I consider myself to be somewhat of a connoisseur when it comes to contemporary romance novels. Rightfully so, they’re legitimately the only books that I willingly choose to read. Does my obsession make me qualified to tell you which tropes make the best or worst story? It doesn’t matter, because I’m going to do it anyway.
I’m going to start with what I consider to be the worst romance trope. The worst trope, and I cannot stress this enough, is the dreaded “love triangle”. This storyline has done nothing but cause unnecessary anxiety, frequently presenting me with the urge to just throw the whole book away (or maybe set it on fire?). I thrive on the buildup of a relationship between two characters, focusing on their individual characteristics and quirks. I’m sorry, but three people competing for a relationship is definitely overkill. I never know which of the protagonist’s romantic interests to root for! And when I finally choose a love interest that I prefer, the protagonist always seems to choose the other one! Maddening, I know. I’m all for a little jealousy within a relationship, but a love triangle is just asking for disaster. And when the protagonist screws up their relationship with both romantic interests at some point in the story? Inevitable, and also the most aggravating thing I can think of. This being said, I’ve read a few novels with the “love triangle” trope that are actually *insert begrudging tone* really amazing. It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover has a complicated love triangle, but it’s SO good. I will never stop recommending this book (but be sure to check trigger warnings), it’s one of my all-time favorites. Nevertheless, I will continue to treat the “love triangle” trope as my mortal enemy.
Ah, the iconic “one bed” trope. A classic. I’ll admit, as cheesy and (usually) cringey as this trope is, I’m an absolute sucker for it. Whether the characters are enemies or friends, there’s nothing like an uncomfortable situation to bring you closer together… literally. This trope has gained a lot of popularity through BookTok, and for a good reason. This forced-proximity circumstance inevitably has one character offering to sleep on the floor, while the other insists that the bed is “big enough for the both of us”. The bed in question never really seems to fit the “big” description, leading to the accidental (or not) brushing of arms and legs. I mean, I’m not complaining! This trope also contains many sub-tropes within it, only making it more desirable. There’s a character afraid of the dark? Don’t worry about it, the other one is there to spoon you to sleep. Even if there’s no fears that need to be overcome, I can guarantee the characters will wake up wrapped around each other. Because, naturally, that’s what all of us want to read. No shame here. Overall, the “one bed” trope is a 10/10 in my book. Looking for a recommendation? People We Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry is a great one. It’s a friends-to-lovers read with more than enough of the “one bed” trope to keep you satisfied.
I feel like I don’t even need to elaborate on how this is one of the worst tropes. If you are someone who is unironically reading mafia romance novels, blink twice if you’re in danger and need help. First of all, why does it seem like all of these books create a scenario in which the protagonist is threatened with or becomes a victim of human trafficking??? If that doesn’t raise some red flags, I don’t know what does. Human trafficking and romance are two things that, in my opinion, have no business being associated with each other. Listen, I’m not opposed to a mean-spirited dude with a soft spot for the protagonist, I’ll admit that it even sounds extremely compelling. But in terms of a relationship, an ultra-masculine man who needs to assert his dominance by degrading the main character just doesn’t float my boat. I’m not saying I’m a crazy feminist when it comes to tropes, because I don’t think any of us with a romance obsession are, but we need our fair share of girlboss moments. The vulgarity and overall unbelievability of this trope just sends me into an annoyed rage. Not that romance novels are inherently believable, but the chances of living out your own mafia romance story seem a little low. Props to you if you managed to beat the odds, I guess. But it doesn’t change the fact that if you’re reading these types of books, I’m willing to bet that you’re a middle schooler scrolling through Wattpad. No shame though, we all went through the glorious Wattpad phase.
The “athlete” trope is still a little new to me, but I figured I’d give it a go considering its growing popularity. This trope consists of at least one of the characters being an athlete, and let’s be honest, it’s usually the male. That’s totally fine by me, but it seems a little stereotypical, if not predictable. Now, I’m probably not the most qualified person to be writing about sports romance, but I have read my fair share. My most recent read within this trope would be The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata. I know it sounds weird, but my BookTok algorithm seemed to think I’d love it. It was one of those novels with the ugly realistic covers, in this case, a football player holding a helmet. Can we all agree that books look more appealing with those colorful, illustrated covers? Anyway, I rated the novel a solid 3.5 / 5 stars, which is pretty decent. The most off-putting thing to me when reading this book, or any sports romance novel in general, is the description of the athlete. It would be fine if the author commented on how muscular they were, but apparently I am forced to continually acknowledge how “huge” and “monstrous” they are on EVERY SINGLE PAGE. At this point, I’m imagining the athlete to be an eight-foot-tall giant with 500 pounds of muscle. I don’t care what the character looks like, but I won’t hesitate to create a petition to ban the “athlete” trope if I have to read the word “bulky” one more time. In conclusion, I’d consider sports romance novels to occupy a very neutral place on the scale of best/worst tropes.
Congratulations, you’ve finally made it to the best trope of all time. I could literally write an essay on why “workplace enemies-to-lovers” is undoubtedly the greatest trope, but this paragraph will have to suffice. Where do I even start? The initial enemy phase between the characters is developed using snarky banter and office rivalry that creates the most wonderful slow-burn. Not to mention the characters are always complete opposites: the brooding, grumpy-yet-overachieving character and the eclectic, colorful protagonist. The pairing is literally fate because, of course, opposites never fail to attract. It’s so obvious that this irrational competition between the characters has been cultivated from an almost unrequited romantic desire, because making each other feel angry is better than nothing, right? Yes, absolutely yes. This tension inevitably builds into an eventual truce, staying late in the office to help each other on a project or attending an event in which one of the characters desperately needs a plus-one so that they don’t seem utterly pathetic. When I tell you I live for this trope, I mean that I seriously need it to breathe. The way the characters overcome their misconceptions and stubbornness toward each other is nothing short of a literary masterpiece. And when the characters finally confess their undying love for each other, I swear I can see fireworks on the page. Is it bad that this trope might just be the only thing that brings me joy? You tell me, but I’m also a college student, so it doesn’t seem too improbable. Does this trope give society extremely unrealistic expectations? Yes, but who cares! Let me imagine that the mean guy at my work has a secret obsession with me, instead of the alternative, which is that he’s just a jerk and having a job sucks. Trust me when I say I have so many amazing recommendations for the “workplace enemies-to-lovers” trope, but The Hating Game by Sally Thorne is not only my favorite book in this particular trope, but probably one of my top three favorite romance novels of all time. It’s also being adapted into a film, so keep an eye out for that. If you’re looking to see it when it comes to theaters, I’ll be your very own plus-one!
I promise that, even in college, it’s possible to find time for your daily dose of romantic reads. Take it from me, I’ve only been a college student for a month and I’ve already read five romance novels. Mom, if you’re reading this, I promise I have friends. But being passionate about reading can also create great connections with other readers. Don’t be shy, get on BookTok or Goodreads and share your opinions! I personally gather a majority of my want-to-read books based on recommendations from others, and hopefully I’ve given you a few to start with in this article. There are going to be fantastic novels in whatever romance trope you read, no matter what your generalized opinions are about a specific trope, so go out and start reading!