Why do we feel the need to pair off our lead characters?
I’m curious about something. When I talk to other people doing NaNoWriMo, or other writers in general, it always seems like that if they have more than one main character, there has to be a romantic relationship between them. This is more prevalent when the characters are of opposite genres, but I’m going to assume that’s because most of the writers I know and talk to are heterosexual. All part of that “write what you know” mantra.
But why does it have to be that way? I don’t think it’s something that’s always true to life. After all, I have several female friends and have a great time hanging out with them, trading stories about the things we’ve done and generally gossiping. That doesn’t mean I have an interest in any of them in a romantic fashion. Sometimes it’s really nice to be just friends.
Perhaps it’s just the still slightly bitter divorced guy in me speaking, but that dynamic seems largely absent from a lot of fiction. It seems like, especially on television, if a male and female character are friends, things start to revolve around a certain “will they or won’t they” tension. Or their orientations are conveniently incompatible. From the media it seems like every women’s best friend is a slightly sassy gay guy with excellent taste in shoes. (Or maybe I just consume trashy media)
For example, for much of the X-Files, Mulder and Scully are shown as colleagues who respect each other and gradually become friends despite his inclination towards the spooky and her scientific skepticism. Despite this clearly established professional relationship, a lot of reaction towards the show was about if and when the two of them would kiss and progress to a distinctly less professional relationship. What was wrong with having the two of them not be into each other in that way?
It’s a little worrying that the only literary example of friends remaining “just friends” that I can think of crops up in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (a title that Blackadder III ruined for me due to punnery.) Elinor and Colonel Brandon work well as friends, even if the other characters in the novel seem to want them to end up as more. I hope somebody can give me some examples from a book that is less than two hundred years old.
I understand that a love story is a great font for drama (and in the case of NaNoWriMo, word count) and that it might allow for more varied situations, but do we always have to sacrifice a well written friendship to get to that? After all, if a relationship with a good friend goes wrong (which happens quite a bit in fiction and reality) you lose a friend that you can dish out the details to, or who can act as a shoulder to cry on.
Basically, I’m arguing that Billy Crystal’s “Harry” in When Harry Met Sally is wrong when he says:
“No man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.”
It’s just that the way that most media portrays relationships, he’s unfairly proven right.