The Worst Romantic Tropes in Books and on Screen

The worst romantic tropes are depicted as “healthy” and “aspirational”. Examples include Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl, & The Mortal Instruments series.

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One of the most common inclusions in books is the romantic pairing between two characters. Sometimes it can be the focal point of the story, but other times, it can be a more minor plot device. However, almost all stories have them, from children’s books, such as the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson series, to adult romance novels like Fifty Shades of Grey.

There are so many good romantic tropes, such as best friends to lovers, soulmates, or a fake relationship that becomes real. However, some romantic tropes send the completely wrong message and are irresponsibly promoted in books, movies, and television shows.

1. Obsessive Boyfriends/Girlfriends

Sometimes writers depict what could be considered as an almost stalker-ish pairing that ends up becoming the endgame for a couple. There is a line between looking out for someone’s well-being and becoming obsessive and a stalker. While this line can be obvious sometimes, there are also times when it can be blurred. There is nothing romantic about having a stalker, especially if one of the people in the pairing repeatedly tells the other to stay away. The television series, You, starring Penn Badgley, is a fine example of how that line between stalker and romance is blurred and how infatuation can turn obsessive and unhealthy.


2. Teacher-Student Relationships

This trope is one that appears in books and television shows like Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl, both of which are based on book series. Especially in Pretty Little Liars, the relationship between Aria and Ezra, her high school English teacher, was depicted as an OTP (one true pairing) in the show. While their relationship was initially illegal and wrong, when Aria got older, it was deemed acceptable. However, despite this, there is no denying that it was initially very wrong and while Aria supposedly pushed for the relationship even when Ezra said no, there is a reason that laws state that a relationship, especially a sexual one, between two people of those ages is statutory rape. Thankfully, the reboot of Gossip Girl no longer promotes such a relationship as acceptable. Regardless, such an imbalanced relationship should not be promoted in popular books and movies.


3. Relationships between Step-Siblings

This one has many layers because not all step-siblings grow up being step-siblings. Examples of this would be in Gossip Girl, where Serena and Dan temporarily became step-siblings when Serena’s mom and Dan’s dad got together. However, even if step-siblings don’t grow up together, it would make for some really awkward family meals. Another example of this would be if people who didn’t think they were siblings initially, got together, and then eventually realized they were related. Or, in the case of Clary and Jace from The Mortal Instruments series, found out that they actually aren’t related, but at one point, they did think it was incest. The third layer of this would be the other way around, where two people who initially thought they were related, it was proven that they weren’t, and then they got together. An example of this would be Aubrey and Jonah from The Cousins by Karen M. McManus. I love McManus’ works, but that is the one novel where I don’t like the romantic pairing between Aubrey and Jonah because they initially thought that they were cousins, realized that they weren’t, but flirted before Aubrey found out that Jonah was not her cousin. These kinds of pairings are…not good.


4. Dating Your Sibling/Best Friend’s Ex

That’s just…not nice. Sisters before misters! Stick to the loyalty code! Don’t date your sibling or best friend’s ex! That’s not nice in any world. Even if some people say they’re okay with it, it would always be weird. Pretty Little Liars does this, where Spencer dates Caleb despite Caleb previously having been with Hannah. As does Gossip Girl, where Blair and Dan temporarily get together as well. That just breaks the bro code. There are millions of other people on the planet! Don’t date your best friend’s ex!!!


5. Relationships That Start With Cheating

Cheating is never good. In no world is cheating justified. You might be angry with your partner and want to get back at them for some reason; you might be lonely, or you might fall for someone else, but cheating is never okay. Just break up with someone if you want to date someone else! Cheating isn’t the solution. That doesn’t mean that the people who cheat can’t be nice. Addison Montgomery from Grey’s Anatomy is a wonderful character whom I love and understand the reasoning behind her affair with Mark Sloan, but it doesn’t deny that her choice of cheating was still wrong, and she made a mistake.


6. Relationships that Start With Someone Changing Themselves To Be With The Person They Love

Just one word: Grease. Don’t get me wrong, I love the songs and the dancing in the musical, but the very fact that Sandy changed from a girl wearing a modest long-skirt to smoking cigarettes and wearing leather jackets to get with Danny is just wrong. Even when I first watched this at fourteen, I thought that this was a terrible message to share with the world. Changing yourself to be with someone else is the worst way to start a relationship. Be true to yourself, and if your love interest can’t accept you for who you are or is swayed by the peer pressure of their friends, that is not the kind of relationship you want. When Sandy sings “You better shape up” what I truly think about is that Danny should stop being someone who cares so much about his friend’s awful opinions about him being serious with Sandy! (Not to mention that Sandy shouldn’t need a guy to keep her satisfied because that’s just sexist and anti-feminist, but that’s not the biggest problem here).


There might be more that I can’t think of right now, but these are just examples of the worst romantic tropes that are sometimes painted as “wonderful” or “healthy” or the OTP for a couple. Books and movies have a tremendous influence on the youth. We should be careful what we share with them because those are the ages that teenagers are most influential. Send the right message, like don’t change yourself to fit in with others, understand that consent is important, and always be loyal to friends and family!

Like reading about tropes? Click here to read more about YA tropes that we are so over.