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  • Writer's pictureJessica Porter

What Your Favorite Romance Trope Says About You

Here's a glimpse into why your brain loves romance some of the most popular tropes, and what that might tell you about yourself.

NOTE: Scientific and psychological principals mentioned are discussed for entertainment value only. This is not advice.


Enemies to Lovers

You're Passionate, Sexual, & Enjoy Drama

What it is: The protagonists start off disliking each other, but eventually fall in love.

Why your brain likes it: It's often said that there's a fine line between love and hate, so it's probably not surprising that the emotions are actually closely linked in the brain. Since both are strong emotions that light up the same neural pathways, it's no wonder that we're inclined to link them together. Anger also increases testosterone levels, which are in part responsible for arousal. Basically—we're programmed to associate anger and attraction.

There's also a more wholesome reason for enjoying a good enemies-to-lovers arc: the core message is about unity. The main characters find common ground, overcome the odds, and challenge preconceptions in the process of falling in love. We know the characters will find their happy ending so our expectations are set, but we still find it satisfying when that conflict is ultimately resolved.

Examples: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, Things I Hate About You (1999 film)

Related Tropes: Starcrossed Lovers, Opposites Attract


Fake Dating

You Wish Life Were Simpler

What it is: The main characters make a deal to pretend to be in a relationship, usually for mutual benefit.

Why your brain likes it: Fake dating allows characters to enjoy the benefits of a romantic relationship without the full commitment, offering a fantasy where companionship, emotional support, and shared experiences are accessible without the complexities of a genuine commitment. Readers are drawn to the easy comfort and fulfillment without the potential pitfalls—something we rarely get in real life.

This trope also addresses a lot of the societal pressures on people who are single, offering a narrative escape from societal expectations and judgment. Through the guise of a fake relationship, characters—and in turn, readers—get the best of both worlds: finding genuine connection without feeling that they've had to settle and conform to societal pressures.

Examples: The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood, Pretty Woman (1990 film)

Related Tropes: Marriage of Convenience, Fake Engagement


Forbidden Love

You're Rebellious and Enjoy a Rush (and You Might Fear Commitment)

What it is: The protagonist(s) fall for someone who is socially inappropriate or otherwise unattainable. (Ex. Their best friend's sibling, their own step-sibling, an arch enemy, an employee, etc.)

Why your brain likes it: Readers find psychological satisfaction in the forbidden romance trope for several reasons. Firstly, there is a sense of triumph over adversity, as characters defy odds, fate, or societal expectations to pursue their love. We are psychologically drawn to the rebelious nature of characters who defy societal norms or conventions. Not only does the element of risk make things hotter, but the challenge of overcoming obstacles makes it all the more gratifying when the characters get together in the end.

The appeal of the forbidden romance trope may also stem from an attraction to unattainable romantic partners. People often gravitate to unavailable partners precisely because they are unavailable.  Our brains are also programmed to desire something more once we're told we can't have it. It's also possible that commitment might evoke feelings of fear or reluctance, but you don't have to face those feelings with a partner that is categorically off-limits.

The trope also taps into a deep-seated desire for unconditional love, as readers revel in the idea of someone choosing to love them above everything else, even when faced with societal norms or external pressures. We like to think of ourselves as special—as the exception to the rule. These people may be the types who choose broken partners hoping that they'll be able to change them when others have failed.

Examples: The Kissing Booth by Beth Reekles, The Notebook by Nichols Sparks

Related Tropes: Brother's Best Friend, Starcrossed Lovers, Step-Brother Romance


Fated Mates

You Want Comfort and Safety

What it is: The main characters are destined to be together, usually due to supernatural elements or fate. They typically share a profound, preordained connection that they can immediately sense.

Why your brain likes it:

Readers may enjoy the fated mates trope partially due to impatience, as the predetermined connection allows them to skip to the romance without the buildup of traditional courtship. This trope also caters to our desire to be loved unconditionally. In the fated mates narrative, characters are inherently bound to love each other regardless of circumstance. The fated mate is someone who won't leave or intentionally cause harm.

Like most tropes, it also sets clear expectations for how the story will progress. After all—fate says they will be together. This safe foundation allows readers to invest in the story with confidence, knowing that the romantic journey is guided by a dependable and predetermined path.

Examples: Most omegaverse and werewolf fiction, A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas, Ice Planet Barbarians by Ruby Dixon

Related Tropes: Instalove, Soulmates


Only One Bed

You Long for Emotional Depth

What it is: When the protagonist and love interest are forced by circumstances to share a bed, which usually brings them closer.

