by Monica Rivera Sosa
What is it about a knife-to-the-throat scene that drives us readers crazy? Psychologists will say it’s due to some unresolved trauma or unhealthy coping mechanism but I’d venture a different possibility. Is it possible the reason we love the enemies-to-lovers trope so much is because we want nothing more than to find someone who is our equal in our worst traits? Someone who mirrors every malicious part of who you are and falls in love with you because of it and in spite of it?
Sorry for that hostile attack but I am sure someone’s told you that it’s an unhealthy trope to romanticize. It’s true, we should not be romanticizing toxic or violent relationships, but not all enemies to lovers have to be these things. It depends entirely on the author’s creative decisions and the plot. I think it’s important to note that a person can like darker themes within the enemies-to-lovers trope without romanticizing them and acknowledging the problems and toxicity.
We all love the angst and tension behind every stolen glance and angry glare. Personally, I love that this trope can be seen in a variety of ways and plots. I love enemies-to-lovers in the fantasy genre but even in romance and sci-fi it can be seen just as well through a less mystical lens. In fantasy we may have magical assassins in a cat and mouse chase, and in romance we may have office employees competing for a job. There’s so much versatility in it that all you really need is two characters that hate each other. Now I will say, I can not stand when the reason these two characters hate each other is because of a miscommunication. If they hate each other, give them a valid reason and make the lovers arc more well-developed.
When talking about this trope I think it’s important to highlight one of the first literary pieces with this trope and one of the most notorious: Pride and Prejudice.
So many people associate this book with high school English homework but it’s actually one of the most recognized novels in the world for its daring feminist protagonist and socially awkward love interest. Written by Jane Austen, the novel follows Elizabeth Bennett and her experience as the second eldest daughter to a comfortable family in the English countryside in the late 18th century. When she meets the handsome and wealthy Mr. Darcy, her first impression is less than decent considering he basically said she wasn’t attractive enough for him. Throughout the rest of the story her loathe and disdain for him only seems to grow as he continuously presents himself as an arrogant, pompous, and pretentious ass. He insults her family, refuses to dance or entertain any of the women in the countryside, and seems to have no interest in being there in the first place. However, this was just Elizabeth’s perspective, so when she got over her stubborn pride and opened her eyes to who he really was and the real reason he acted this way, she was able to realize how wrong she was about him. She saw how perfect for her she really was and how everything he had done the whole time, was out of his love for her—a simple misunderstanding.
So they were never really enemies, they never really hated each other, but this is not always the case with the enemies-to-lovers trope. Sometimes, characters are complete rivals, backstabbing enemies in battles without a single thing tying them together. Here are some of my favorite modern interpretations of this trope.
In the fantasy genre:
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
One of the three romantic subplots in this duology is that of Nina Zenik and Matthias Helvar. His people killed her kind for sport and his kind poisoned him into thinking it was for the greater good. Neither of them had any reason to like each other until the moment they realized they needed each other. It wasn’t until then that they realized how alike they really were and how small their differences seemed to be in the grand scheme of things. As he got to know her and saw that she was just as human and good as anyone else, it became apparent to Matthias that the hatred heh held for her was manufactured and unwarranted. And Nina, watching him come to terms with this, realized he was just a lonely boy who needed something to believe in. Together, they were “twin souls, soldiers destined to fight for different sides,(..) to find each other” (Bardugo, Six of Crows).
We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faisal
In this high fantasy novel inspired by ancient Arabia, Zafira has spent most of her life going into a magical, dangerous forest to hunt for food for her family and village. Nasir grew up a slave to his king, doing his bidding, killing whoever he was sent to. Both are slaves to the world they live in while also being on complete opposite sides of the fight. The mad king is the reason for the corruption and poverty that plagues Zafira’s home and Nasir is his personal assassin. When they both went in search of a magical object they needed, for opposing reasons mind you, they discovered that the object might be part of a larger game. Working together, the secrets they both keep unravel and it becomes clear that they were both forced into this life. They found just how much they had in common. They both lost parents, they were both failed by parents as a product of the world they live in. However, even in their differences they found common ground. That is the key to enemies to lovers—demonstrating that your differences don’t have to keep you from love and that you are worthy of love no matter your flaws. In the end they understood each other and fell in love, not because of their drastic distinctness but in spite of it.
In the romance genre:
Wrecked by Lauren Asher
In this Formula 1 inspired story, Jax, a racer who is notorious for his rebellious party boy reputation, has finally created the scandal to end all scandals. Enter Elena Gonzales, his new babysitter. She is getting paid to fix him, his reputation, and his career while he is perfectly fine damning it all to hell. It was clear both of these characters had suffered so much that they both believed they were beyond deserving happiness or redemption. In the book, they are trying to do their jobs while trying to ignore the fact that their broken pieces fit together seamlessly. They both had secrets to keep and nightmares in their past that they thought no one could understand which made them feel like enemies to each other. They pushed each other away and hated each other because deep down they knew that this was the person they couldn’t escape because they saw through each other. This is a more common adaptation of the trope—forceful enemies due to emotional or psychological turmoil. When you’re so broken, you antagonize the world to justify your solitude.
That’s the enemies-to-lovers trope in a nutshell and like I said before, you don’t have to be shamed for liking this trope because it’s not all necessarily toxic and abusive. Sometimes we just want to know it’s ok to be flawed and broken because no matter what, you’ll still be loved.