I’m going to slide on into Holly’s Hot Takes for a moment to be yelly about jealousy in romance. That is to say, I’m going to be yelly about jealousy being a dealbreaker in romance.
Here’s why: jealousy is a human emotion.
Refusing to allow characters this emotion is taking an entire work truck out of the romance garage. It is so useful for communicating by showing rather than telling, and it’s also useful for forcing protagonists to grapple with their feelings.
Please consider: how do we understand that jealousy is happening? What POV are we in?
If we’re in the head of the jealous character, how are they processing the emotion? How does it change their perception of the situation they find themself in? Is this character finally realizing that there are feelings or insecurities they were not previously aware of?
If the POV is of the character subject to the jealousy, the question is not only how does that character experience and react to their love interest’s jealousy, but also: what is being communicated to the reader, and does the character understand the same thing as the reader or not? (This is especially helpful in single POV stories.)
Lick, which we just read and discussed on our podcast, is a single POV story. We have no idea what is happening in David’s head without reading what he’s saying and doing, and it’s all expressed through the lens of the narrator, Evie. Therefore, we have no way of understanding that he’s grappling with any emotions at all without him expressing those emotions. He’s jealous. Why is he jealous? Does he know why he’s jealous? Is he being honest with himself or anyone else? What needs to happen in order for him to overcome this jealousy and move forward?
When he’s mad at Evie for not remembering Las Vegas and wants a divorce, David still reacts jealously to his brother flirting with Evie, so we know that there’s something going on with him. Evie knows this and decides not to take it on since she’ll soon be divorced from him. But also we the reader get an inkling that David has his own insecurities and problems to overcome, we just don’t know what they are yet; it’s a hook. As the story continues, even though he’s promised to give Evie the benefit of the doubt, we see further instances when David is just not able to handle himself. It’s not until relatively late in the story that we finally get to learn some past history that adds context to his behavior…and that also reveals the internal problem that David needs to overcome in order to have his HEA. Is he on his best behavior? NO! But he’s having a growth arc just like Evie, even though Evie is the narrator. It’s a hallmark of romance!
I’m sure we can all agree that unchecked jealousy that is angry and controlling is not good. It’s red flag central when someone tries to isolate their partner because of feelings of mistrust and ownership. But we seem to have overcorrected from “actually, that jealous, dark romance hero behavior is NOT sexy” to “any kind of jealousy is a red flag so this is a bad hero,” and I’m not convinced that’s a better approach.
This hot take brought to you by other people’s reviews of Lick by Kylie Scott.
3 thoughts on “That Terrible Green-Eyed Monster”
Absolutely right! Also, how do we learn what our own poor behaviours are? Seeing them modelled, be it IRL. Or books. Or movies. That’s the only way sometimes to see your own flaws and know what to work on.
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This is also a good point. I do love a story that encourages thinky thoughts. Especially if it’s coming from a story we wouldn’t normally expect to find thought-provoking content. The fact that romance is about emotional connection between people and the characters fears and motivations makes it a great genre for considering how feelings impact actions and interactions.
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