Let's Talk Tropes

Let’s Talk Tropes: The One-Sided Courtship

Bottom line: Do you like the One-Sided Courtship trope?

Erin: There are times when it gets icky (like, take no for an answer, dude), but for the most part it is a trope I really do enjoy. 

Holly: I don’t love it. But I don’t hate it either. 

Ingrid: I don’t love it. I also feel like when it works it’s paired with a sub-trope and that’s why it works.

What criteria are required for a book to qualify as a one-sided courtship trope?

Erin: I usually read this really broadly, so to me a one-sided courtship involves a protagonist pursuing a relationship because of feelings (no relationships-of-convenience allowed!) while the other(s) is/are more standoffish. My favorite instances tend to be the ones where the (hero) has one interaction with the (heroine), decides (she’s) the one, and is all in from the word “go.” Which isn’t necessarily insta-love…usually it’s more like insta-horny, and it takes a while for the love to be acknowledged. But I would also include here stories in which there is insta-love but one protagonist is standoffish while the other is more accepting of the feeling and is more willing to pursue it. 

Holly: I don’t even think it has to involve deep feelings on the part of the pursuer. Maybe the pursuer just wants to date the other person, and the other person has too much stuff going on right now, or thinks that the pursuer isn’t right (too young for me, too hot for me, too…much for me). 

I would also argue that Seducing My Spouse is closely related, or perhaps a sub-trope, of one-sided courtship, and that there is space in a marriage (of convenience or otherwise) for this dynamic to play out. 

Ingrid: I agree with Erin and Holly here…only I would argue that in order for it to not be icky it almost exclusively has to slide into a secondary trope.

What do you think is fun about the trope?

Erin: I am simply delighted by a protagonist coming to a realization that they’ve found exactly what they maybe weren’t even aware they were looking for and then cunningly setting about convincing the lover(s) that there’s no just fighting the feelings. Plus I suppose it taps into a fantasy of being desirable enough that someone is bound and determined to pursue oneself, and it’s always nice to be wanted…within reason.

Holly: It can lead to some great tension as the relationship dynamic changes from casual / friendship to romantic interest to love. I especially appreciate when the reluctant character is emotionally invested in the pursuer, but not ready or willing to date for whatever reason, and the slow and persistent courtship therefore becomes a way of learning to trust. 

Ingrid: I mean, deep down there’s something really validating when you see someone who just never gave up on “that person and only that person” find happiness.

What do you find problematic about the trope?

Erin: As a fantasy idea for putting people together on page, I don’t think it’s particularly problematic. That said, it is pretty easy for this to slide into Nice Guy™ or bully wont-take-no-for-an-answer territory, which is both problematic and not attractive. 

Holly: “Please date me.”

“No thanks.”

“But I really like you.”

“No thanks.” 

“I’m pretty sure you like me too.”

“No thanks.”

“Ok, I’ll pick you up at 8.” 

Duuuuuuuude. Learn some boundaries. It’s not cute. 

Ingrid: I have nothing to add here. That’s the problem 100% of the time.

Are there specific sub-genres that you believe work best for this trope?

Erin: It certainly could be applied in any sub-genre, but there seems to be less space for accepting it – at least in the form of “doesn’t take no” action – in regular old contemporary romance, where we see more of a trend away from hints of domineering behavior. It seems to be more popular in books that feature darker material, like Biker, Mafia, or other criminal archetypes, though I’ve certainly read it in historical romance (as in Slightly Dangerous or The Double Wager by Mary Balogh or in Indigo by Beverly Jenkins) and also in paranormal (sci-fi or fantasy) romance in which fated mates is not a factor (I’m thinking along the lines of Connor Rogan’s behavior in Hidden Legacy’s Nevada Baylor trilogy). In short, I would argue that it does work anywhere but the ways it might be applied and/or received by an audience vary by sub-genre.

Holly: Erin’s response is interesting, because I primarily associate the one-sided courtship with paranormal fated mates books for some reason. Like, one person knows it’s a fated-mates situation (“Her blood smells sooooo delicious!”) and then pursues the object of his affections relentlessly until she gives in. 

I don’t know why I think that, given that, when I look back through my reading, I see that I have reviewed literally zero paranormal one-sided courtship books in the past three years. 

Ingrid: I would argue that in contemporary romance you might see this trope paired with a sudden shift in enemies to lovers or in friends to lovers. Also seducing my spouse. So although I would say that paranormal and historical are the heavy-hitters in this category, it certainly makes a showing in others.

What’s one book you loved that features this trope? What’s so great about this book and the way it handles the trope?

Erin: Yeah, so, that’s not happening. One book? Please. (This is a terrible question. I always struggle to choose one book.) 

Off the top of my head, Motorcycle Man by Kristen Ashley is a good one. It begins with Tyra falling for Tack at first sight, but he doesn’t reciprocate and is a total jerk. Then Tack sees some of the personality he missed that first night, and he realizes that he’s all in while she’s no longer so sure about him. So there’s a lot of back and forth between them, but it’s also all on the table, not hidden, the whole courtship. It’s a messy one, and better suited to readers who are comfortable with messy characters and anti-hero archetypes. 

If you’d like better behaved protagonists, I’d suggest Love Hard by Nalini Singh (have I recced this book enough yet?) It doesn’t happen instantly for Jake, but once he realizes that Juliet is perfect for him, he’s totally zoned in on getting her to agree without any subterfuge or manipulation, which is more unusual for this trope (especially the older the pub date). It’s so gentle and so romantic. 

And, just for funsies, if you’d like to change things up and have the woman being the pursuer, then Marrying the Billionaire by Allie Winters was a great read. 

Holly: How about a histrom? I cannot recommend The Widow of Rose House enough. Sam thinks Alva is just great, but Alva’s now-dead husband was abusive, so she’s not too keen on the whole romance thing. So while Sam definitely pursues Alva, he’s also careful with her, and that balance is really nice to read. 

Ingrid: I’ve been reading a ton of KF Breene, and in her Demigod of San Francisco series I think she kind of skirts this trope because Kieran chases Lexi for her mad magical skills pretty aggressively and it’s obviously not totally a professional interest. But obviously because it IS presented as such it’s pretty funny and it shifts in such a satisfying way!

Do you love one-sided courtship books? Hate them? Wildly indifferent? Have a rec for one you loved? Let us know in the comments!

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