I’m always all about a good on-purpose creepy relationship (or creepy just-about-anything) in a book, but something I’ve been noticing, especially since I hit my 30s, is that there are a fair number of unintentional creepers out there in Fictionland. Wondering if you’re shipping a creeper? Here’s some stuff to look out for:
1. One person is persistent in the face of resistance. Very persistent. Very, very persistent.
I think it’s a behavior we tend to overlook in fiction because we “know” these characters are meant for each other and of course they should be persistent. I find this behavior less “love conquers all,” though, and more “didn’t your mama ever teach you that ‘no means no’?” If a friend told me over dinner that someone kept asking her out and following her around and insisting that they belonged together, I would be unlikely to say “aw, you should give him a chance! He sounds great for you!” (Advocating for a restraining order, on the other hand … )
2. When one partner is obsessed with the other because they’re sick, disabled, or otherwise “inspirational.”
Straight up: if I were like, dying, or going through some major shit in my life, the very last thing I would want is to start a brand-new relationship. I do not have the energy for new love when I’m just trying to get through every day. Hell, I barely have the energy for old love when I’m sick; my husband is on his own when I don’t feel well, and if he tries to push some bullshit my way?
What pushes it into creeper mode for me is that the relationship is based so disproportionately on something that shouldn’t define a person. You’re aren’t dating “dying” or “cancer” or “autism” or whatever, and these things shouldn’t be used as feel-good inspiration porn. These relationships often feel a little bit opportunistic and yucky to me as a result.
3. When one person is professionally in charge of the other person.
If you’ve ever actually been hit on by your boss, you know what I mean by this being a creepy situation. I have never felt as physically creeped out as I have in this situation, and it shows up quite a lot in fiction–going back even to Jane Eyre. It seems all romantic on the surface; you spend so much time in close quarters that you develop this undeniable passion and blah blah blah. What if it doesn’t work out? What happens to the employee (or student, or even prisoner, for that matter–Pornstache on OITNB was in deep shit for a reason)? What if the employee doesn’t feel the same? Worrying about the effect of love on your paycheck or your GPA is pretty unsexy, which is why most IRL people I know in this situation usually transfer jobs or something to take the conflict out of the relationship.
4. Any attempt to make abduction or sexual assault into actual romance.
This falls into “unintentional creeper” territory when the author is actually totally oblivious to the fact that being assaulted or abducted is traumatic as all fuck and not a gateway to love. There are actual people out there writing books where the premise is “well, the person who gets abducted/raped will be a LITTLE upset at first but then they’ll come around when they see what a charmer the main character is” and it makes me want to set myself on fire.
5. Powerful supernatural creatures fall in love with mortals.
Sometimes this is intentionally creepy and that’s a different story; I kind of have to give Christopher Pike props for his The Last Vampire series, because (if I am recalling the story well) it highlights the power differential between the vampire and the humans she brings into her orbit. When it’s presented as a straight love story, I think it’s creep city. The vampire or whoever is usually hundreds of years old; any human is going to be a baby in comparison, and the human is very often a young adult or teen, so they’re extra-extra-underage. Plus, the creature can probably kill them in three seconds and might even be tempted to do so depending on their nature, so that gives me a warm feeling of security (not).
6. When one person makes themselves over to win the other person.
“Hey, instead of finding someone who appreciates me for who I am, I completely changed my entire look and personality and all the things that I like so you would notice me” is sad and creepy. It just is.
What would you add to the list?