Since I wrote my initial rant about deception plots, it turns out that we’ve read several of them (you can see the pingbacks at the bottom of the original post if you’re curious). Given the possibilities for tension and drama in this trope, it’s not terribly surprising that it’s out there quite a bit.
What I forgot when writing that prior rant is that one thing authors often do with this trope is to give the deceiving protagonist second thoughts, prompting a desire to confess. AND THEN THE OTHER PROTAGONIST UNDERCUTS THE DECEIVING PROTAGONIST BY HAVING SEX WITH THEM!
I mean yes, the first protagonist really should stick to their guns and say, “No, partner, I really need to talk to you. This is serious.” But really, if you were about to potentially jeopardize your whole relationship because you’re not sure if your partner will still accept you after you confess, wouldn’t you also decide to table the conversation for later so you can have one last romantic moment now?
What could possibly go wrong?
Although, in all honesty, if my partner ever said, “We need to talk,” there would be zero else happening until the talking happened. I know I am not alone in this, because when I was on a trip to Russia with some schoolmates, one of their boyfriends told her they needed to talk and she lost her mind because he was half the world away. So. (Also, who does that? They worked it out, though.)
But why do the deceived protagonists never say, “You want to talk? What do you want to talk about? We need to talk right now or my anxiety will make me curl up into a seething ball of adrenaline.” Why? Why are they always saying, “Talking is bad for us, let’s just have sex,” and then having a trust meltdown later?
You know, as I write this now, I’m thinking that my annoyance and frustration ultimately boils down to this: I’m supposed to believe that this romantic team can overcome obstacles and achieve the HEA. But if they can’t even have a conversation when doing so is important, their ability to convince me that the relationship is going to work is dangerously undermined. So the author then has to do extra work to convince me that they’ve really stepped up in the healthy relationship department. Which is hard work.