My husband and I recently played the video game, Devil May Cry 5. If you aren’t familiar with the franchise, it is worth checking out. But this blog post isn’t about the game, it’s about something that stood out to both of us in the course of the game. Nero, one of the main characters, has a girlfriend that is never seen on screen but comes up in three different scenes. She is the person Nero calls for emotional support. She is shown to be kind, thoughtful, and a partner who is there for him.
We asked ourselves, why does this portrayal of a healthy relationship with communication, respect, and obvious love stand out to us so much? The answer was because it is so rare to see love interests or romantic relationships portrayed in media in this fashion. We talked it out further and we realized what we tend to see are three different portrayals of love interests over and over again that do not show healthy relationships.
- The Motivator
- The Obstacle
- The Goal
And when you look at these in detail, they aren’t portraying relationships that should be idolized or mimicked. Don’t believe me? Let’s break it down.
“I didn’t kill my wife!” That is the main motivator for the main character in The Fugitive, where not only is he motivated to find the real man who killed the wife he loved, but to also prove his innocents. This is such a common trope. The dead spouse, the dead fiancee/fiance. It doesn’t matter if they were murdered or died from some other mechanism, all that matters to drive the story and the hero forward is that they are no longer living. Why were they so important and loved by the main character? Who cares. No one knows. They are dead and that is the only thing that matters to the story. We have both seen this played out in movies, tv shows, video games, and books and it takes away all identity for the love interest. Talk about lame. And this isn’t even limited to romantic love! It drags familial love into its murky waters all the time.
The love interest is something to overcome in this case. They might be holding the main character back from reaching their full potential. They could be incompatible with the main characters’ ultimate goals. Maybe they constantly undermine the character or in some other way set them up for failure. The romantic interest becomes a foil and adds conflict and tension to the plot. While it can make an interesting read, it means that the relationship being portrayed isn’t really healthy. There are major incompatibilities. There is a lack of communication. There is a desperate need for a breakup, therapy, or questioning of why these people even were together?
Need an example? Go watch the relationships on Friends between Rachel and Ross. It is horrible, unhealthy, and there is no reason they should be shipped together. Ever.
This is the Princess Peach role. They are the ultimate goal that needs to be achieved. They are what the main character wants to accomplish. You can switch the love interest out with a treasure chest or a mannequin and it probably wouldn’t change the story much. Half the time this role is portrayed, I am never even sure if the main character actually knows the love interest. Are they in love with the person or the idea of the person they have built-in their head?
Now we admit there are plenty of stories, movies, tv shows, and books that don’t fall into any of these three tropes. However, look over your favorite media. Like right now, I can wait, go look it over. Do any of these three roles for the love interest arise? (I hope the answer is no, but let’s be honest, you are probably saying yes)
What we want to see are relationships that show the couple as a team. We want effective communication, support, respect, honesty. We want to see the tension in the story come from outside the relationship or even if it’s internal, the couple to come together to deal with the issue. We want more of these relationships so the relationship in Devil May Cry 5 doesn’t stand out. Let’s flood the market with healthy relationships!