Tainted Love: Unromantic Couples in Literature

In honor of Valentine’s Day yesterday, we thought it would be fun to talk about relationships in literature. Specifically, unhealthy ones or ones that we personally cannot abide for whatever reason. Given that this kind of thing can get people riled up, these opinions are our own and anyone can feel free to disagree. But we have our reasons! So here are our least favorite couples in literature.

Serena’s Picks

Book: “Twilight” series by Stephenie Meyer

The Couple: Edward and Bella

We’re just going to get this one out of the way right off the bat. It’s not a unique pick and we all probably know the reasons why it belongs on this list. But it also can’t not be included. Edward and Bella are terrible. Edward on his one is terrible. Bella on her own is terrible. Together they are ultra terrible. That’s not to say I’m “Team Jacob” either; all the romances in this story were pretty messed up. But this one tops most YA lists for bad romances for a reason. Edward is centuries older than teenage Bella. He’s super creepy and possessive with his nighttime stalking and abusive antics, like cutting her car battery lines. And Bella becomes the worst version of the abused member in an unhealthy relationship: her life becomes a literal blank page without Edward, she becomes suicidal, and by the end, all of her own life goals and passions have been set aside in her obsessive drive to live her life with Edward. There’s nothing here that remotely resembles a healthy romantic relationship and what’s worse, it set the stage for solid block of years in YA fiction where this was the only type of romance to be found.

Book: “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte

The Couple: Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester

This one was tied with “Wuthering Heights”‘s romance for me. Both are lauded as great Gothic romances of their time, but I really struggled with them. I like the book “Jane Eyre,” and I’ve really enjoyed a few of the movie adaptatiosn I’ve seen (particularly the mini series featuring Ruth Wilson). But man, Mr. Rochester, he wasn’t all that. I neve really understood what Jane saw in him from the start. He came across as a creep to for most of the first half of the book, particularly with the gypsy ruse which I felt was a fairly cruel prank to pull on people you call your friends. And then, of course, the whole wife in the attic bit. Yes, she’s insane, but it also doesn’t feel quite right to be lauding a character as a romantic hero when he’s got his wife locked away in a tower. Beyond that, the fact that he seemed perfectly happy to marry Jane and just hope that this little secret never came out. I mean, if he had died and then Bertha was discovered, Jane could have been left with nothing considering her marriage was never legal. Not to mention poor Jane’s reaction finding this out some ten years into a marriage potentially. It’s all pretty bad.

Book: “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling

The Couple: Hermione and Ron

This one hurts my heart to include, for two reasons. One, I’m incredibly thankful that Hermione and Harry were never a thing. That pairing would have been so unoriginal and predictable that it would have underwritten many of the unique aspects that Hermione brought to the group, making her ultimately just the romantic interest/prize for the hero in the end. And two, I really do enjoy reading Ron and Hermione’s romance and think that they could be a good couple in the end. The problem is that we never really see it in the books we have. Some of that is understandable, they’re kids during the first several and teenagers during the last. And teenagers aren’t particularly known for forming healthy, balanced romantic relationships. So most of the actual romantic build up we see are a bunch of moments where Ron continually proves that he doesn’t really deserve Hermione. By the end of the seventh book, we begin to see how he can/will. But that still leaves the majority of the story highlighting these two clashing, and Ron repeatedly letting Hermione down. And then we jump to the epilogue. I think that’s probably a really good example of how the two could work well together, but there’s about 90% of Point A, a few brief moments in the last book that show the beginnings of a healthy relationship, and then bam! We’re at Point B and they’re married with kids. So as a romantic pairing in the books themselves, they’re not great. But I love them. But they’re not great. But…ugh!

Book: “Shadow and Bone” trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

The Couple: Alina and The Darkling

This probably goes down as one of the most frustrating “romances” I’ve ever read. Seriously, I can’t understand why people think this couple was ever a thing. I remember finishing the first book, and then the second especially, and reading reviews where people were wringing their hands about their worries that Alina and The Darkling weren’t endgame. What?? The guy’s a psychotic murder! “But in a hot way!” they all croon. What the actual hell. In my mind, this never even approached being a love triangle because, for me, that would mean to viable options. And The Darkling was a mass murderer. If you think he’s a viable love interest…well, we have very different understandings of romance I guess? I don’t know. Netflix is coming out with a show featuring character for the entire “Grisha” universe and I feel very conflicted about it almost exclusively because of my feelings about this relationship. I love “Six of Crows” and the relationships there. But I hate the Alina/Darkling stuff so much that it might tip the scales against the entire thing, depending on what direction they take it, I guess.

