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?

tasya

 

 


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

  1. I think there’s a difference between enemies-to-lovers and bullies-to-lovers. It’s one thing if you are competing with someone for, say, a job, so there’s natural animosity, than someone like Draco, who maliciously taunts people, calls them disgusting names, things like that.

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    1. I agree, Draco may not be the best example in this case. But there are other instances, for example, competing for a job and the guy being a total jerk by calling names and sabotaging. Or in fantasy, the love interest murder the whole family and capture you. I think that’s what I’m trying to highlight, I’m sorry it didn’t come across right 🙂

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  2. I think this is a really interesting discussion to have! It’s definitely something I’ve thought about when a former “enemy” is being redeemed into a love interest in a book. One of the things that help redeem a character for me is good development + writing on the author’s part. I can forgive a lot of characters if their growth is actually shown and their actions aren’t just automatically forgiven, if that makes sense. So I guess the line shifts depending on how well the character is written. Lovely post!

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    1. Totally agree! This is why characterization matters. I mean, there are things that I don’t think I can forgive, but if the circumstances and the actions are explained right, it could make a tons of difference instead of turning it into an insta love. Thanks for reading! ❤

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  3. I love enemies to lovers trope. I think some ships are problematic but people also use the word toxic too much, especially with supernatural beings. I think those ships have different standards since I don’t think any ship (especially in tvd) has a healthy relationship.

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    1. They may have different standard, for example, in The Cruel Prince, the elves are known as cunning and deceitful and thus, it shouldn’t be a surprised when our characters are hurt by them. But then again, does that mean we should normalize the behavior? Edward Cullen may be a vampire, but people actually think being possessive and stalking are acceptable behavior in relationship due to the way his behavior is portrayed in the media.

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        1. I think we have to agree to disagree ahaha 😅 As a another comment pointed out, this tropes/behavior are present in YA, which is read by people usually having their first relationships. While the relationships in the book is fictional, the way it is presented making it seems “romantic” and the readers might not know that it is actually unacceptable and therefore, might have those expectations in real life. I mean, fiction often reflects in real life and this one is not different. Shipping fiction couples are okay as just because they are terrible doesn’t mean we actually excuse that behavior in real life. But for people who do not know better, they might actually seek it.

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          1. I do agree this with some ships like the one in After series since that relationship is toxic af and it’s contemporary. But like in vampire shows you can’t cll a ship toxic because they are all. unless you call your ship toxic too. I actually call some of my ships toxic bc even though i love them i also know they’re toxic like buffy/spike.

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  4. Awesome post! This is an interesting one to discuss because I myself am totally guilty of being a bit of a sucker for this trope, but then again, I can see the problematic side of it too… I think sometimes it works and it’s done in such a way that the relationship aren’t toxic or problematic, but as you said, there are definitely way too many examples of when it doesn’t work and relationships that should be deemed as problematic are praised or looked upon as positive. Maybe it’s especially the age range a lot of these are geared towards as well that bothers me. YA is the point in your life where you’re having your first relationships and toxic ones like the enemies to lovers trope is not what you should think of as a good relationship….

    I feel like that comment was totally jumbled but your post definitely gave me a lot to think about!

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    1. No worries Lara, I think my post is really messy so to see you commenting and voicing your opinions really made me happy 🙂 I totally agree about your point of YA is the age of first relationships. Obviously these characters have no experience/don’t know what to expect from a real, healthy relationships and that’s why it could be really easy to cross the line! Real life situation reflects this too and that’s what scares me the most.

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  5. I LOVE the enemies to lovers trope. When it’s done well, it crackles. But I acknowledge that some of my favorite hate to love tropes fall into troubling categories. (The hero in The Wrath and the Dawn kills people).

    Someone in another comment mentioned the difference between this and bullies to lovers, which I agree with. Enemies can be engaging when well-written, while the same can be said for a bully. It all comes down to perspective: can someone be redeemed in the reader’s eyes? I think you’re on to something with this post that will definitely be grounds for more discussion. 🙂

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    1. I totally forgot about Khalid and Shazi, I’m guilty with them too! Yup, Draco may not be the best example, but I agree that it depends on the characterization and writing which will decide whether the character deserved to be redeemed or not. Thank you for reading Leah!

