Kernels of Nonsense, #17: The Contentious Relationship

Kernels of Nonsense (2)Kernels of Nonsense is a bimonthly feature where I discuss various bookish topics. Today I’m going to talk about my somewhat obsessive love for the literary relationship that changes from contentious to romantic.

I’m talking about the I-kind-of-hate-you-and-I-always-feel-the-need-to-argue-with-you-and-no-this-isn’t-sexual-tension-I’m-feeling-because-I-hate-you-okay-maybe-I-like-you-a-little kind of relationship. It’s the one in which two characters are seen butting heads more often than not. I like to refer to it as the Elizabeth-Darcy relationship because these two literary characters spend the majority of Pride and Prejudice not seeing eye-to-eye and because most P&P retellings underscore the discord between the two leads.

For those who haven’t read Pride and Prejudice (I encourage you to do so), Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy get off on the wrong foot. After overhearing him call her “tolerable” and witnessing his utter lack of cordial manners, Elizabeth is convinced Darcy is an arrogant jerk. Darcy, on the other hand, notices Elizabeth only long enough to acknowledge her existence and see the insufferable impropriety of her family.

What I love about the shift from “I hate you” to “I kind of like you” is the character development. Two characters, equally stubborn, must undergo change in order to move from the idea that the other is completely incompatible to being head-over-heels in love. Instead of the traditional wooing through pretty words and long walks, two characters grow together and eventually find common ground through their confrontations.

Contention is good. Contention adds to a story through its characters rather than through the plot. Contention also shows equality. It implies a challenge from both parties and I love it when characters (especially romantic interests) challenge one another. It builds tension and gives both characters a chance to shine. And even after the two finally acknowledge their feelings, this contention does not have to end because let’s face it, sometimes watching two characters argue is just fun.

Usually there is a period of time when only one party holds romantic feelings for the other and the other character is either still in denial or still dislikes the other. Here we have the unrequited-love aspect of the Elizabeth-Darcy type of relationship. Some people are not fans of unrequited love, but I think that if you know the direction of the story, unrequited love can be utilized to draw the reader in.

A contentious relationship also employs the will-they or won’t-they trope. This is what keeps readers reading. It can at times be agonizing and may or may not induce the reader to yell at said book (I may or may not be speaking from personal experience). If this is the case, the reader is lost to the story, he or she is invested, and he or she will stick with the story until the end.

Any book with a romantic story more akin to the slow-burn than the insta-love trope is appealing in my eyes. I like seeing characters’ beliefs and prejudices challenged. I like the idea that two individuals, equal in strength, can learn from one another even if they are reluctant at first. I like seeing two characters, who may disagree, find that they may be more alike than they thought. I like seeing the moment when they realize their compatibility is undeniable.

Here are a few of my favorite books which feature the contentious relationship:

(links will take you to Goodreads)

Pride and Prejudice by Jane AustenΒ (of course I was going to list it)

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Heir to Sevenwater by Juliet Marillier

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Dark Star by Bethany Frenette

What is your opinion on the contentious relationship? What do you like/dislike about these kind of romances? What are some of your favorite books with contentious relationships? Tell me, so I can pick them up! Let me know in the comments.

11 thoughts on “Kernels of Nonsense, #17: The Contentious Relationship

  1. I love this kind of relationship as well. Oh, I do often yell at the book, there’s no denying that, but I find them to lead me on such an interesting journey, character and plotwise that I can’t resist them. I like the slower pace that the relationship takes, the dialogues … There’s just something about them. To me, they are one of the best kind of relationship in a story.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly. You’ve put the words on what I thought. I like romance in a novel, but for some reason, I like it even better when it is not the main plot. You’ve mentioned Throne of Glass in your article, and I think that’s a great illustration of this. I read it not long ago, and there were two characters I thought would be a great couple later on in the story, pretty much from the beginning.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. If you’re not talking about the “relationship” (even if it was only in its beginning stages) that actually happened in Throne of Glass, then we are absolutely on the same page πŸ˜‰

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I think a contentious relationship can really work in romance but it has to be them simply not agreeing or driving each other crazy. If it comes across as mean, angry or once character feeling superior to the other it falls flat to me. Great topic! I love when it works and the couple really ends up complimenting each other and truly bring out the best in each other.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I sometimes love this relationship but sometimes find it really annoying- especially when there’s a love triangle involved, or if one/both of the characters are just so awful to the other that a relationship becomes unbelievable.
    I’m hoping to read The Broken Stars and Throne of Glass soon, I’m glad you say they’re good!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do think that this kind of relationship can sometimes be cliche but when it works….it really works. And a contentious relationship doesn’t have to mean being offensive to the other party. As for love triangles, the more I read, the less tolerant I am of them. I hope you enjoy the books.

      Liked by 1 person

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