Honorable Mention: “Blood and Chocolate” by Annette Curtis Klausse

My sister reminded me of this one right when I was finishing up my list. But the romance in this book (another love triangle ultimately) and the endgame pairing between Vivian and Gabriel was so very bad that the movie actually swaps out the ending, switching which of the two characters she ends up with. That just proves how godawful terrible it was. I won’t go into all the messy details, but think Edward/Bella with a dash more abuse and heaping pile more “mating bond” nonsense.

Kate’s Picks

Book: “The Hunger Games Trilogy” by Suzanne Collins

The Couple: Katniss Everdeen and Gale Hawthorne

So this may be a BIT of a cheat, as I don’t think that Katniss and Gale were ever REALLY together, at least not officially. But given that there was a huge love triangle in the fandom between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale, I feel a need to explain why I can’t get behind the Katniss/Gale relationship that many people wanted. No, it’s not because I’m a huge Peeta fan or anything like that. It’s because Gale is a literal WAR CRIMINAL whose strategy of bombing civilians and medics gets Katniss’s sister Prim killed. Like, my GOD, that QUITE the deal breaker! Even if it hadn’t led to the death of Prim, the very fact that he thought that this was a justified and legitimate strategy is incredibly disturbing! It boggles the mind that people could come out of that series thinking that Katniss should have ended up with that guy!

Book: “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Couple: Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan

I mean, obvious, but sometimes I see people kind of romanticize this relationship as forbidden and star crossed love, and guys, that isn’t what this is. On one hand you have Gatsby, who is so OBSESSED with a woman that he builds up his entire fortune and livelihood for her, in spite of the fact he’s more in love with an idea than an actual person. And then there’s Daisy, who certainly has a raw deal with her gross husband Tom (and has few choices as a woman of that time), but is perfectly willing to let both Tom AND Gatsby put her on pedestals until things become messy or inconvenient to her lifestyle. Also she ran over Myrtle and let Gatsby take the fall, and probably knew that her husband had a hand in his ultimate demise. Careless people, indeed.

Book: “The Sculptor” by Scott McCloud

The Couple: David and Meg

This was a book club pick a few years ago, and while I did find “The Sculptor” able to convey the frustration of being an artist in a world that doesn’t see you, I just couldn’t abide the romance between the main characters. For the unfamiliar, “The Sculptor” is a graphic novel about an artist named David who, so frustrated with his lack of success, makes a deal with Death that if he is given the ability to sculpt anything into a masterpiece, he will give up his life in two hundred days. And then of course, he meets Meg, a care free performance artist, whom he falls head over heels in love with. My problem was that their ‘love story’ felt very toxic, in that David is a narcissistic whiner who is more concerned with his ‘legacy’ than his actual life and relationships, and Meg is merely there to be an emotional road bump in his deal with Death, and is the worst kind of ‘manic pixie dream girl’ stereotype who is only there to prop him and his pain up. The drama and emotions feel hollow, and it’s just dramatic to be dramatic without actually doing the work to make it feel real. On the plus side, the art is great. But that isn’t what we’re critiquing here.

Book: The “Temperance Brennan” Series by Kathy Reichs

The Couple: Tempe and Andrew Ryan

This has been a SAGA for many, many books, and while I know we are supposed to want Tempe and Andrew Ryan to be endgame, boy oh boy do I NOT like them as a couple. I’m probably being far less forgiving than I could be. But let me lay it out plain (and this is going to have spoilers for elements of the entire series, so watch out). Tempe and Andrew Ryan have some pretty fun will they or won’t they chemistry. They eventually decide to give it a go, and it’s going fine. Then, Ryan finds out that he has an adult daughter from a previous relationship that he never knew about, and she is an addict. Ryan decides that the best way to support this long lost daughter is to dump Tempe and try to make it work with her mother, a woman he hasn’t spoken to in years! And THEN, it’s all for naught, he and his former lover break up, his daughter dies of an overdose, and he proposes to Tempe and is IRRITATED when she is reluctant to give him an answer!!! To that I say SCRAM!! While it’s kind of mellowed as the series has gone on, I’m still not on board with their relationship. He did her far too wrong.

Honorable Mention: “Much Ado About Nothing” by William Shakespeare

I think that the obvious choice is probably Romeo and Juliet, but let’s think outside the box and pick a terrible couple from a comedy. I present to you Hero and Claudio! This young couple is set and ready to get married, but then Claudio is tricked into thinking that Hero has had an affair with someone else. Then he truly and HORRIBLY humiliates her on their wedding day and leaves her at the altar, like REALLY humiliates her and basically calls her a whore, and her own father says that he wants her to DIE because of Claudio’s tirade. Of course the truth comes out and ALL IS FORGIVEN OR SOMETHING and they get married like it’s a happy turn of events, God it’s awful.

Well that was a nice cathartic rant! What romantic couples do you find genuinely awful? Let us know in the comments!

4 thoughts on “Tainted Love: Unromantic Couples in Literature”

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