In many stories a captain, boss, or other leader will have a romance w/ a subordinate, employee, or other follower.

In real life, most militaries, businesses, and other organizations prohibit this sort of behavior, w/ good reason: A captain might refuse to put a beloved sergeant in danger, even when doing so is necessary for the mission; a boss might make advances and punish the employee if rebuffed; a favored subordinate might get (or be perceived to get) perks and promotions they did not earn, etc.

Aside from keeping the relationship secret, is there any way to have a romantic relationship between a superior and a subordinate w/out these problems?

Also, is this as big a problem in a less formal structure, such as Firefly, the Avengers, or Buffy’s Scooby gang?

– Dave L

Hi Dave L,

The biggest issue is the imbalance of power. Less formal structures don’t fix that, but actually, Firefly is a really good example of how it can be fixed. On Firefly, Inara isn’t a hired crew member like everyone else. She’s paying Mal to rent the shuttle. She’s wealthy and well-connected, and she can leave whenever she feels like. So, when she and Mal have their romance, it’s as equals.

Similarly, the best way to have a romance for a captain is to bring in someone who’s posted to the ship but is powerful and outside of the normal command structure, even if the captain has the final say on what the ship does. Maybe the love interest is a renowned ambassador posted on the ship for a specific mission.

If the love interest has to be a subordinate, you could make it a lot better by giving that subordinate an unusual amount of power for their position. Maybe they come from a wealthy family and have friends in high places. The captain can’t mess with them without getting in hot water – in fact, maybe the higher ups are just looking for an excuse to replace the captain with this person. This way the relationship won’t come off as predatory. However, they would probably keep things quiet if it’s a corporate or military structure, since on the books it would still be banned.

As for potential favoritism or bias in decision-making, whether that’s considered an issue does depend on the type of group. It’s not just that Buffy is less formal; the Scooby gang is smaller and the people all know each other really well and have close connections. They’re a family, and no one expects them to avoid personal entanglements – that’s what keeps the group together. When the group is larger, people are getting paid, and those working together aren’t personally connected, that’s when people worry about those things.

I hope that gives you some ideas.


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