I’ve never been a big fan of the way romance is portrayed in pop culture. It’s usually far too formulaic and mawkishly sentimental. After a while, all of the “super couples” and so-called OTPs run together like wet paint. BUT, there are exceptions–fictional couples who stand out for their depth and unconventional dynamics. From the sweet and sappy to the seriously screwed-up, here are my top ten favorite fictional couples from books, film, and television.
Lucy + Ricky | I Love Lucy
Lucy: [gets caught spying on the neighbors] I was, uh…bird-watching!
Lucy: Uh, yeah! Do you know that there’s a yellow-bellied woodpecker on our lawn?
Ricky: No but I know there’s a red-headed cuckoo in the living room.
This list would not be complete without one of the most beloved fictional/real-life couples in television history. Ricky and Lucy were, in many ways, products of their time. Lucy was constantly coming up with hilariously creative ways to join the workforce and Ricky was constantly trying to curb her ambitions and keep her in line. Feminists have long debated whether I Love Lucy was subversively progressive or typical of its era. I am firmly in the first camp. The thing about Ricky and Lucy’s relationship is that no matter how many times Ricky tried to “reign in” Lucy’s enterprising escapades, I think it’s pretty clear that her boisterous ways were one of the main reasons he loved her so much. Ricky would have been bored to tears with a stereotypical fifties housewife.
It’s also worth noting that Ricky and Lucy were one of the first multiethnic couples to be celebrated by the media. In fact, California’s miscegenation laws were not repealed until just three years before I Love Lucy first aired in 1951. While these laws did not prohibit marriage between white and Hispanic people specifically, their love was still transgressive.
Claire + Jamie | Outlander
‘You are my courage, as I am your conscience,’ he whispered. ‘You are my heart–and I your compassion. We are neither of us whole, alone. Do ye not know that, Sassenach?’
On their own, Claire and Jamie are incredibly stubborn, sensitive, and smart people. Together, they are absolute dynamite. Neither is threatened by the other’s strength and they’re both willing to risk everything to protect each other. Heck, even two hundred years and a bloody war can’t keep this couple apart!
Westley + Buttercup | The Princess Bride
Westley: As you wish.
“Death cannot stop true love,” and being mostly dead? That’s barely an obstacle worth considering. Buttercup may come off as a bit stuck-up in the first few minutes of the film but you know that girl can roll around in the Fire Swamp with the best of ‘em. Buttercup wouldn’t trade an adventurous life with Westley for all the riches and comfort Prince Humperdinck could offer her. For his part, Westley would rather endure torture and death than live without his one true love. Those two crazy lovebirds are just meant to be.
Gomez + Morticia | The Addams Family
Morticia: Do you remember our honeymoon?
Gomez: That glorious cruise.
Morticia: No quarrels.
Gomez: No cares.
Morticia: No survivors.
Gomez: Cara mia.
Morticia: So…You still desire me after all these years? The old ball and chain?
Morticia: I’ll get them.
Morticia and Gomez are freaky little buggers in the best way possible. Death and dismemberment are foreplay for these two but it really seems to work for them. After decades of marriage, they are still head-over-heels in love with each other.
Gabriel + Bathsheba | Far From the Madding Crowd
‘And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there I shall be–and whenever I look up there will be you.’
Bathsheba Everdene is a woman ahead of her time. She’s independent, strong-willed, and the new owner of her uncle’s farm, which she scandalously intends to run on her own. Gabriel, who recently suffered financial ruin after his marriage proposal is rejected by Bathsheba, ends up working for her. Having a female boss isn’t the done thing in Victorian England but Gabriel isn’t your typical backwards-thinking man. He views Bathsheba the same way now as he did when he asked her to marry him–as an equal. He isn’t threatened by her power. He always has her back but isn’t afraid to call her out when her behavior is unkind or foolish. Her frank expression of feminine strength and his unassuming steadfastness and honesty are what makes their relationship so solid–even when obstacles get in the way of their eventual union.
Anne + Gilbert | Anne of Green Gables
Gilbert: It’ll be three years before I finish medical school. Even then there won’t be any diamond sunbursts or marble halls.
Anne: I don’t want diamond sunburst or marble halls. I just want you.
