Basically, I really hate when certain characters are portrayed in a negative light, but it seems like they're only written that way to make other characters seem better than they actually are. Like, in a love triangle type situation, the author puts so much effort into making one character seem awful that they don't seem to bother showing us what is so great about the other--it's as if they think not being as bad as the competition makes them good, which it doesn't.
And I'm not sure I explained that particularly well, so I'll give a few examples:
The Awful Boyfriend
The current boyfriend of the character comes across as really horrible. Maybe he's the overly jealous type, or possessive, or shallow, or mean, or he takes his girlfriend for granted, etc. And in most cases* it kind of seems like it's just a lazy way of making the new love interest seem like the better choice. And it wouldn't be so bad, except that they often don't show why the new guy is a good love interest in his own right, he's just better in comparison to how terrible the other dude is.
And I really hate that. For one thing, it doesn't say much about the character if they choose to be with someone so awful at all and to stay with them for so long.** If the author wants to show that their relationship changed over time, that's cool, but at least show us some reasons for them even being together in the first place, or throw in even one scene that shows why they stay in the relationship (it makes even less sense when the boyfriend is awful and the MC spends every waking minute lusting over some other guy who clearly likes her too, so...just...why?).
It just doesn't make much sense to me.
Basically, if you want the love interest of a story to seem wonderful and insist on the main character already being in a relationship at the start of the story, then don't make the love interest the lesser of two evils by portraying the boyfriend negatively, make them both good guys but make the love interest better (can't believe I'm using this as an example, but it's like The Notebook--both Noah and the other dude are portrayed as being good guys). Or if you really want the boyfriend to be awful, at least put the effort into making the new guy actually decent.
Choosing to be with someone because they aren't as awful as your current boyfriend isn't romantic because it's not much of a choice is it, it's just making him the only option (aside from being single, but we're talking about romance in books here so that's ruled out).
The Bitchy Current Girlfriend
Then we have the flipside of the coin...the main character is single, but at the start of the story, the love interest is already with someone. And I've seen that someone portrayed way too many times as popular, bitchy, shallow, and yeah she's usually beautiful but it's often described as very...Barbie beautiful, very plastic, while the main character is the "natural beauty."
I hatehatehate this character type (Taylor Swift is guilty of this catty portrayal of the crushes current girlfriend in some of her songs). Again, what does it say about the love interest if they would actually choose to be with someone like that and stay with them for so long? What does it say about the protagonist that they want to be with someone who would be that shallow?
It's fine if maybe you want the love interest to actually be kind of shallow and awful in the beginning and show how he changes, but again, that's not always the case. It's usually just demonizing the current girlfriend to make us think the protagonist is better. I have read a couple of books that handled the other girlfriend situation well, but those books are in the minority.
Just...why does the current girlfriend have to be awful? Like the other example, it just seems like a lazy way of getting us to root for the main character to be with the guy and excusing any bad behaviour on their part--like, "Oh, it's okay if she pursued another girls boyfriend/they cheated, because his girlfriend is awful anyway."
The Shallow (and often "slutty") Love Rival
That female character that swoops in and asks out the love interest first and he says yes while clearly being into the main character, because Conflict. This character is always portrayed as being promiscuous or shallow or fickle when it comes to relationships. They're loud, confident, never as smart as the main character, rarely shown to have any real depth.
Occasionally, they also happen to be the main characters best friend which is a bit WTF because, really, you're going to sit there and think all of those awful things about your best friend just because she asked out your crush? Then you're going to swoop in and steal him from her because she doesn't deserve him, right? Fjbdklfcbj. No. You are a sucky friend if you do that.
Fair enough, there are people like that in the world but this is another stereotypical character in a lot of romance stories and, once again, she seems just like a plot device to manipulate the reader. The main character is so much nicer, so much smarter than this girl so clearly she deserves to get the guy and not that other girl. The main character Loves Him, while the other girl is obviously only interested in him for his looks/his money/his popularity, so she doesn't deserve him. (I won't even get into a rant about slut shaming or I'll be here all day.)
Also...why are these characters always portrayed as being the popular types? The cheerleaders, the football players, the prom kings and queens...why is it always them who are shoved into these negative character boxes? Maybe Scotland is just really, really different from the US, but it's just not like that here (at least not where I went to school--perhaps I was just lucky).
The girl characters like this bug me more than the guy ones. Maybe because I just don't like that attitude--anytime I've liked someone who liked someone else or had a girlfriend or even went out with a friend of mine, I didn't start hating on the other girl for daring to be with someone I was into. I mean, most of the time they were really nice girls and I could see why he would like them, and can you really blame someone else for liking someone that you like? They're just seeing the same things in that person that you are, that doesn't make them awful.
To sum up: I find it way more romantic in books if someone has other good options but chooses to be with the main character anyway. Choosing the only option*** or choosing someone because they're not as bad as someone else, that's not romantic.
And I just realised I kind of talked about two overlapping things that I dislike. The first being not putting in the effort to make someone a good love interest, and instead taking the easy way out by making their rival awful. The second being the whole hating someone just for being with someone you want to be with attitude--jealousy is fine, it's natural, but I don't like when it crosses the line and just decends into this mess of cattiness.
1. What are some of your romance pet peeves?
2. Does the one I discussed bug anyone else, or just me?
3. Can you think of any examples of these characters written well? (As in, they're written that way but the author also makes the other love interests just genuinely good love interests?)
* and ** The exception to the awful current boyfriend/girlfriend thing being books that are actually about abusive or unhealthy relationships and they acknowledge it and handle it well. Again, that's just rarely the case in the types of stories I'm talking about.
***Re: choosing the only option -- the exception is of course if there is no love triangle, it really is just a romance between two people. But at least in those stories, the author has to put some effort into it and show us why those two characters are good together, they can't fall back on the awesome in comparison to awful love rival crutch.