By Grace Donahue
Why is society so attracted to relationships that start with two people who can’t stand the sight of each other? I include myself in this large, young, usually female audience, but I am truly curious as to why the “enemies to lovers” trope is so common across all forms of media.
For a little context, the concept of enemies to lovers is exactly as it seems: Two characters hate each other at first because their personalities or positions clash dramatically, but they soon realize their love for each other after some epiphany — usually that the “enemy” is more than their worst traits. Sounds simple enough, and Hollywood clearly has the same idea: Romantic movies, television shows and even books prominently feature this romantic set-up.
An early example of this phenomenon is in “You’ve Got Mail” — a late ’90s romantic comedy featuring Meg Ryan, a small bookstore owner, and Tom Hanks, a chain bookstore mogul. Of course, they hate each other when they meet in person, but the two feuding rivals share a sweet relationship over anonymous messages on AOL.
In the movie, the progression of enemies to lovers was simultaneous. They hate each other in real life but have this budding relationship online. Things don’t start falling into place until one of them realizes who they have been talking to. It remains one of my favorite movies, and I think the enemies to lovers aspect definitely plays a role in that.
It’s heartwarming to watch two people who can’t get past their differences finally see each other in a new light and as their authentic selves — they both realize they had so much more in common, and see it all culminate in the romantic, albeit predictable, ending.
That could be the origin of this phenomenon: Everyone wants to find that person who can melt their cold, reserved exterior and present our true identities. Relationships are about learning to accept someone’s flaws, so in these situations, enemies may realize their own flaws or circumstances got in the way of their ability to form true romantic connections.
However, enemies to lovers’ storylines are often met with criticism. Many people don’t like the premise of this slow dissolve from complete disdain to romance. That argument is valid in that fictional scenarios don’t necessarily translate well into real-world relationships.
The impact that this trope has on young people and their early encounters with romantic relationships is unclear. The concept of enemies to lovers often includes an element of malice toward the other person, dangerously linking hate and love. As these types of relationships continue to be portrayed in popular media, young people may find themselves with romantic partners who treat them poorly. They may not be able to recognize the signs of a toxic relationship because they have consumed so much media that glamorizes hate and cruelty, somewhat, as traits that can be overlooked.
So how romantic is the concept of enemies to lovers, really? Do we crave passion so badly that we look toward hatred as love’s polar opposite? As much as I enjoy watching these relationships play out on screen, this may not be the type of love everyone should crave in their real lives.