Ever since Gilbert called her “Carrots” in class and Anne broke her slate over his head, it was pretty clear that these two were meant to be. What I love about Anne and Gilbert’s relationship is how supportive he is of her dreams and ambitions. In an era where women were expected to forgo careers for marriage and motherhood, Gilbert gives up his position as Avonlea schoolmaster so that Anne can stay close to Marilla after Matthew’s death. He admires Anne’s strength and imagination but isn’t afraid to call her out when she’s behaving foolishly. He keeps her grounded.
Buffy + Spike | Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy: Listen to me. You’re not alive because of hate or pain. You’re alive because I saw you change. Because I saw your penance.
Spike: Window dressing.
Buffy: Be easier, wouldn’t it, if it were an act, but it’s not. You faced the monster inside of you and you fought back. You risked everything to be a better man.
Buffy: And you can be. You are. You may not see it but I do. I believe in you, Spike.
Buffy and Spike’s relationship is tumultuous at the best of times. She uses him. He alternates between unhealthy obsession and selfless devotion. She beats him to a bloody pulp. He almost rapes her. It’s not pretty. But, in the end, what makes Buffy and Spike such a great couple is the redemptive arc of their story. Spike serves as a mirror for Buffy, forcing her to face the darker parts of herself–the parts she hides from her friends. Likewise, Buffy is the catalyst for Spike’s quest to regain his soul. Their relationship may be messy but in the end, it challenges both of them to make positive changes in their lives and outlook.
John + Alice | Luther
Alice: The universe isn’t evil, John. It’s just indifferent. That hasn’t changed. It can’t. But what I did for you proved something to me. Something I hadn’t believed until that moment.”
Alice: It’s you who’s right. There is love in the world.
John Luther and Alice Morgan are definitely the oddest pair on this list–if you can even call them a proper couple. John is a renegade cop who operates on the fringes of legality and Alice is a psychopathic killer. But hey, why let little details get in the way of a great love story? Alice may be an objectively terrible person but something about John’s stalwart out-of-the-box goodness captivates her and she becomes his fiercest ally. He inspires an unexpected loyalty in her that makes for a really interesting dynamic. They’re far from the traditional romantic pair but whatever they have seems to work for them.
Katniss + Peeta | The Hunger Games
Peeta: You love me. Real or not real?
Couples in YA fiction (or any fiction for that matter) far too often fit the stereotype of TDM (tall, dark, and mysterious) boy meets the persistent and plucky girl who just can’t get enough of that bad boy broodiness. I’m so over it. That’s one of the reasons why I love Bullseye and her tender-hearted Bread Boy so darn much. Peeta is the warm, gooey half of this romantic sandwich–the perfect counterpart to Katniss’ strong and silent routine. In spite of their opposite personalities–or perhaps because of them–they are absolutely devoted to one another. Even before she fully realized her romantic feelings for Peeta, Katniss risks her life multiple times to save him. It’s nice to see the girl in the white knight role for once.
Jason + Marie | The Bourne Identity
Jason: Thanks for the ride.
Jason: Well, you can come up and you can…or you could wait here. I – I can go check it out but you could wait…
Marie: No, no! Um, with you, you would probably just forget about me if I…stayed…here.
Jason: How could I forget about you? You’re the only person I know.
One of my favorite scenes in The Bourne Identity is when Jason and Marie are at the hotel trying to obtain information about John Michael Kane. Jason creates a detailed plan for Marie to follow but Marie has her own ideas. After entering the hotel, she assesses the situation and decides that turning on the charm and simply asking for the information would be a lot easier than the complicated scheme Jason cooked up. She returns moments later to a befuddled Jason who asks what went wrong. When she hands him the paper with the information they need, he is clearly impressed and somewhat astonished at her instincts and simple ingenuity.
That’s what makes them so perfect for each other. Jason may be the espionage expert but Marie is highly adaptable and can improvise on the fly. She fits into his hectic fugitive life remarkably well and brings light and joy into his life. In return, he provides her with a highly unconventional sense of stability and purpose. It’s a shame this pair ended in bloody, waterlogged tragedy.
Who are your favorite fictional couples?