Are love interests ever unexpected?

Sometimes it seems like all the author has to do is describe him/her as being around the protagonist’s age, and presto: love interest. Particularly in the case of YA heterosexual relationships, it seems like you can see the setup coming from a mile away. Of course the unknown boy in the room is the soon-to-be plus-one. Of course he’s never seen that girl before, and of course they’ll be locking lips by The End.

Maybe it comes in the descriptions, when the maybe-lover is described too carefully. Imagine it this way: the time you spend reading about him/her equals the time the protagonist spends studying him. More than two words about his hair, and you’re caught staring.

Granted, it sometimes needs only one description: soul-searing eyes. (Blue eyes works, too.) They end up turning into neon signs that flash: “You will be in love by Chapter 5.” Actually, all you really need to hear is that he/she is close to the protagonist’s age, and they’re nearly a guaranteed OTP.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind an obvious romance. I don’t mind the dark-haired, green-eyed, walks-on-wearing-checkered-Vans boy who has a sign taped to his back, “HELLO I AM THE LOVE INTEREST”. I enjoy the tall, dark stranger just as much as the next person, but every once in a while I want the other kind of romance. You know, the slow-burn kind.  The kind that sneaks in without the brass band and three-dozen roses.

Some stories achieve this through giving him/her enough ambiguity that you don’t know whether to trust him/her or not. This usually slows the loving process. Others mix it up by simply multiplying the potential love interests. After three or four grand entrances, you spend the rest of the time guessing which one is going to win; a book version of the Bachelor[ette], but with a love triangle usually added in.

Okay, sarcasm aside, I know there are numerous books where you knew exactly where this relationship went, and yet it still was fresh and enjoyable. What I’m wondering is if there is one where the love interest surprised you? Where you didn’t expect it to be him, or her? Not that there wasn’t a lack of chemistry or that they barely talked to each other, please.  But I’ll admit that I’m a little burned out on insta-love and I-am-your-new-love, and I-am-your-age-we-must-be-in-love.

So, two questions:

1. What books do you know of where the love interest was either unexpected or unheralded?

2. What’s the best example of a slow-burn romance that you’ve seen?



  1. It wasn’t entirely unexpected, but the relationship in ‘Emma’ was a great slow-burn romance. In fact, so is the one between Lizzie Bennet and Mr Darcy. I guess I like Jane Austen’s way of building relationships between her characters!

    • Rae says:

      Oh, I didn’t even think of Jane Austen! Yes…Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship was fantastic, as was Emma’s. They managed to be slow-burn without being frustrating. I need to read those books again!

    • Yes! The relationship in Emma nails it. She fell for the wrong one and ended up with the unlikely one.

  2. Colin says:

    Two of my favorite literary romances are Heathcliffe and Catherine in WUTHERING HEIGHTS, and Jane and Mr. Rochester in JANE EYRE. The reason I like these two is because they go against the grain of what you normally expect. Heathcliffe and Catherine’s relationship is so tumultuous, and [SPOILER] is ultimately unfulfilled. They both marry others, but still carry a candle for each other, even [SPOILER] to death. As for Rochester and Jane, their love for each other is not insta-love. And, in fact, it doesn’t seem to be based at all on physical appearance. Both have some fairly disparaging things to say about each other’s looks, and yet there is a bond of affection that transcends what the eye sees. This creates a depth to the relationship that I’ve found lacking in a lot of romance-type novels. I think this is one of the reasons why JANE EYRE ranks among my favorite novels of all-time.

  3. Rae says:

    JANE EYRE is one of my favorites, too. I’ve never read WUTHERING HEIGHTS, but I do know the storyline. I’ve never been very excited to read it, but your description of their relationship has me reconsidering that.
    I find it interesting that you’ve got two classics listed. You’re right: there is a dearth of these sorts of loves in novels today. The emphasis has been on the romance rather than the love, I think, resulting in a lot of appearance-based emotion.

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