Sure, there’s such a thing as too much togetherness. Walking through IKEA with your one true love can cause tempers to flare, but what if you and your soul mate were stuck on a small boat? Lost out at sea… Just the two of you… And supplies are running out…
That kind of forced proximity brings out the best and the worst in a person. It’s also a sink-or-swim test for any couple. Even if they hadn’t been bitter archrivals at the beginning of the ordeal, the two will clash and struggle before they learn to rely on one another.
It’s an emotional journey for a romance hero and heroine to find admiration, trust and love under such harsh conditions. This is why forced proximity is a popular trope in romance novels. And there are different levels of extreme closeness. Here are the most commonly found in romantic fiction: stuck together, reluctantly together and trapped together.
Imagine having an embarrassing one-night stand… and not being able to leave because you’re snowed in. Or maybe you’re on your way to the divorce lawyer and you get stuck in the elevator with your soon-to-be ex. You can’t get away from each other—literally. You know that you just need to wait it out. It might only be a couple of hours before you can escape but that’s enough to push your heightened emotions over the edge.
While two strangers can fall in love in similar situations in a romance novel, these events often occur with a couple that shares a turbulent history. For any number of reasons, they can barely stay in the same room together. Unfortunately, they’re unable to leave thanks to quarantine or hurricanes. It’s as if nature is conspiring against them!
Just like in Linda Howard’s Overload, Elizabeth and her ex-boyfriend Tom are stuck together in an empty office building during a blackout. They’re alone and there’s no way out. Tom sees this as an opportunity to discover why she broke up with him, but it also means that Elizabeth will ask questions about his life that he doesn’t want to answer. Can he get her to reveal all of her secrets without sharing any of his?
In these love stories, the hero and heroine are required to stay close for a short duration. This is the road trip romance, the shared living arrangements or the marriages of convenience. Unlike the previous level of forced proximity, the main characters aren’t joined at the hip in every scene and can spend time apart.
The hero and heroine want to keep their distance. The reasons can range from the fact that they are competitors at work, or they don’t want to expose their innermost dreams, or they simply bring out the worst in each other. But as much as they try to find ways to keep their distance they are almost compelled to be together.
An example of this trope can be found in the film Did You Hear About the Morgans? Two sophisticated New Yorkers are on the verge of divorce when they witness a crime. Now they must continue to live as husband and wife under witness protection in rural Wyoming. The main characters not only have to navigate a new world thrust upon them, but they also have to work through their shared responsibility for their broken marriage.
When the hero and heroine are kidnapped or stranded on a deserted island, there’s no guaranteed that they will be rescued. The two must rely on each other to survive as well as work on an escape plan. The main characters have to find a new normal while still holding out hope that they’ll return to their old lives.
As they react and adapt to primitive conditions, the hero and heroine tap into different versions of themselves. Perhaps the waif becomes the warrior or the enlightened hero discovers he’s more primal and possessive than he realizes. And when the two return to civilization, can their relationship survive?
In The Silver Snare by Jayne Ann Krentz (writing as Stephanie James), Jessie is always the boss and people instinctively rely on her in a crisis. But she’s locked in a battle of wills with Lucas when they are stranded in the desert with a group of people. In order to survive, there can only be one leader. Jessie understands the necessity in obeying Lucas’s authority, but she can’t explain her passionate surrender to him. And when they’re rescued, Jessie refuses to accept his claim on her.
Interested in this trope? If the keywords “forced proximity” aren’t yielding any results at your favorite romance publisher’s website, start your search with terms such as “snowbound”, “stranded” and “trapped”.