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  6. I do think this is a great trope but YES it needs to be written right. There are levels of toxic that aren’t redeemable (ie: the whole “oh he’s mean to her because he likes her”…gag. I just hate that so much). One of my favourite ways to read it is just two people who are on opposite sides of a war, say, so it’s not inherently each other that they just hate, but what the other stands for maybe or their background. Like it’s not really a romance, but Kate and August in This Savage Song! But yes hahha I do have a lot of faves in this trope.

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    1. I think “boy likes girl and therefore being mean” is something we all experience in real life and at such a young age (kindergarten anyone? some teacher and parents even think it’s cute) it’s just sad. Ooh that is a really good one! I also liked it when they hate each other not for what they did to each other, but for what they represent/the circumstances.

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  7. I love the enemies to lovers trope so much and Alina and the Darkling are my favorite example of this! I can totally understand why people hate them, but I just can’t help it. I’ll say I’ve never seen this trope play out in real life though.

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    1. Ah yes Darklina is a really good example. The Darkling is a horrible human being, I love him, but it’s true. But he’s also loved by many because he’s so well written, we understand all his motives and reasoning, even though it doesn’t make his actions forgivable. This is an example why writings and characterizations matter 🙂

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  8. What a great discussion! I am not a big fan of the enemies to lovers trope. I feel like, more often than not, they just cross the line and I can’t enjoy it no more. On top of that, I get tired of the banter by page 5. I also don’t appreciate the idea that you can’t have a relationship with two people that it’s just hate. Media has pressed us so much into believing that if you “hate” someone, it’s probably because you actually like them. I have had personal instances in which I let myself believe that if a person treated me poorly, it’s because deep down they had feelings for me – which is obviously not true. The romanticization is bad, but also the idea that hatred is just another face for love. No, thank you very much – I can despise someone and just be at that.
    With that being said, I think even relationships that are a bit problematic can be shipped if you acknowledge that. I mean, one of my favorite non-canon couples of all times is Ronan/Kavinsky from The Raven Cycle. Kavinsky is a very problematic character, and I don’t think they would’ve ever worked canonly. Similar to Harry/Draco or Hermione/Draco, with all the hurt the characters have caused each other on page, it’s just not realistic that they’d work. It doesn’t mean that in a different setting, where either one of them has been tamed or the other one has embraced their darkness, they couldn’t be a fitting one.
    Anyway, I’m sorry for the essay, lol. I just think recognizing that a couple is problematic and not romanticizing it is already a good enough of a step.

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    1. Thank you Lais! For me, it’s always interesting to see the characters hating each other so much that they pay extra attention to each other and ended up seeing the other side that made them fall for each other xD and the denial! It’s really a fun progress xD Buttt! I also agree with your point that people can hate each other and we should just leave it at that. I mean, I’ve done the same myself so many times and it obviously always ended up in disappointment. I think one of the biggest harm this trope do, unintentionally, is strengthening the beliefs that hate is not that much different from love, which is really bad.

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  9. This is a great post, Tasya, and one I wholeheartedly agree with. I think redemption arcs are extremely fascinating; some of my favorite characters of all-time are morally grey people who receive redemption arcs. But sometimes, in their need to give these characters redemption arcs, authors start excusing or justifying their shitty behavior rather than correcting it. This is especially what happens in Sarah J. Maas’s books – with Rhysand, specifically, who does awful, awful things to the protagonist in ACOTAR, and then his personality is switched, his actions excused, and everything forgotten in the second book.

    Enemies to lovers is an incredible trope because it allows the reader to feel the full scope of a couple’s range of emotions, but if it’s done poorly, it just becomes another way to mask and excuse toxic relationships. 😦

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    1. That is a good point, justification and explanation are two different things! Agree, enemies to lovers can be a great lesson in not judging people based on their appearance/behavior as well as that we are all human and make mistakes, but when done poorly it became a dangerous one.

      Thanks for reading Aimal! ❤

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