Can the Protagonist Act as an Obstacle in a Romance?

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Hello! I’m writing a fantasy story where large parts of the story are dedicated to the romance between the main characters, but the protagonist is averse to emotional closeness. So when feelings start to develop it’s the love interest that pursues the relationship, with him only wanting to keep them comfortably close as a friend.

I’m not sure if this is a problem. It does cause him to serve more as an obstacle instead of a proactive character in the scenes between them, but I’m not sure if that’s going to hurt the story as a whole when he’s proactive in the larger story.

– Bobbert

Hi Bobbert,

If you’d like to have a romance where the protagonist’s aversion to emotional closeness is an obstacle, that’s totally doable. However, with your protagonist “only wanting to keep them comfortably close as a friend” and leaving the love interest to do all the work pursuing the relationship, I’m afraid the love interest might end up coming off as a creep. That’s how characters look when they persist in pursuing someone who just wants to be friends.

The key to fixing this is to have the protagonist want to overcome his emotional aversion. When romantic feelings start to appear, depict his internal conflict, in which he wants to be closer to his love interest but also has an aversion to getting too close. Let that contradiction show up a bit in his behavior; just make sure readers know why he’s acting the way he is. Also, they should understand why he is averse to closeness. If there’s a backstory reason, maybe he got burned in the past, then you’ll probably want to do a little exposition on that to fill readers in. Once readers understand he wants this relationship but he’s facing an emotional obstacle, they’ll be much more likely to root for your romance.

The love interest can try to pursue the relationship and then feel burned by his mixed messages. If he tells the love interest he only wants to be friends, the love interest should take that at face value and not pursue him further. Then, once the love interest backs off, it should be up to the main character to overcome his aversion and tell the love interest how he feels. Maybe he has to apologize or do something to make up for sending mixed messages. Readers will find it really satisfying to watch him grow as a person and get past the obstacle holding him back (instead of being passive and his love interest having all the agency).

I hope that gives you some ideas. Happy writing!


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  1. Jeppsson

    This is one BIG issue I had with the Black Mirror episode “San Junipero”. I didn’t like it at all, even though so many people absolutely loved it. The biggest reason for my aversion is that Kelly keeps pushing HARD for sex and romance with Yorkie, even though Yorkie keeps looking uncomfortable and withdrawing from Kelly and does absolutely nothing to indicate she wants this.

    It was clear to me as a viewer that I was supposed to think that Yorkie was actually super into Kelly and was merely really introverted and/or repressed, and so Kelly did Yorkie a favour when she kept on pushing. EVENTUALLY, Yorkie actually says and does things that indicate as much, and the romance becomes mutual.
    But in-universe, there’s no way Kelly could know that things would play out this way. In-universe, Kelly is simply a woman who doesn’t take “no” for an answer, and yet we’re supposed to think this episode is romantic from start to finish.

  2. Mrs. Obed Marsh

    Most genre romance novels use the characters’ personality flaws to create conflict. I recommend you give romance a try! But then, I always recommend that.

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