Why your brain likes it: Evolutionarily, sharing close proximity with another person, especially in an intimate setting like a single bed, triggers feelings of safety and bonding. Sleeping beside another person requires a certain level of trust and is ultimately good for us. When characters are forced to share the same confined space, it accelerates emotional intimacy and vulnerability, fostering a sense of closeness and connection. Sometimes readers want to just take the characters and put them together in a room, forcing them to talk out their feelings. This trope gives them that exact opportunity, bringing the characters together to communicate.

Examples: Twisted Hate by Ana Huang, Leap Year (2010 film), Delilah Green Doesn't Care by Ashley Herring Blake

Related Tropes: Forced Proximity, Only One Tent



You Believe in Equality

What it is: One romantic lead is friendly and joyful while their counterpart is serious and irritable.

Why your brain likes it: We all know the phrase "opposites attract", but science shows actually shows that it's not true. In real life, we tend to prefer partners who are more like us. So why, then, do we like to see two different personality types come together in romance stories? Well, the simple answer is, some readers like to believe that we're not really all that different deep down. When one character is dark and serious, but the other is chipper and friendly, it seems like a recipe for disaster. So when the characters inevitable get together and find common ground, it's a triumph over petty differences.

Romance readers also tend to be uniquely empathetic, which may be why this trope's focus on character development and connection is so popular.

Examples: The Hating Game by Sally Thorne, Icebreaker by Hannah Grace, 10 Things About You (1999 film)

Related Tropes: Opposites Attract, Enemies to Lovers, Nerd/Cheerleader



You Want An Escape from Stress

What it is: The love interest has nearly unlimited funds and usually a lot of other resources and power.

Why your brain likes it: Research has continually shown that attraction increases when potential romantic partners have money and resources. Women in particular are more attracted to men who have earned their money, implying that part of the attraction is based on the person's skill and ability to care for themself. So it's probably no wonder that fictional love interests with a lot of money are attractive to readers.

The fantasy of seemingly endless resources is inherently appealing, especially if you feel stymied by the limitations in your life. In the real world, even the best, most capable people may never see that kind of money. In a fictional world, the relatively normal main character can win the millionaire—and ultimately their unlimited resources—just for being who they are.

Examples: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Related Tropes: Royal Romance, Celebrity Romance


Bad Boys / Bad Girls

You Want to Let Your Inner Rebel Free

What it is: The love interest is mysterious, masculine, and doesn't follow social norms. Sometimes they are dangerous or commit crimes.

Why your brain likes it: It's hard to deny the enticing quality of the bad boy or bad girl archetype. With their bold, rebellious nature and undeniable sexuality, these characters are the embodiment of forbidden desires. Much like "forbidden" love interests, they have a taboo nature that intensifies their appeal. Growing up, women especially are discouraged from rebelliousness, but we can vicariously express our own inner rebel through these characters.

Usually a bit rough around the edges, they have a typically standoffish demeanor and may be a bit of a misanthrope. Readers revel in the fantasy of being the exception to this—the bad boy may be mean to everyone else, but he's kind to the main character because she's special.

Bad boys also fit seamlessly into the protector role, providing a sense of security and safety amidst their rebellious exterior. Readers who are plagued by threats in real life may love the idea of having a partner who can face the world head-on and responding assertively, especially they don't feel empowered to do so themselves.

Examples: After by Anna Todd, Punk 57 by Penelope Douglas

Related Tropes: Mafia Romance, Player, Alpha Type, MC Romance, Forbidden Love


Love Triangles

You Crave Validation and Excitement

What it is: The main character has two lovers competing for their attention at the same time.

Why your brain likes it: Ah, the love triangle – the ultimate brain teaser for our mushy human hearts! When the main character has not one, but two potential hotties vying for their attention, the typically predictable romance template suddenly becomes less set-in-stone. While we generally don't enjoy uncertainty, the temporary state of drama and uncertainty may ultimately pay off. Studies show that, after experiencing tension, we actually feel emotionally uplifted.

But it's more than just the drama that draws readers in. On some level, readers tend to identify with the central character, which means imagining themselves at the center of the fantasy: being so desirable that you draw not one—but two—swoon-worthy suitors into our orbit. It's an instant spike of validation for our ego. Playing out a fictional love triangle allows readers to vicariously experience the feeling of being special and desired without having to deal with the messy details that a real-life love triangle would surely bring.

Examples: The Twilight saga by Stephenie Meyer, The Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith, This Means War (2012 film)

Related Tropes: Forbidden Love


What's your trope of choice? Tell us in the comments...


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