The best friends to lovers trope is a rom-com classic, and one of my personal favorites, as well. Think Kim Possible and Ron Stoppable, 13 Going on 30, or perhaps the most famous example, When Harry Met Sally (which I will quietly admit I’ve never seen).
There’s something about the idea of longtime friends suddenly realizing they’re meant to be that just hits me right in the feels, and I can’t seem to quit coming across books that fit this mold. Recently, I read two books in a row that follow this model, though I only picked one of them on purpose.
Nevertheless, reading them back to back, it struck me how many ways a writer can approach a trope. In spite of sharing the core “best friends to lovers” premise, these two books couldn’t be more different.
Did I love both of them? Obviously. Am I going to write about just how different they were in a thinly-veiled excuse to linger longer in these sweet, fun love stories? Also yes.
Before we proceed, from here on out, be warned — there will be minor spoilers by sheer nature of talking about tropes and how they function in the books.
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People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry
Other prominent tropes: Oops, Only One Bed; Opposites Attract
People We Meet on Vacation is a smart, witty take on the friends-to-lovers trope. By crafting the story’s structure and the characters’ relationship around an annual Summer Trip, Emily Henry gives herself space to explore a number of different settings and how they impact the protagonists.
Travel has a tendency to bring out different sides of ourselves, and so we join Alex and Polly as they travel around the world learning more about themselves, one another, and that 5–15% of their relationship that is comprised of unspoken “what ifs”.
This is a great summer read, particularly coming at a time when many of us haven’t had the chance to travel in real life in quite some time. Traveling vicariously with Alex and Polly across the 10 years of The Summer Trip is the next best thing.
I like that this book tackles the bigger questions beyond just “do they love me, too?” Alex and Poppy have to come to terms with the real world ramifications of the whole “opposites attract” idea when it comes to how you want to shape your life and whether loving someone is enough to build a life upon.
How Not to Fall In Love by Jacqueline Firkins
Other prominent tropes: Opposites Attract; Boy/Girl Next Door, Love Bet/Challenge; Love Triangle
How Not to Fall in Love turned out to be one of those “okay but did the author write this book specifically to my tastes” reads for me. Big thanks to NetGalley and HMH for the advanced reader copy because wow would I not have wanted to wait until its December release date to read this one!
Harper lives next door to best friend Theo, and they couldn’t be more different — she’s a cynic with a mind for business, he’s a romantic with an accordion and homemade chainmail.
Theo gets his heart broken again and Harper, newly awakened to the pain of rejection herself, decides to teach him how not to fall in love… and he dares her to prove she’s a worthwhile teacher by dating someone herself. Except that along the way she realizes that, wait a minute, she doesn’t quite get why these girls are rejecting Theo when he’s so… cute?
I loved this book, and not only because there are a number of scenes set in a LARPing community that is basically a transient Renaissance Festival. Okay, it was maybe a lot because of that. But! This story delves deeper into your typical love triangle, giving the characters depth and fleshing out their struggles to decide their feelings and how best to proceed.
As a result, it kept me guessing for a little while about whether my chosen ship was even going to set sail.
These two books share the core concept of friends who realize they are, in fact, in love. But aside from that and the tendency to pair this trope up with the “opposites attract” idea, they couldn’t be more different.
Reading them back to back naturally caused me to reflect on the different angles from which writers can approach a story.
For one, Harper and Theo are teenagers getting ready to enter college, and much of their story is learning what love and dating even are. Poppy and Alex, on the other hand, are fully grown adults living their lives and trying to decide how much of the lives they’ve built fit who they want to become — not to mention, one another.
So much of what makes these stories fun is seeing the way in which the characters know one another so well, and yet… also not at all. Harper has no idea that Theo is attractive until someone else mentions it to her and suddenly it’s all she can think about, while Polly and Alex have clearly been skirting around a mutual attraction for years.
Each pair of friends-to-lovers has a unique dynamic full of plenty of teasing and that particular language of speaking to the people we know well. Seeing into these private worlds and watching them become something else is one of my favorite things about this particular romance pattern.
There’s an already-present tenderness and understanding, and yet the addition of the extra layer of romantic feelings can send the characters spiraling off into misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
I think part of what makes these stories comforting for me is how safe they feel — no matter what happens, these are people who care for and about one another, so that even if it isn’t Happily Ever After, you get the sense that they’ll do what they can to care for one another’s hurt feelings.
As someone who cringes in the face of the Bad Thing that always swoops in to create an (often miscommunication-based) obstacle between the lovers in a romance, I like having this certainty to fall back on.
I’m going to take a little break from this particular rom com trope for now, but I know it’ll find its way back to me. It always does. So I want to know — what are your favorite uses of this trope throughout the world of books and reading?
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