For starters, I want to give a big shout out to Jessica Pryde who introduced the idea of Romance Tropetonite, and without whom this obsessive, long-ish rant about people falling in love in squashed circumstances would not be possible. She kicked off the Tropetonite party with a great post on Fake Relationship Romances, a trope which is actually adjacent to the one I’ll be discussing here!
Like the many subgenres of romance, romance tropes have a tendency to run over and into each other. “Forced Proximity,” though identified as a trope in its own right, is really an umbrella term for any plot point that forces the two main characters to spend time together (whether they want to or not). For instance, something like the fake relationship trope can also play into the forced proximity trope in that the act of pretending to be in love with one another forces the romantic leads to spend time together.
Aside from pretending that nuptials are nigh, the forced proximity trope can also play out in a multitude of ways:
- We have to do a job/project together.
- We have a mutual goal (e.g. foil the villain) that we can’t reach without working together.
- One of us is going to die if the other one doesn’t protect us (I see you, bodyguard romances).
- You kidnapped me, you psycho!
- Oops! Only one room left and it only has one bed.
- This carriage/cabin in the woods/cabin on a ship/automobile/train car is REALLY small and we’re stuck here.
- We’re snowed in up to the rafters. Pass the blankets.
- You’re sick, or I’m sick, and one of us has to take care of the other.
That’s just a handful of the forced proximity romances I’ve seen, and it seems as though authors are always coming up with new variations. But even from this small selection you can see how the different versions overlap and can be combined in different ways. (Snowed in at a remote cabin? Yes please.)
Another thing I love about the forced proximity trope, aside from it’s variable nature, is that it often overlaps with the enemies-to-lovers trope, also one of my favorites. Though disliking each other is not at all a requirement of the forced proximity trope, I find that the only thing better than your two leads being forced to cooperate/coexist with each other is when they have to do so while simultaneously loathing each other.
Still, whether you like your lovers combative or chummy, the fundamental function of the forced proximity trope remains the same. Romance novel leads can face any number of obstacles on their way to happily ever after, and some can seem insurmountable given family interference, social issues/prohibitions, poor communication, etc. The forced proximity trope takes two people who should logically never fall in love because of the above reasons and removes them from their “known world.” Sometimes this means physically relocating them, and other times it simply means creating enough of a disturbance in their daily lives/routines that they are sufficiently disoriented. It’s all about the disorientation, shaking up the norm until the characters are enabled to fall in love despite everything that might otherwise separate them. The means by which the disorientation takes place, however, is entirely up to the creativity of the author.
That’s why I love the forced proximity trope so much! It’s expansive, and flexible, and it creates a situation both freeing and ephemeral that is very appealing to me as a reader. The leads have the freedom to fall in love, but there’s always this clock ticking down above their heads, reminding them that the real world is waiting.
Now that I’ve made you sit through my mini-lecture on why this trope is awesome, and how it works, let me make it better with some book recommendations! Here are just a handful of romances that involve different variations of the forced proximity trope:
From Lukov with Love by Mariana Zapata
I just reread this the other day for like the millionth time. From Lukov with Love is my favorite example of the “ugh, I hate you, but we have to work together” forced proximity trope. Oh yes. Jasmine and Ivan can’t stand each other. All they do is argue and pick at each other. They can’t be in the same room without one of them making a snide remark, and then it’s on! Still, Ivan needs a new pairs partner and Jasmine needs a second chance at her figure skating dreams. What choice do they really have?
An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
But two people working together doesn’t always have to be a cantankerous thing! Elle and Malcolm are both spies during the Civil War who end up undercover in the same dangerous location. Their goals are the same, the stakes are high, and they will find themselves working together to succeed at all costs. Even if that means sacrificing the love they might have together.
Closer Than You Think by Karen Rose
I loved this book and was both on the edge of my seat and genuinely creeped out at times. Faith ends up being the target of a super messed up (think Criminal Minds–grade ooky) serial killer, and her paths cross with Deacon, the FBI Agent sent to track the killer down. Because Faith and her family are inseparably tangled up in the investigation, she’s never far from Deacon, who now finds himself tasked with finding the creep and protecting Faith.
Bollywood and the Beast by Suleikha Snyder
Okay, so slap me now, because this is one of those books that has been languishing in my kindle for months, waiting to be read. But I love this premise, so I really need to move this to the top of the pile. Outspoken actress Rakhee clashes with the media and gets exiled to the “crumbling mansion” of her leading man, where she runs smack into his reclusive brother Taj. In true Beauty and the Beast fashion, the two do not get along. Too bad they’re stuck in the same house!
Lord Dashwood Missed Out by Tessa Dare
I couldn’t leave this short but lovely novella off my list, because it’s the epitome of, “Oh. No. I freaking hate you, but we’re snowed in together in an isolated cabin.” And I live for that, I really do. When the boy Elinora grew up loving takes off for the continent without saying goodbye, Nora starts writing. By the time George returns he’s been branded a scoundrel by that pen-wielding pain! When the two find themselves trapped in a small cabin by a winter storm, tempers mount.
I could keep going, I really could. The first romance novel I ever read, Johanna Lindsey’s Gentle Rogue, was a forced proximity romance of the first order, and I have been hooked ever since. But I’d rather hear about your favorite forced proximity romance novels. Lay ‘em on me!