With the overwhelming success of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Bridgerton, and the lukewarm success of many other Netflix titles, it holds true that fake dating plots will continue to dominate the romcom space. Luckily for movie and television developers, there are a ton of amazing fake dating romance novels to draw from.
We all have a favorite trope. For me, it’s fake dating. These stories have the same general structure, but they’re changeable to pretty much any relationship you want to put together. Even if it’s a foregone conclusion that the two characters will end up together, a fake dating plot still holds a lot of tension. It’s less about when they admit their feelings and more about how they come out. The tension rises until it breaks, and then they finally have to figure out their feelings for each other. For someone like me who loves this trope, it’s always delicious.
If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane
Breakups are notoriously super fun and easy, but it’s a little difficult when you work with your ex of ten years at the same cutthroat law firm. To avoid the humiliation of dealing with her ex and his new girlfriend, Laurie recruits the office playboy, Jamie, to play out a fake relationship. Even though it’s all for social media and getting people off her back, Laurie starts to get confused about the line between real and fake with the devilishly handsome Jamie. It’s more than just fake dating — Laurie has a real struggle to get through with the upending of her life. Even though Jamie is great, she needs to figure out how to stand on her own as well.
First Comes Like by Alisha Rai
Even more than fake dating, this book deals with two different types of celebrity: beauty influencer Jia and Bollywood royalty Dev are completely distinct breeds of fame. Jia is initially fooled by a Dev impersonator trying to catch her on social media, but they have to turn this fake identity business into a fake dating scheme when the paparazzi catch wind of what’s going on. It’s a refreshing take on the weirdness of falling in love with a celebrity, then a catfish, and then a person.
A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole
In the third installment of her fantastic Reluctant Royals series, Alyssa Cole brought her deft touch to the fake dating trope. Nya Jerami returns home for a wedding and runs into the notorious bad boy prince, Johan von Braustein. Johan is a tabloid fixture, but his reasons are more admirable than Nya originally realized. When they strike up a fake engagement to keep the paparazzi attention on him instead of his brother, both will have to confront their feelings for each other. Alyssa Cole gets a lot of love for this series and it completely lives up to the hype — these are essential reading for any contemporary romance fan.
Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall
Luc O’Donnell has an image problem, in that there was one bad photo taken of him that has spiraled out of control in the media. Even though he never asked to be famous, his image takes a nosedive and he has to clean it up. He finds Oliver Blackwood, a super normal barrister, to pretend to be his boyfriend. This book is so endearingly funny and sweet that I can’t recommend it enough. Even though the fake boyfriends seem to originally have nothing in common, they find a lot to like about each other, as tends to happen when you’re spending a ton of time together.
Rules of Engagement by Selena Montgomery
Written by a romance author who spends her non-writing days protecting democracy, this novel follows Dr. Raleigh Foster’s first undercover mission. Fellow agent Adam Grayson is assigned to pose as her lover, and together they have to try to infiltrate the terrorist organization Scimitar. With all the thrilling suspense of a Bond film, we follow these two agents on a thrilling mission and go through majorly intense experience that almost inevitably leads to a new kind of passion. Unfortunately, this Selena Montgomery title is out of print, but you could probably find a copy on Biblio or at a used bookstore.
Make a Scene by Mimi Grace
Attending your ex’s wedding is bad enough, but lying about having a boyfriend and then not showing up with him sounds like torture. The deliciously cringey problem that Retta has set up for herself means that she has to ask the owner of the boxing gym next to her bakery to be her fake boyfriend for the weekend. In a stunning turn of events, flirting turns into something more and the wedding makes them consider how real this relationship is going to be after it’s all over.
Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur
In a bid to protect herself from bad dates and heartbreak, Darcy Lowell tells her well-meaning brother that she had a love connection with his most recent setup, Elle. Unfortunately, the date didn’t go well for either of them — Elle is head in the clouds, Darcy is completely feet on the ground. Darcy explains the miscommunication and Elle agrees to play along, provided Darcy also helps Elle with her family. The intensity of dealing with family around the holidays very obviously gets to the two women, and the fake dating becomes a lot less fake.
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
Dani doesn’t do relationships — she’s far too ambitious to get bogged down in the quotidian distractions of romantic attachments. In Hibbert’s refreshingly realistic storytelling, we follow Dani on her quest to find a friend-with-benefits. When Zafir rescues Dani from a fire drill, their story goes viral for romantic reasons, instead of the sexual ones Dani is pursuing privately. Zaf asks for her help to promote his sports charity and keep up the #DrRugbae ruse. Dani pushes hard to get her friends with benefits relationship with Zaf going, but he has other ideas that might change her mind as well.
Even though the relationships start fake, the feelings always end up real. It’s a popular trope across genres in adult romance novels, and plenty of options in the young adult books world as well. Fake dating romance novels are like a warm blanket for me, but there are so many other tropes and genres you can dive into if you’re just starting out and looking for whatever romance trope floats your boat.