The Terrible Protagonist series explores reasons why regular humans (aka myself) would not fair well in the world of fiction. Click here to see other reasons why!
Why I’d Be A Terrible Protagonist:
Reason #7: Being the Love Interest
(Without Knowing You’re
the Love Interest)
Between attending school or work, taking a nap, eating food, and saving the damn world…where could I have possibly had time to develop this “ship” you speak of?
So I don’t know about you, but conversations sometimes go like this:
Friend 1: You know that person likes you, right?
Friend 1: Yep.
Friend 2: I can see it.
Me: I’m hungry.
Friend 1/2: …
Me: –brb gonna nap.
It’s not that we choose to be oblivious to the possibility of romance, it’s that life can sometimes sway us away from chance meet cutes or distracting us from realizing what’s actually there via social cues. Because when it comes down to it: you’re living your best protagonist life and so am I (…ish). So for love interests to intersect as often and as easily as they do and for something to come out of it? Well…I’m just apprehensive, okay?
But before I delve into this unnecessary rant as to why I’d be such a terrible protagonist a la romantic lead, I should preface this all to say that love and romance and this social ideal of relationships being the ultimate goal of narrative fulfillment is not the be-all-end-all of protagonism (?). There is a spectrum of emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction that exists and I write this discussion with the intention to examine these relationships being commonly relied upon to be that end game crutch for heroes to work towards. Essentially, this post considers happily-ever-afters (which is fine) with a questioning eye because although this is fiction, we should still question how it gets to the end sometimes, ya know?
What Love Interests You?
Let’s start at the beginning: what is protag-you looking for in a love interest?
Go ahead and select your love interest of choice: Best Friend? New Broodster or Manic Pixie in town? A celebrity? An old flame? Someone misunderstood? Someone “normal”? Someone someone?
Actually, does it matter?
On a rudimentary level, relation(ships) are a connection between people. And the love interest who likes you? Well, they like you. But the concern in developing any ship is that the person who boards your ship should matter equally to you even wanting to be on said ship to begin with. Meaning it’s a two-way-street to being someone’s love interest and you having interests [in that same person] too.
So my point isn’t that it’s not possible to select any ship and proceed to exchange anchor vows. Instead, it’s completely normal to not realize the wealth of could-be romances which surround us especially due to the circumstance of spectacular endeavours we partake in on the daily, such as: going to work, taking a nap, needing to study, hanging out, eating Taco Bell, taking another nap—-In all these different places we find ourselves meandering through, there are extraneous factors that could push-and-pull us away from meeting the ideal significant other. And it’s no fault to you or the other side if nothing comes of it; just human nature running its course.
You, as the Love Interest
When we also look inside ourselves as a love interest, establishing a connection [with any ship] becomes even more arduous. Let’s examine some protagonist archetypes:
Hottie with a Body: Strike that smug pose you fine specimen because you’ve got hundreds of beady protagonists’ eyes staring at you…even if you don’t know it. It’s basically a choose your own adventure without the guarantee that you’re choosing the Fated One because there are several other pairs of eyes vying for your attention. The issue (?) then is not that you don’t know you’re someone’s love interest, it’s that you’re the ideal love interest to many–so who becomes end-game, if at all?
Kid in Grey T-Shirt #8: Most protagonists will find themselves in this category without a fault of their own. Maybe you’ve got some great qualities and maybe you don’t, but while you’re the average maverick of the everyday folk, attraction still lies in the eye of the beholder. So you might be a 9/10 and 3/10 at the same time…and there’s very little you can do about that. The difficulty here is that because we mostly see ourselves (and others) as somewhat ‘”normal”, most verbal/non-verbal cues begin to blend into a normalized and expected state. (But perhaps this is the Canadian in me speaking and everyone I usually meet is a god damn Hufflepuff.)
The Ride Or Die Best Friend: Good luck.
I consider these examples on a very [very] superficial level, but all characters will endure hurdles to expressions of interest. And it’s not that many of us are non-reciprocating or are intentionally ignorant (or apathetic) to such feelings. Instead, the physical and conversational cues we receive might not be something we’re inclined to be reactive to. Humour to me could be insulting to someone else. Fun to you could be socially exhausting for me, etcetera etc. Moreover, it’s not always explicit even if well-intended. At the end of the day, it’s a continuous trial-and-error in finding someone who best fits you [at the time] that makes it all part of the journey and experience of having to putting work into cultivating a relationship.
So to bring it all back to my awful heroism re: me being a love interest: I’m all for being Guy #12387 in Grey Shirt and forever shirk my protagonist responsibilities of saving the world all for an extra hour of sleep. Don’t get me wrong, I think finding someone to share your experiences with is one of the most beautiful things in life, and I’m undoubtedly all for it. But I’m also not the greatest at being proactive to realizing such cues from parties who might be interested (meaning niceties are just that and there are no ill hidden motives here). So any romance in fiction starring yours truly would probably involve me being a cheerleader to everyone else’s fulfillment than to be focused on my own. A true Canadian-Hufflepuff cop out, eh?
But if there’s no truer reason for my being an awful love interest, it’s perhaps not knowing the difference between a “hey” and a “heyyy” for about a few years.
Infinitely different yet indefinitely possible.
Have you had friends tell you that you’re someone’s love interest? Inversely, have you been interested in someone and tried to drop clues but to no avail?
Are you a terrible protagonist too?
I play a lot of video games, basically.