I was thinking about romcoms recently – films, rather than books – and I realised that some of my absolute faves are those based on the ‘enemies to lovers’ trope.
Boy meets girl, she thinks he’s a dick. He thinks she’s stuck up. Hilarity and, eventually, love ensue.
For this trope to work, however, those initial perceptions have to be just a little bit true – he is a bit of a dick and she is a little stuck up – but both traits are about self-preservation. As the audience or reader, we see that each character’s exterior self is a defence mechanism.
And, as we’re familiar with the trope, we just know these characters will shed those prickly layers because they’ve met the other person.
Some of the best romantic comedy films do this perfectly.
- French Kiss (Kate and Luc)
- How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (Andie and Ben)
- Overboard (Annie/Joanna and Dean)
- 10 Things I Hate About You (Kat and Patrick)
- Sweet Home Alabama (Melanie and Jake – also a ‘lovers reunited’ story)
- Clueless (Cher and Josh)
- The Proposal (Margaret and Andrew – although he’s not a dick; he’s kinda terrific, actually)
Even Harry and Sally, the main characters in a ‘friends to lovers’ story start out as enemies. He’s an arrogant dick. She’s a snooty cow. They become friends, then lovers, but this film – the perfect romantic comedy and my favourite ever – leans heavily on the ‘enemies to lover’ trope.
Engaging with the other person brings out something special in each character. Sally sees Harry’s vulnerable side, getting at the root of his arrogance, and drawing out his better self. Harry appreciates something in Sally that no one else does, and she can be her truest, best self with him.
French Kiss – definitely in my top 5 romcoms – explores the depths of the trope. Yes, it is a lighthearted comedy, but when Kate and Luc are offered (very appealing) alternatives to each other (spoiler) they realise that they have fallen in love – the uptight American and the dodgy Frenchman. And (more spoilers) if that last shot of them kissing passionately in a vineyard doesn’t warm your romantic cockles, perhaps nothing will.
In How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Andie and Ben are unknowingly pitted against each – enemies of circumstance – yet loves conquers all. And yes, Andrew in The Proposal is an unwitting victim to Margaret’s arrogance and entitlement – so bending the trope slightly – but they are still at cross-purposes for much of the story. By pretending to be with Andrew, Margaret’s vulnerable side shines through.
Admittedly, although I love this trope, I have yet to write it. Wait! I have an idea …
3 thoughts on “Romance Tropes Part 1: Enemies to Lovers”
Love, love love
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I love both the friends to lovers and the enemies to lovers trope. And I love all these films. I never thought of When Harry Met Sally as an enemies to lovers (more of a friends to lovers), but you are right that in the first scene, they do dislike each other. Or she really dislikes him.
Yes – there are those first few scenes where he’s obnoxious and she’s supercilious. So much fun.