Nope, we’re not talking about the 90s sitcom, Friends, though they did have their share of romantic entanglements (and two couples out of the group, all told.) This week, we’re all about the power of friendship in romance fiction, be it the enduring popularity of series that cover the lives and loves of groups of friends, or the classic friends to lovers trope, or even the important supporting roles played by friend characters who may or may not get their turn in the spotlight later. In a genre that’s all about characters and relationships, it’s only natural that our heroes and heroines get by with a little help from their friends. How do they do that? Let’s take a look.
It’s been said no man is an island, and if that man is a romance novel hero (or woman, a romance novel heroine) that’s doubly true. Romance novels are all about characters and relationships, and, even if one of our lead characters has never been in love before, unless they are a hermit or a true outcast in the wilderness, they have had some brush with relationship before. We’re talking friends. Childhood best friends, co-workers who get them, chummy neighbors, mentors, mentees, teammates, fellow troops, etc. Each one of these, from the besties-of-besties to the guy or girl our lead greets with a nod over the paper at the bus stop five times a week has a very important job to do: they get to show, as foil or reflection, a unique aspect of that lead character. In them, we get to see who our lead was, who they are now, who they want to be, or not want to be in the future. We see the shadow of the lover they will become, and how they interact with those important to them.
Sometimes, in romance novels, friendships can turn into something more, which is why friends to lovers is one of the most popular romance tropes, across multiple subgenres. Historical, contemporary, or paranormal, there’s a special thrill that comes with leaving the friend zone in the rearview mirror. Falling in love with the guy or girl next door, or finding that a favorite colleague can be an asset in both business and pleasure means taking an already good thing up another level. Those tentative first steps, wondering if Bestie likes Lead the way Lead likes Bestie, have a special tension to them. Is it worth risking the friendship, if Bestie doesn’t feel the same? Then, wonder of wonders, finding out that Bestie, in fact, does? We are there for that, big time.
One look at sales figures tells us that the above is especially true when those lovers travel in packs. Romance series that feature groups of friends have been flying off the shelves for, well, decades now, and with good reason. If one thing is good, more can be better. We love to see the gang rally around their individual members, lift them up when they are down, walk with them through hell (literally or figuratively; paranormals and inspirationals alike have both gone there.) They can play matchmaker, or even antagonist, as in the sub trope of falling in love with a best friend’s sibling, but, in the end, there’s no better cheering section when the two lovers finally reach their HEA than their family of choice. In some of the longer running series, we might even see a second generation, as the kids of previous pairs grow up, form their own friendships with each other, and, maybe, even fall in love and get a start on generation three.
Perhaps the best friendships of all in romancelandia are not between the covers of a book, but between the readers, and writers themselves. Whether it’s sharing favorite books, expanding each other’s reading horizons, fangirling over the same favorite authors or characters, romance reading friends have a special bond that can’t be duplicated anywhere else. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, readers even have the chance to talk to their favorite authors, not only about the author’s books, but the author’s own reading, their hobbies, geek out about the same TV shows or share celebrity gossip, finding common ground in the unlikeliest -or likeliest- of places.
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. What are your favorite friendships in romance fiction, be they characters in a novel, or the book buddy who goes with you on epic UBS hunts? Do you like series based around groups of friends? Have a favorite? Do you like friends to lovers scenarios? Have a favorite of those? We want to hear. If friendships in romance aren’t your thing, we want to hear about that, too. Pull up a chair in the comment section and tell us all about it. There’s room for everybody at this table.