There are any number of obstacles and problems that can keep two characters apart in a romance novel. This can range from their own personal demons, to interfering friends and family, to mistaken perceptions and miscommunication. Sometimes these obstacles work for the reader and sometimes they don’t.
LET’S BE FRIENDS
I come across this one pretty regularly in romances because the love interests are often trying to resist each other but still like being around each other. Now I love the friends-to-lovers trope and that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about two people who have already started something, either a full blown fling or just some fooling around. Then one of them gets scared, nervous, panicky – whatever – and proposes the “I don’t want to be with you, but I like you as a person so I think we should just be friends” line.
Here’s my problem with this one, it’s incredibly selfish. They won’t try a real relationship but they still want the other person around, constantly in their life and you know that the other person is hoping things will change. This theme often shows up when one character has stronger feelings for the other; so it’s terribly unfair that the character who’s not afraid of taking a chance is just expected to shove it all down deep but still be a good friend.
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LEAVING WILL PROTECT THEM
This one drives me unreasonably crazy, it’s probably one of my biggest reading pet-peeves. This occurs when a bad guy is targeting one of the characters and is or might hurt the character’s love interest in order to hurt the main target. The main target believes – incorrectly – that leaving or pushing away their love interest will protect them.
The problem here is that it makes no sense. The bad guy often already knows about the love interest so there’s no use in pushing them away, it’s already too late. Also, these story lines usually occur when the main target is trained, either as a police officer, agent, or military personnel. Wouldn’t the safest place be with you? And the last issue is that the main target often states that if they lost their loved one to this bad guy, they would be destroyed. So they would rather protect them than keep them. Here’s the thing, you’re going to be destroyed whether you’re with the person or not. You could send them away and they could die naturally or by the bad guy and you’ll STILL be destroyed. Cause that’s the way love works.
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I CAN’T RISK IT FALLING APART
This is similar to the one above in the sense that’s it’s pushing someone away to prevent something bad from happening. Basically one character avoids relationships because they saw or experienced a relationship going from great to terrible and they don’t want to risk their heart. I can understand protecting yourself but this one is so overused in romance novels. The most common being a character who saw their parent’s marriage fall apart and doesn’t want to end up like them.
What really annoys me about this obstacle is that the supposed “terrible relationship” they use as their yard stick is not the only relationship in their life. This character usually had a friend growing up whose parents were the perfect couple who took them in and acted as a second family. Or they’ve witnessed their friends in happy marriages. They have plenty of examples and proof that it works and they still resist. I recently read a romance where a character called off a fling when it got too serious and was worried about starting if up again a year later because they didn’t want the other person to come to hate them. The problem here is that earlier in the book, the other person already flat out told them that they hated them for what they did the year before. It’s this type of ridiculous thinking that aggravates me.