What Is A Why Choose Romance?

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Nikki DeMarco


The inimitable Nikki DeMarco is as well-traveled as she is well-read. Being an enneagram 3, Aries, high school librarian, makes her love for efficiency is unmatched. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, and is passionate about helping teens connect to books. Nikki has an MFA in creative writing, is a TBR bibliologist, and writes for Harlequin, Audible, Kobo, and MacMillan. Since that leaves her so much time, she’s currently working on writing a romance novel, too. Find her on all socials @iamnikkidemarco (Instagram, Twitter, Threads)

We’ve been giving a bit of a romance genre educational course here over the last few months. We’ve covered tropes like enemies to lovers and second chance. We’ve gone over what closed door means and explained horromance and even where to get started with monster romance. Now it’s time to learn about the ‘why choose’ trope. This trope is gaining popularity and becoming more and more common. This is not only because people love to read about the fantasy of a romantic relationship with more than two people but also because polyamory is becoming more common as well. Representation matters. Romance is a genre that adapts quickly and takes readers’ lived experiences seriously.

Why choose romance is when a protagonist (traditionally female) has more than one love interest, and instead of picking One True Love, she HEAs with multiple partners. While this trope is on the newer side, I think it’s a great umbrella term. This is one of those all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares situations. Why choose covers myriad other subtropes. Ménage à trois, for example, is when three people end the book happily together. Reverse harem, on the other hand, is where a woman ends the book with more than two romantic partners. All reverse harem are why choose, but not all why choose are reverse harem (and here’s your primer to reverse harem).

Why do readers like why choose?

So many reasons! First and foremost, it’s hot. Books are safe places for people to play out fantasies that they might not be ready to try in real life. This could include fantasies that they never want to try but enjoy reading about. In these books, the protagonist isn’t limited to one partner. It allows complicated relationship dynamics to play out. A key tenet of romance is that pleasure for pleasure’s sake is a worthwhile pursuit. Nothing demonstrates that more clearly than a why choose romance. It’s an ultimate fantasy: a woman having all her needs met by multiple partners.

Why choose allows readers to explore multiple relationships simultaneously. Not only do we get to read about the main character’s relationships with everyone. We also get to read about how the other partners get along (or do not get along) with each other. The nuances of romantic relationships have been studied and written about for decades. Seeing them play out on the page helps readers better understand how they would feel if they were in a similar situation as the characters. It’s emotional competency at its best — and there’s nothing a romance reader loves more than competence.

Why choose challenges the one-size-fits-all narrative. This trope is inclusive and liberating. It allows readers to explore different types of relationships fictionally. I see this a lot in my job as a high school librarian. Teens love to check out books where they can experience something on the page, so it satisfies their curiosity in real life. Following our curiosity helps give us clarity on things we don’t understand or on things we want to understand better. Throughout human history the only culturally acceptable romantic relationship was between two people of different genders. Now that humans are changing what is acceptable, it’s important to see books and media reflecting that as well.

Furthermore, why choose is woman centered. The woman is getting all her needs met because she has multiple partners who are able to give her more than one person can. It’s common knowledge that one person can not meet every need you have. That’s why friendships exist. By expanding relationships to include multiple partners, more needs are being met. She can be “selfish” in a way that women in our society typically can’t be.

I spoke to Meg, cohost of the romance novel podcast Plot Trysts, about why she likes reading the why choose trope:

“For me I think it’s a female fantasy. First, like the trope says, you don’t have to settle for just one guy. You get the beta, the alpha, the cinnamon roll and the bad boy. Second, in the ones I read, they’re all just completely gone for the FMC. Usually they’re not bi or big on threesomes, but they want the FMC so much they’re willing to take her on whatever terms they can get her!”

What do authors say about why choose?

Authors love why choose, too. I reached out to several romance authors to get a professional perspective on the trope and its trends. 

According to Ruby Lang, author of Wild Life, the trope is popular because “when it’s well done, it’s got so much sexiness and emotional intricacy. Instead of choosing between pie and cake, you can have both — or at least a safe space to think about both.”

Andie J. Christopher, author of Unrealistic Expectations, thinks why choose have “become a lot more mainstream in indie romances in the past two years. Straight women are conditioned from birth to believe that romantic love requires hefty sacrifices. I think part of the reason cishet women like them [is] because there’s a fantasy of not having to sacrifice anything when you have multiple partners — all your needs are fulfilled.

And Kel Carpenter, author of A Demon’s Guide to the Afterlife, a paranormal reverse harem series, thinks that while why choose has gained popularity recently, it’s here to stay. “Why Choose debuted 5+ years ago and took the book world by storm. Since then, it’s stuck around and continued to gain readership even as it moves out of the trend phase and into the evergreen phase.”

Why choose recommendations

cover of Onyx by J.S. Lee

Onyx: Truth by J.S. Lee

Kate, a professional photographer, is offered a chance to go on tour with the popular K-pop group Onyx. An all-expense paid, worldwide tour is impossible for Kate to refuse. More than that, she gets to be on tour with the six very sexy singers that make up Onyx. The band worked hard to get where they are and it’s clear that now, Kate is their next goal. As if juggling six men isn’t enough, she runs into logistical problems with visa restrictions and must keep her relationship secret. But that’s when things really tangled.

This is the first in the Onyx series.

cover of Damaged

Damaged by Smauggy

Gabrielle Johansson has it all: a career, an artist fiance, life in L.A., and enough money that she doesn’t have to think about it. When she gets a call that the father of her childhood best friends has died, she books a flight to rural Pennsylvania right away. Going home brings up a lot more feelings than she expected. Chris and Charlie Richardson were her best friends, but they were also more than that. Gabrielle now has to face those long-buried emotions for the brothers. It makes her give in to desires she’s repressed for years. But that’s not the only problem she has to deal with; the Richardson boys have a secret. Soon, she’s trapped in the violent feud where she has to sort out lies from love. This erotic thriller will be hard to put down.

cover of tempting two

Tempting Two by Victoria Vale

In this historical romance, Penelope Hunt is in danger of becoming a spinster. When Colin Worthing ruined her reputation and took her virginity after her first season out, her prospects were nonexistent, and her heart was broken. She’s waiting for the inheritance that comes with her 25th birthday so that she can fully embrace spinsterhood. But Colin is now back from war, and he’s a changed man. No longer is he that reckless rake, and he wants nothing more than to make things with Penelope right. He doesn’t expect his best friend Edmond Ingham to be his competition. Penelope has been ruined for marriage in more ways than one and is happy to stay single. But when both men express interest in her at the same time, it might be an entirely different kind of relationship that she could embrace.