Toxic Romance: Friends of the Opposite Sex

Well hello and happy Thursday, folks! It’s time yet again to discuss a toxic trope that can unfortunately be found in many romance novels: unhealthy themes regarding friends of the opposite sex. 

Friends-to-lovers is of course an iconic trope in romancelandia, and while I’m very here for that, it does get me to thinking about non romantic relationships featured in romance novels. More often than not, a romance narrative will follow a heroine who has at least a couple good female friends (who sometimes wind up with a spin off of their own!) but not a whole lot of platonic male friends. I will say that 90% of the time, this is really fine. We love a good female friendship, especially when the friend is supportive and helpful to our heroine in her time of need. But when lack of opposite sex friendship becomes a problem is when it’s used to illustrate the possesiveness/jealousy of the hero. 

Many moons ago, when Three Houses Press was just starting out, I wrote about the toxic use of jealousy as a plot point in romance novels, and I referenced the books Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James, and After by Anna Todd. If you think I’ve let go of my grudge against these particular novels and their authors since then, you’ve got another thing coming to you. Not only are these books picture perfect examples of abusive relationships, they’re somehow s t i l l relevant! Meyer is set to debut Midnight Sun (her first novel Twilight retold in Edward’s perspective a la E.L. James’ Grey) in the first week of August 2020. A few weeks ago it was announced that After We Collided, the second book in Anna Todd’s After series will have it’s film debut in September 2020 (though interestingly it’s US and UK release dates are yet to be announced. While I cannot find any news regarding E.L. James’ latest movements I can just feel in my bones she’s up to something shady—perhaps the final installment of the series’ in Christian’s perspective, albeit several years late? 

Let’s jump into the meat and potatoes: the theme of friendship, particularly friendships between members of the opposite sex, is sorely lacking in all three of these novels. 

Twilight: Ah, the classic love triangle, come to haunt us once again. Bella actually doesn’t have a super hard time making friends when she arrives in her new hometown of Forks, which is good. However, her relationships with anyone other than Edward and to an extent Jacob, are very surface level. Bella’s friend group does include a few boys, but according to Edward the mind reader any male Bella comes across just wants to have sex with her, making their friendly interest in her a facade. Jacob is of course the main male friend that Bella has but it is also a relationship loaded with sexual tension, so I’m not sure it quite counts. One could make a case for Bella’s relationship with Emmett and Jasper, though because they are Edward’s family and would have no interest in her outside of that relationship, I think the case kind of falls apart. 

50 Shades: The most possessive man of them all possibly, Christian Grey really outdoes himself when it comes to controlling Ana and any possible friendship she could have. When we meet her, Ana has two friends, one male, one female. Not too bad, I guess?? But like his prototype before him, Christian is utterly convinced that virtually any male who comes into contact with Ana is positively filled with uncontrollable lust for her. Unlike Edward, whom he’s based on, he doesn’t even have mind reading capabilities to prove this assumption, so even though they’re both the worst I’m gonna score this round Edward 0 Christian -1. By the end of the series, Ana is thoroughly wrapped up with Christian, and he is controlling of all her relationships, including those which he shouldn’t be threatened by, like her best friend Kate who ends up marrying his brother…toxic masculinity ruins the party again. 

After: Tessa arrives at college in a relationship she clearly does not want to be in anymore, and quickly becomes involved with Hardin, cheating on her boyfriend instead of being an adult and breaking up with him. If that was that, I guess I could deal with it, but it gets so much worse. Tessa seems incapable of holding any healthy relationships, whether they be romantic or platonic, with the same sex or opposite. She falls into a friendship of sorts with her roommate, but that’s what leads her to Hardin and his pack of lunatic friends. In her English Lit class she meets Landon, which seems like a promising platonic female/male friendship, but that all comes crashing down when it’s revealed that Landon and Hardin are step-brothers to be. From almost the word go, there is essentially no one in Tessa’s life that does not connect back to Hardin which I shouldn’t need to explain, but just in case that is explicitly unhealthy. Isolation is a huge part of abusive relationships, and without Hardin’s group of douchebag friends, Tessa would be utterly alone. 

This week, I have a task for you. I’ve just detailed some pretty unhealthy depictions of characters who we can say…tried??? to have friends of the opposite sex but were hindered by their partners. Comment below and tell us some of your favorite examples of authors who actually got it right! We love to see it when friends turn to lovers, but we also love to see friends stay friends!