Gone bland with how much this trope is overused, books that fake/contract relationships have become extremely predictable. The standard reasons leading to fake relationships are to show the ex that the main character has moved on or make crush or ex jealous, or show parents of the ‘player’ Love Interest that they’re capable of being in a relationship or the CEO (who also becomes a love interest) of some company needs a partner to show ‘stability’. It’s usually always something along these lines and the majority of the books have the two in the fake/contract relationship fall in love and end up together.
But maybe be predictability is not a problem for people (it’s not a problem for me…in some cases). But there is a problem with this trope that surpasses the harmless predictability.
Often, the two people in the fake relationship don’t know each other but many may argue that it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement and both parties have consented to the fake relationship.
Here’s the thing—in most books, one person’s requirement is usually more than the other, especially in fake relationships with a person of power (CEO, actor, millionaire—or roles along these lines). The other person in the relationship—often the main character who is also a woman—is not in the position of power. She sets the basic rules like hand holding is okay, but kissing is not or something like that. But the kissing rule always breaks due to a desperate situation and the kiss happens unconsented. But then the authors lead that along the romantic line because yay who doesn’t like being kissed without being asked when it was specifically said in the rule/contract that that wasn’t negotiable?
There are plots where the fake relationship is just a ruse to get the main character to fall in love with the other because they’re attracted to them. So here you see manipulation, stalking, agenda-setting behavior that is disgusting. Often this happens when the love interest is in a position of power but I wouldn’t rule this plot out in YA books that follow the fake relationship trope. And I’ve seen this happen in a couple of books (I wish I could remember their names but I’m really glad I don’t). The girl finds out the real reason behind the fake relationship, gets angry, and leaves the guy but they still end up together in the end because of how much the guy loves the girl (yay! is this what we want to teach impressionable audiences? That it’s okay because it’s love?).
I saw this Chinese Drama called Well Intended Love once. SPOILER for those who want to watch it but haven’t yet (the series really has so many red flags, I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone). Okay, so in this series, a third rate actress finds out she has leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant. She finds a match, the handsome CEO whom she asks to be her donor but he refuses. She goes after him and tries to convince him when finally he considers it. He proposes if he agrees to this, then she has to be fake married to him because his ill grandma wants to see him married. Guess what? They do exactly that. Their charade goes on until the girl finds out that she never had leukemia. The doctor was bribed by the CEO guy to doctor the results (yes, yes, that was a well-intended pun *oop, there I go again*) because he had previously met the girl but she doesn’t remember him and fell in love with her or something. So he pulled strings, set it up so she’d want something from him and he played the chess pieces so well she had no idea. And now, he got the chance to make her fall in love with him in this fake relationship. Well, he succeeded. For a while. Then she found out and she left him and the guy still tries to have some control over her life (like buying her apartment complex) and begs and apologizes…blah blah blah. He refuses to give her space. She tells him off. Some more stuff, blah blah blah. And you guys know how it ends. They get together.
Well, yeah, that’s one example. In other cases, like YA books that have fake relationship to make the crush jealous or to prove to the ex that they’re fine without them or to assure the mother that they’re not a ‘player’ or whatever, it’s still problematic. It still sends the wrong message.
Don’t use jealousy as a tool. Jealousy can be harmful to self and others. Prompting jealousy from the crush/ex can also crossover to possessiveness. Not only that but it normalizes backhanded manipulation to find out what a person wants. And it discounts the healthier method which is to simply ask the person. Yes, it can be nerve-wracking to do that and some people just can’t go up to a person and ask them. And that’s okay. But to use methods of manipulation to find out the answer isn’t the best way—nor is it healthy.
Plots that promote proving to the ex that you’re fine without them by entering a fake relationship are extremely harmful. Because first of all, why does anyone have to prove to the ex that they’re okay? No one needs to prove themselves. It’s okay to not be okay if you’re broken up with someone who you love or used to love. That’s valid. And by entering a fake relationship, the authors are sending the message that being in a new relationship is the only way to show that you’ve moved on, that being single and being able to self-reflect and take care of yourself isn’t valid. That proving to an ex that you’re okay is more important than being okay.
It’s not okay.
Fake relationship/Contract relationship trope might seem harmless and mutually beneficial. But when you peel the covers, there are a lot of underlying things that are a cause for concern. And a lot of them send the wrong message to impressionable audiences. There’s more to it than what I’ve covered.
So just, keep an eye out for the dark undertones of what seems like a harmless trope.
Take care of yourself. Your feelings are valid. You are valid.