Bromances, Frenemies, Romances and Just Good Friends: The Lure of Non-Romantic Partners and Storylines in Fiction
When people interview me, a standard question is “What do you do when you’re not writing?” Sometimes they even say “besides reading” so I can’t answer with that. My answer is always, even if they don’t nix the reading option, is “I watch TV.”
I watch a lot of TV—some is with my husband and daughter, but I watch a tonnage on my own. When I get stuck writing or have simply been at the computer too long, I whip out my phone or laptop, queue up a streaming service and gorge. I watch just about any genre, though I really love shows far-removed from my novels: ones with police procedure, policial intrigue, legal issues or spies. Right now I’m binging on Covert Affairs, though I have Castle on backup from a Marie Sexton recommendation. I inhaled the entire series of Medium one winter in the span of a month—a real feat, as that show has nine seasons.
Two of my favorite shows though are Suits and White Collar, and I’m totally there because of the chemistry between the male leads. I write gay romance, and it’s not a big reach to imagine I’m slashing Peter and Neal or Mike and Harvey. The truth is, though, I’m not, and it’s for the same reason I’m a little nervous about the romance blooming in season 4 of Covert Affairs and why every time they give Abbie and Ichabod an intimate moment on Sleepy Hollow I dig my fingernails into my armchair to still my nerves. It’s not that I wouldn’t love a gay twist in Suits or don’t want Abbie to have a romance, but more that I love the shows’ tension, and if the main characters get together, that tension changes.
It’s one of the hardest things to wrangle as a romance author: giving the reader lots of euphoric moments, kisses and tangles of limbs but also the tension of will it really work out? Once the romantic leads are hooked up, there can still be tension, but it gets harder to spin.
As a viewer, I love seeing characters get together, but we all know once they hook up they’re liable either to turn boring or broken apart. In the past romances have tanked shows—hello, Moonlighting—and I know from whispers that when I start Castle, the romance’s eventual resolution makes the show shaky for some. I wish there could be a continuing romance in a show without it being boring—though I’d rather have a romance turn boring than the writers to turn the characters sour. I had to bail on Scandal because I had no one to root for, and the bad guys won too often. I really need that HEA, that sense that at least in fiction, everything will be okay.
Sometimes I wonder though if romance in story is changing all around, though. Maybe that romance in Covert Affairs will bloom and fade and the relationships will survive—after all, it’s never been the focus of the show, only a sidebar. Maybe they’ll find a way to make them stable together romantically and keep the interest going.
Romance novels have already done this: I couldn’t possibly list all the series with romantic through-lines where the resolution takes upwards of seven books to complete and the story remains engaging and satisfying, the characters still good at heart.
Maybe the answer is that the way we tell romantic stories are evolving. I’m living proof of that: ten years ago the few LGBT romances that existed were largely off in a separate pool, and today we’ve settled in all over, even at New York romance imprints. Someday not too far away there will be a gay romance storyline in a legal TV drama. So why wouldn’t romance and relationships and the way we tell those stories evolve in other ways too?
Because what’s a romance but a beautiful exploration of two people coming together? Whether they barely kiss on the page or engage in intense BDSM on-screen, at its backbone romance is about connection and partnering. It’s the part I love to write, why my series, which all contain new guys getting together at the core, bring back old heroes as integral supporting characters. I love writing romantic tension and romantic resolution, but I love just as much those shopping scenes and kitchen adventures and arguments in the hotel lobby.
So here’s to relationships and the continuing evolution of how they present: man and woman, two men, two women, sweet or sexy, fiery or friendly, romantic or platonic. I’ll keep reading, watching, and writing them. And I’d put a lot of money down that no matter how the presentation changes, none of us will ever get tired of them.
Heidi Cullinan has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. She enjoys writing across many genres but loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren’t enough of those stories out there. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, knitting, listening to music, and watching television with her husband and ten-year-old daughter. Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights and is proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality. Find out more about Heidi, including her social networks, and most recent/upcoming releases, at www.heidicullinan.com.