The Problems with “Childhood Best Friends to Lovers” Trope

Seldom have I gone into uncharted territory like this, but it had to happen. We need to talk. I have an extremely harsh opinion and I’ve got reasons—however as always let’s also remember that my opinion isn’t the be all end all. If you love this trope, you’re lucky because you can watch it. I’m envious. You might even be on superior ground here after enemies to lovers, but this is my hill to reside on and I’m not leaving.

For starters, let’s clarify exactly what I mean by “Childhood Best Friends to Lovers” because the specificity here is key and I need to make sure everyone understands that there’s a clear difference between best friends to lovers and childhood* best friends, it’s bold and it’s big and there should never be confusion. Where best friends to lovers is quite literally ideal in almost every way and without question the healthiest depiction of romance, childhood best friends are significantly different.

So, what’s the problem? Well for starters, media has not actually handled it well in the past nor has there even been an instant where the couple has been a big, huge OTP for me. The only exception has easily been Chuck Charles and Ned the Pie Maker from Pushing Daisies. That’s it, they’re the only ones. And film wise? 13 Going on 30. That’s it. Did little old me ship Boy Meets World’s Cory Matthews and Topanga Lawrence? Absolutely, but as I got older, it got less and less, not to mention the fact that the story itself forgot that they didn’t actually love each other from when they were kids, but that’s a whole other story. Plot holes on plot holes. They’re cute, but they’re not an OTP.

Lizzie McGuire and Gordo? Hard pass. I stopped watched ABC’s Revenge the second I realized they were actually going to go through with Emily/Amanda and Jack endgame. This is why I have and will always be team Laurie and Amy (Little Women) even though the line here blurs a bit with childhood/best friends.

One of the big problems in media? There’s always way too much too telling that happens. I don’t need to hear that they grew up together every five minutes. I understood it the first time. And generally, it relies on flashbacks. It relies heavily on unrequited love but the pining somehow doesn’t work as much as it does when it’s a different kind of crush as opposed to when they aren’t always each other’s other half platonically. (As an example of unrequited/pining that does work, Bridgerton’s Penelope Featherington and Colin Bridgerton. But again, this is different because they weren’t childhood best friends.)

Additionally, media always makes it seem as though they can’t just be best friends without falling in love. Uhm, yes they can. Lucas Scott and Haley James have one of the best friendships ever on screen and it’s because One Tree Hill never once drew in anything romantic between the two. I know it’s shocking, but men and women can be just friends. It happens more often in the real world than apparently one would think.

This trope also almost always fails to acknowledge the fact that people grow and change exponentially meaning that the two people who might seem as though they’re perfect for each other on paper, actually aren’t. It holds on to the details that well, they know so much about each other, why bother exploring something outside of this realm when that also has a tendency to tie people down to a specific place and time. Sometimes it works, but more often than not, it feels like people are being held back. There is no form of challenging one another, instead, it focuses on what they know about each other.

Also, it always starts off by telling us they’re best friends and thus, we’re immediately supposed to trust the process without seeing something ourselves, which never sits well with me. Don’t tell me, show me. And show me in a way that doesn’t feel forced while implying that everything has meaning. I want to see and understand it myself, which is why, seldom has there been a depiction on screen or in literature that’s made me ship it as hard as I would an enemies to lovers or even a workplace best friends to lovers. 

Does this sound too dramatic? Am I being too dismissive? I’ve got more. 

There’s always a sense of bizarre ownership tied to the duo as well. As if they’re the only two people in the world and their bubble can’t be entered. No one else could possibly know them because well, they’ve got years in their pockets and that’s just a whole lot of meh. It touches on quality vs. quantity in the sense that well, these people have known each other longer so they must be superior and that’s just not a healthy way of looking at anything especially romances. The years in knowing someone doesn’t always equate to something.

But why such harsh feelings? Well, buckle up geeks—it’s about to get personal. Because no one talks about what happens when things end badly and you don’t just lose your significant other, you lose your best friend in the process. So, yes you guessed it, my childhood best friend and I dated when we got older, then we ended things and I haven’t spoken to him in over a decade. Is there horrific animosity between us? No. After a lot of darkness, we finally got to a place where we forgave each other, but things changed drastically. We could no longer go back to the place before we dated. No one cares about our full story so I won’t share it, but this is also an aftermath and it’s not a pleasant one.

If you ever see me crying to Taylor Swift’s “Long Live,” chances are I’m thinking of our memories. 

So yeah, sometimes this ends beautifully, happily ever after, etc., but other times, it gets ugly and no one talks about the ugly side enough. And given all the reasons mentioned above, it can get too messy, but media so often glorifies it. 

On another personal note, I find it boring. There’s no part of me that basks in their angst. So ultimately, this isn’t the cup of tea I’m drinking from. If you like it, tell me some examples of ships that work for you. If you don’t, why doesn’t it work for you? Let’s chat.

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