In a sense, this is Jane Austen’s fault. When Emma fell in love with her long-time friend Mr. Knightley, one might say a sub-genre was born. Only Emma didn’t realize what was happening at first, did she? And therein lies the fun with Miss Woodhouse blithely trying to set her acquaintances up and Mr. Knightley telling her to mind her own business until, through jealousy, realization strikes.
I also have a personal stake in this topic, since I was friends with my husband before I married him. I think there’s something special about a relationship whose roots lie in friendship, because there’s a good chance the couple has already seen each other at their worst. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, fears and doubts, hopes and dreams. They already have a good idea of what makes the other tick.
When I sat down to think about the story that eventually turned into my debut novel A Most Scandalous Proposal, it seemed natural to include a friends-to-lovers relationship between the leads.
One of my critique partners, Caryl Cain, has this to say: “Probably the reason I love the friends-to-lovers trope so much is that I’ve been through it. I had a good friend who was a bit younger than me, but was everything I could’ve wished for in a man. Unfortunately, he never showed any interest in me beyond friendship (or I was too stupid—or too insecure—to read his signals correctly) and I was so afraid of messing things up that I could never bring myself to initiate anything more. In the end, we still drifted apart and I’ve always wondered if things might have been different if I’d been braver. I guess that’s why I was so enamored of Ron and Hermione’s slow progress throughout the Harry Potter series, and why, in my own novel-in-progress, I’ve given my heroine a best friend who is afraid of driving her away by making a move on her. (Psst… their story is going to have a happier ending than mine did.)”
I asked some other author friends about their favorite romances that rely on a friendship turning into something else. Amanda Sumner recommends From Friends to Forever by two-time RITA winner Karen Templeton. She thinks that in the best friends-to-lovers romances, there’s the sense of wonder that comes from realizing that someone you’ve known for years is the perfect romantic partner.
Valerie Bowman, author of Secrets of a Wedding Night, adored KC Klein‘s Texas Wide Open. “It’s about a girl who had a crush on a childhood friend her whole life and is rejected by him just before she goes away to college. When her father is sick, she comes back to her small home town and faces the man who used to be the boy she loved and the secrets of their past. It’s a really gripping emotional read.”
And what’s my recommendation? I loved Judith James’s Libertine’s Kiss. The scenes between the hero and heroine during their childhood days are all the more poignant for their innocence in a hard world. I adored reading about how they eventually found each other again.
What about you? What aspect of the friends-to-lovers trope do you enjoy most? Any recommendations for my already teetering TBR pile?
Ashlyn Macnamara is the author of A Most Scandalous Proposal. She lives in the wilds of suburbia outside of Montreal with her husband and two teenage daughters. When not writing, she looks for other excuses to neglect the housework, among them knitting, reading, and wasting time on the Internet in the guise of doing research.