True love and instant attraction is cool and all, but what about love that emerges from the flames of animosity, hatred, competition, or misconception? What about love that builds throughout the course of a story that began with the pair as adversaries?
If you enjoy the above concept, “enemies to lovers” is the trope for you!
What the Trope Means
“Enemies to Lovers” is a wildly popular trope within pop culture, defined as two individuals who start off as enemies, but fall in love over the course of the story.
While the titular meaning of the trope makes it seem like the pair must be true adversaries, these stories are not limited to having the pair be actual enemies. Stories that have “enemies to lovers” as their theme can have actual enemies, like a villain and a superhero, but they can also include stories revolving around “rivals to lovers,” or they can be “former best friends to lovers,” or even “divorced couple to lovers.”
Basically, any story that has a pair of individuals that start off with some animosity toward each other and overcome that for love can fit this trope beautifully. The possibilities are endless!
One of my favorite examples of this trope comes from the classic 90s film, 10 Things I Hate About You. From their first meeting, Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles) hates Patrick (Heath Ledger) on principle. He’s a person, which is already strike one, but he also smokes and wears “big dumb combat boots.” Over the course of the movie, however, he charms her until she falls head over heels for him.
Recently, this trope has spread like wildfire within popular media, especially in young adult novels. Books like the Serpent and Dove series by Shelby Mahurin, Daughter of a Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal, and the Caraval series by Stephanie Garber enraptured audiences and recommendations for this trope have taken the online book lovers’ forums by storm.
The Popularity of Enemies to Lovers Stories
One of the possible explanations could be the tension that underlies the protagonists’ interactions. The characters are confronted with emotional disdain warring with attraction or increasing empathy for one another. This can lead to iconic moments of banter and passionate outbursts from one or both characters. It also serves to feel incredibly satisfying when the tension snaps and the characters declare their love for one another (usually angrily) or share their first kiss.
Take Aubrey Rose and Thomas Creswell in Kerri Maniscalco’s Stalking Jack the Ripper. Thomas’s fear for Aubrey Rose’s safety after a terrifying incident could have been the catalyst that tipped him over the edge and encouraged his enactment of his feelings, as well as her reciprocation. Yet, the two of them spend the majority of the book bickering angrily, and readers witness the culmination of their passion when they finally meet in an embrace.
Another explanation could be that this formula allows for us to get to know the characters without the romance clouding our perception of them. The attraction between them may be present, but both readers and the main characters are subject to getting to know the characters in real time. We get to learn about their personalities and traits and interests. This allows us to truly understand the characters without romantic notions getting completely in the way.
Pride and Prejudice is a great example of this. Mr. Darcy allows for his pride to get in the way of getting to know Elizabeth Bennett before making a judgement on her character and looks, and Elizabeth, having caught wind of Mr. Darcy’s feelings, allows her perception of his overall character to be influenced by her prejudice. It is only when they work through their misconceptions and actually get to know each other that they begin to fall in love.
Or the reason we love ‘enemies to lovers’ could be the anticipation. Readers know that these characters will eventually come together, and, as the phrase states, “Good things come to those who wait.” The relationship is such a slow burn, and given the fact that the relationship starts out with the pair hating each other, there are numerous twists and turns that the relationship can take before they finally get together.
Whatever the reason, the ‘Enemies to Lovers’ trope is a thriving sector of young adult fiction and will more than likely remain a popular theme of the genre for the foreseeable future.
Recent Book Recommendations
- Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco (sequel, Kingdom of the Cursed, releasing October 26)
- Pride and Premeditation by Trizah Price
- Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
- The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould
- Gods and Monsters (Serpent & Dove #3) by Shelby Mahurin
- Out of Character by Annabeth Albert
- Be Dazzled by Ryan La Sala
For even more recommendations, check out this list!
This feature is part of a series called Trope Tuesday here on the Books section of The Young Folks. In this series, we choose a trope that we love and explore its history, what is special about it, and provide recommendations!