While the tropes that define romantic media are often ridiculed, they are immensely popular and continue to persist, and the popularity of these tropes reflects our own ideals and aspirations with regards to finding love.
Enemies to lovers. Forced proximity. Fake dating. These are just some of the tropes that run abound in the romance genre. Romance has always been one of the most widely loved and popular themes in media, starting from as far back as ancient Greece. Over time, several common romance tropes have emerged which continue to be used in various forms of media. By virtue of their very nature, such tropes are huge cliches. It is widely recognised that they are unrealistic and such things rarely ever happen in real life. However, the continued popularity of these tropes in media seems to suggest that in spite of such attitudes, people still enjoy them immensely.
By definition, a trope is a frequently used plot device in media. While the term itself has come into use recently, the concept has existed for centuries. For example, forbidden love is one of the most common romance tropes which has persisted throughout centuries; there are several stories of Greek mythology which revolve around this trope. Think of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which has inspired thousands of stories in books, movies, music and art. Other tropes like fake dating have developed more recently, but have proved to be equally popular as media involving them is voraciously consumed by people. In fact, it could be argued that the entirety of romance-themed media is now built around these different romantic tropes because that is what people wish to see.
The interesting thing about this is that these tropes are widely ridiculed by a very large section of people because they are seen as unrealistic, and because of how frequently they are used, also as boring and vapid. In spite of this, their popularity remains unchallenged, and often the very people who ridicule them are also the ones who enjoy them. The question is, what is it that makes us love these tropes? Why do we keep going back to them even when we know they are unrealistic? Most of us don’t expect to find love by being forced to share a bed with a grumpy but weirdly endearing person, but we love reading about it or watching about it anyway.
To me, it seems like the very unrealistic nature of these tropes that we make fun of is also what makes us love them. Finding love is difficult. It is unlikely that something like falling in love at first sight will ever happen in our own lives. So we read about it or watch it play out between two characters on a screen because it offers us an escape from the complications of our own real-world quests to find ‘true love’. There is comfort to be found in the predictability of these romance tropes because our own lives are fraught with uncertainty at every turn. Your academic rival will probably not end up becoming your partner, but in the romance novel you’re reading it will definitely happen.
All these romance tropes have different characteristics and often, we like them because we want to experience the same things in our own relationships. If you loved the exchange of snarky comments and sarcastic quips between Anthony Bridgerton and Kate Sharma, it is probable that you want a relationship in which you can have the same kind of banter with your partner. It is no secret that a lot of people put themselves in the shoes of the characters they are watching. In a way, consuming media with these romance tropes is a way of vicariously experiencing the different situations and emotions that arise from them.
The popularity of these tropes speaks for themselves. The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood, a variation of the enemies to lovers trope in an academic setting, sold millions of copies around the world and became a sensation on Tiktok. Titanic is one of the most popular movies in the world, and people still bawl their eyes out watching Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet’s doomed relationship play out on the screen. At the end of the day, in spite of their improbability, all romance tropes carry something or the other that we can all relate to. The experiences might not be universal, but the emotions attached to them are. Romance tropes in the media will continue to persist as long as people love and wish to be loved. So while you probably shouldn’t (and don’t) expect to find love when your dupatta gets caught in a stranger’s watch, you can take comfort in the fact that the characters on your screen will, no matter what happens in your own life.
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