The 5 Types Of Relationships You Only See On TV

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We're quick to typecast actors, but their relationship styles are even more restrictive than their personalities.

Emily Nussbaum published an essay in The New Yorker last week that has reinvigorated debates online about the quality of Sex and the City. One of the major critiques of the show — and the source of Nussbaum's regard for the program — is that it traded in ill-fitted "types." As consumers of culture we're encouraged to think about tropes through the lens of casting and character. Steve Carell is typecast as the dweeby nice guy; Phoebe on friends was the archetypal Ditz. Interestingly, TV watchers often pay attention to a character or actor's "type" without evaluating the broader range of equally fallacious but oft-ignored tropes that dictate a character's storyline or an actor's career. In an attempt to remedy that, here's Nerve's list of 5 relationship dynamics that are over-represented on television.

1. Awful Wedded Life
The name comes from TV Tropes but the gist of it should be instantly recognizable: the wife is a nag, the husband is unambitious, sloppy, and ubiquitous with the one-liners. This dynamic is particularly overrepresented in sitcoms and, as parental or sibling foils, in romantic comedies.

2. Big Gesture

Did your relationship take off when a cute brunette played music outside your window? Does your spouse buy you expensive jewelry to recommit after a fuck up? Did you fly cross country to intervene in your S.O.'s almost-wedding? Sometimes big gestures inaugurate a great relationship with few repercussions– I have a pair of friends who entered into a long term, fully functional relationship after one of them purchased a last-minute plane ticket to fly the other to New Orleans for an unplanned "friendly" visit– but many a time these gestures are a sign that your relationship is simply floundering. Relationships predicated on big gestures tend to become unidirectionally devotional.

3. Shy Girl, Sensitive Bad Boy
Alternately called "All bikers are secretly authors." When I was a teenager watching Rory and Jess flirt on Gilmore Girls, I imagined growing into a willowy bookish type who'd get picked up by guys in motorcycle jackets just by sitting in the shade of a tree. Nice guys (as opposed to the nefariously capitalized Nice Guy) do exist, but they rarely come in brooding and dominantly heterosocial packages.

4. Disposable Fiance

Another term stolen from TV Tropes. Possibly, this is the direction Orange Is The New Black is headed. In this fallacious relationship, fiances can be cast off without regret, nostalgia, backlash from mutual friends, or complications inside the new relationship. Often, TV and movies justify disposable fiances through flashbacks that demonstrate the seemingly peaceable fiance was secretly deeply flawed.

5. Just Oblivious
This term can be applied to any relationship dynamic in which one member of a pair of friends or coworkers is oblivious to the affections of the other. Closely related to "unrequited love" and "friends with benefits," the oblivious relationship is permanently unconsummated. In Pretty In Pink, for example, Andie ostensibly has no idea that Duckie rides his bike outside her house every day. In actuality, most people are aware when someone has feelings for them– in fact, we're all trained to be on the lookout for sexual advances (wanted and otherwise) at all times. If someone is acting oblivious to your advances, they're almost certainly just acting.


Follow Johannah on Twitter @jjjjjjjjohannah