I probably shouldn't be writing this because I have a killer headache and I have just tried to take a nap with no success, which means I am Crankypants. However, I think the point stands regardless of my frame of mind:

Fictional romances which involve two people being so absorbed in each other that they end up being indifferent, insensitive or downright cruel to the other people around them are, IMO, not romantic at all. They are obsessive, unhealthy, co-dependent relationships and make me want to smack both the lovers upside the head.

This is why I started getting very unsettled by Nine/Rose after "The Long Game". It's also why I found the behaviour of Ten/Rose in episodes like "Tooth and Claw" deeply problematic and upsetting, and why Ten's pillow talk to Martha in "The Shakespeare Code" made me grind my teeth.

Similarly, there are a number of popular "oh-so-romantic!" novels I've read where the love interests are all gropey and kissy in front of friends who are single and/or suffering from unrequited feelings and/or going through tough times in their own relationships, and I couldn't buy into the romance or sympathize with those characters at all.

(And IMO Wuthering Heights takes the absolute cake for non-romances, because not only are Heathcliff and Cathy cruel to everybody around them, they're also cruel to each other. As a novel about massively dysfunctional characters involved in a gothic tragedy it's superb; but anybody who interprets WH as a great romance has, to my mind, a highly suspect idea of love.)

Full disclosure: I'm not even going to pretend that this view of mine isn't rooted in personal experience. When I was young and single I had a friend who constantly macked on her boyfriends in front of me, making me feel completely unwanted and intrusive. After one particularly cringeworthy display in the middle of a shopping center I took her aside and quietly asked if she and her boyfriend could reserve the passionate kisses and lingering embraces for times when I was not present, and her response was a plaintive "But we love each other!"

I'm sure she felt very strongly about her feelings of passion for her boyfriend being bigger and more important than anyone else's feelings, and how this demonstrated the Epic Quality of Their Love. But I'm also sure, to this day, that she was wrong. (Not least because she and that boyfriend broke up a few weeks later.)

Or to use a non-physical example, in my single days I once got a letter from a recently-married cousin saying, "Marriage is fantastic! I highly recommend it, you should try it sometime!" Which made me want to HULK SMASH because at that point I'd never even been on a date, and not for lack of wanting or trying either. But I swallowed my bitterness and wrote her a polite response saying that I would dearly love to meet a wonderful person and get married, but this was really not in my control, and that I was happy for her contentment in her marriage, but perhaps she might consider not saying such things to other single people in future because they could be quite painful and upsetting.

(Perhaps not surprisingly, she never wrote to me again.)

Anyway, I have now been happily married for fourteen years and have three children, but my feelings about this matter have not changed a whit, and I'm certain that I'm not alone. So to my fellow writers in the process of trying to create truly swoonworthy romances, may I suggest that before your characters rush into a clinch or share a sly in-joke or otherwise engage in exclusionary behaviour in front of others, you and they should stop and think a little about how those other people might feel.


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September 2017

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