ship them all the more.
Pride & Prejudice, Jane Eyre, even the A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas—they all have forbidden romance in common. What is it about this trope in books and plays and movies that draws us in so much? As an author who’s included that trope in her most recent book, and a former psychotherapist, I can break it down for you.
- We <3 conflict. Sweet romance is sweet, but what we really love is TENSION. The push-pull of two star-crossed characters is fun to read about because we enjoy getting frustrated right along with them, drawn further and further into their conflict, wondering just what Mr. Darcy’s problem actually is, until finally shouting, “Just kiss him/her already!!”
- The bad boy/girl. We just can’t help it. We love it when a character is in need of saving, or merely appears cruel, but is just misunderstood. (The biggest example of this that comes to mind is Rhysand from the A Court of Thorns and Roses series.) Do I really need to say anything else?
- It’s a control thing. Reading about two seemingly incompatible characters who just can’t help but be attracted to one another is appealing to read about because it means their romance is irresistible. They literally can’t stay away from each other.
- It’s not real life. For most of us, we’re not going to be falling in love with our mortal enemy. This is the ultimate in escape reading—a way to travel to distant war-torn lands where enemies must join forces and watch them fall in love… all without having to leave our couches.
- We like to fix people. This was something that frequently came up when I was a therapist. We like the idea of someone in need of saving, of a person who can be redeemed, but only through our love. In real life, this can be incredibly toxic. It can lead to codependency issues or cause someone to stay with someone who’s not only incompatible but harmful to their self-esteem. But a book is a safe way to explore these feelings. We can watch a character be redeemed by love, a misunderstood bad boy/girl transform into a more upstanding person, or two characters learn to see past their own pride and prejudices.
So don’t feel guilty when you reach for a book with promises of forbidden romance—it’s a fun and healthy escape that beats a toxic relationship any day.