Let’s Talk About: Enemies to Lovers trope and the boundaries between healthy and problematic storylines.

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Hi guys! First discussion of the year, today we are going to talk about a topic that has been nagging on my mind for a while: the line in hate-to-love relationship, where the love interest actually worth to be redeemed or just manipulative, toxic person in general.

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I am totally guilty of enjoying enemies to lovers relationship, it’s one of my favorite romance trope. The story usually started with our main couple hating each other from their first meeting, either due to long time rivalry, doing something offending, or just bad vibes in general. However as the story goes, our mc realized that the love interest is not as bad as they seemed to be, or maybe just think about their “nemesis” too much they actually became interested. One thing for sure, our main couple will eventually falling in love. The most famous example of this trope is obviously Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, in which they overcame their Pride and Prejudice (ha ha) and eventually sees that they loved each other.

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Since then, there are many couples using this trope as their story line. They also tend to have the most shippers compared to other couples in their story. Yet, I’ve been noticing that many of these love interest are actually abusive and toxic, instead of romantic. In some cases, they created long lasting effect if it’s done in real life but for the sake of storyline, those deeds are completely being forgiven, with the said deeds never discussed again, downplayed, and swept under the rug. What’s worse, audience tends to create justifications and defense towards these characters, especially when compared to other love interest that are less problematic, thus creating debate between consumers of those entertainment on whether X is actually nice or just plain creepy.

Case in point of this is Simon Snow and Baz from Carry On. Well, not them, exactly, but the couple they are based on: Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter. If you’re been in the fandom long enough, you know that this ship is one of the most popular, along with Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger. I, myself, is guilty for shipping the second one. Maybe because they just look good together, the chemistry is just there. Or maybe because we know Draco would challenge Harry and Hermione to the point of frustration- something we know Ginny would do but maybe not Ron. Or maybe, the fact that Harry and Draco spent 6 years obsessing about each other in their hatred, to the point of stalking on Harry’s part in the 6th year. Whatever the reason is, one thing for sure: this is not a healthy relationship.

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As much as I convince myself that Draco can be redeemed, he’s not like his father, he did what he did to survive, he could challenge Hermione etc etc, Draco has done terrible things. As a character, his faults can be redeemed. But to enter a relationship with person he did said terrible things to? No. He might not enjoy being a death eater, but he certainly enjoyed being a bully. He insults and even use physical forces to harm them. He did not show remorse during the second year, knowing full well Hermione could be a target for real. Nor after Sirius got killed. We can argue that reality hadn’t hit him in his second year, or he had other things to worry about in fifth year. Whatever the reason is, he did what he did. Those things had make Harry and Hermione’s life hell at the minimum, nearly dying at the maximum. He’s not a good person for both Harry and Hermione as there is just too much scars and hurt between them, it will be thorn in their sides.

Another example is Warner and Juliette from Shatter Me. At this point, yes, he’s better than Adam. Yes, he has a tragic backstory and he never did what he claimed he did. But. He did locked Juliette up. He made her think she killed a boy. He manipulate her to believe that she’s a monster, that she’s a threat to others. Yes, he encourage her to use her power and do not limit her, but at the same time, he manipulates her. And I can’t believe how easily she forgives him! This also works for The Darkling and Alina. Damon and Elena. Lucious and Cookie Lyon. The list goes on and on and on.

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So now back to the question: Enemies to lovers is a widely enjoyed trope, but where is the line between being normal enemies and crossing the line of being abusive? Why do we tend to overlook this line and still ship this characters?

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I don’t think we’ll ever find out, but from my experience, I feel like I justify it as a normal course of enemies to lovers trope. In order for the mc to hate the love interest, they must done something bad. They need to hurt the mc, either their feelings or their pride, sometimes even physically. But there has to be a line between being enemies or being abusive, between causing lasting damage and moment of humiliation. This is the line I’m still grasping about because many of the terrible things the love interest did tend to be glossed over as romantic during the big reveal, such as the classic case of stalking and being cold and arrogant for the sake of “keeping you safe”.

One such cases of this subtle line is the inherent belief of boys will be boys, that boys who annoys you and pulled at your hair did so because he likes you. Now, this is very hetero not to mention patriarchal, but I still seen many story lines incorporating this thought as explanation for every shitty move the love interest made. As in “I liked you so much that I tortured you”. Gilbert Blythe likes Anne Shirley that he keeps calling her names and pulling her braids, which hurt Anne at that time but quite easily forgiven by her. It’s a whole different level from Draco calling Hermione mudblood and taunting Harry about his dead parents, in which many argues as Draco’s way of getting their attention.

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Does that mean the trope itself shouldn’t be enjoyed? No, I don’t think so. In fact, reading this trope on a book blurb already 50% guarantee that it will land on my TBR pile. But what’s important is we learn to distinguish the line between harmless hate and the ones that are actually toxic and will cause long-lasting impact. Enemies to lovers trope are meant as two people overcoming their prejudice about each other and seeing them as a person, not two people torturing each other and causing damage all in the name of love.

I’m sorry if this post is not really well-written and jumbled at times, but I’m curious on your thoughts: do you enjoy enemies to lovers trope? If you do, what do you think on some love interest being praised but also deemed problematic? What do you think on this problem?




28 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About: Enemies to Lovers trope and the boundaries between healthy and problematic storylines.

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