Pick any great movie, any critically acclaimed television show, any truly worthwhile read. While they may vary in subject matter, there is likely one element central to all of those plot lines: romance. Even in the most action-packed films, there is usually some kind of romantic relationship that plays into the outcome of the story. As humans, we crave it. Whether it's to escape our own humdrum romantic affairs or to find someone we can relate to, people love a good love story.
Unfortunately, the credit for those stories often goes to sweeping dramas or romantic comedies. Those are the go-tos for romance and while some of the great love stories of all time have been told through those lenses, lately what's been cranked out of those genres has been more cliche and flat than inspiring.
If you want real romance - the kind you can really relate to, with the full range of emotions that come with loving and being loved - perhaps it's time to turn your attention to the science fiction and fantasy realms.
Most people would probably balk at this suggestion and even scoff at the idea of either genre being able to produce a quality romantic thrill. They tend to be shunned by the masses, cast off as the playground of "nerds." But it is perhaps because science fiction and fantasy are not mainstream that they can afford to be a bit more creative in their romantic plot lines. While the two genres are often pooh-poohed for being silly or unbelievable, their characters' personal relationships are often more realistic than those in a blockbuster romantic comedy or a popular novel series.
Take, for example, the complex and often gut-wrenching relationships between the important players in the remake of "Battlestar Galactica." Whether it was the tenuous bond between Captain William Adama and his son, pilot Lee Adama, or the volatile romance between the latter and fellow pilot Kara "Starbuck" Thrace, or the intriguing but devastating back-and-forth between Cylon Six and scientist Gaius Baltar, none of those relationships were easy or neat. But they were real.
Lee and Starbuck were clearly torn throughout the series between their passion for one another and their knowledge that their sordid personal histories would never allow them to have a happy relationship. Starbuck ultimately meets and marries another character, the brilliant and charismatic Sam Anders, which further complicates her relationship with Lee. Unlike in most cookie cutter romances, in which the two tortured or star-crossed lovers are clearly who the audience is meant to root for, the BSG writers pair Starbuck with Sam and it's hard not to see why. It's certainly a better chance at happiness than she would have had with Lee, passionate though they are for one another. The relationship between Starbuck and Lee remains complex, and, because of Starbuck's inability to be happy, so does her relationship with her husband. But the gritty tension and sadness that exists among the three is far more moving and realistic than a nice, clean, "girl and boy live happily ever after" scenario.
Or consider the relationship between Steve Austin, of the TV show "The Six Million Dollar Man," and Jaime Sommers, of "The Bionic Woman," the spin-off from the original series. They are equally strong characters who have to grapple not only with having prosthetics making up much of their bodies and carrying out dangerous missions, but also their romantic relationship. Again, the relationship between the two is not easy or neat, and is clearly fantastical in certain ways, but it reflects the nuance and complexity of human interactions.
Then there is the ultimate sci-fi romance, which almost goes without saying: the grand romance between Han Solo and Princess Leia. An analysis of their relationship is a fascinating study of two strong characters who fall in love while trying to keep their guards up, navigate their own defenses and come to terms with their feelings for one another. Leia seems to have the same complex as other female characters of her time - she defies the weak princess stereotype, but also begins to open herself up in a vulnerable way. Han gets caught between his risky, bachelor lifestyle and the feelings he develops for Leia during uncertain times. While most couples aren't fighting the Emperor, the emotional vulnerability, excitement and turmoil that come from romantic relationships is very relatable and real.
There are countless other examples of quality, exciting romances in science fiction and fantasy. The next time someone tells you they are in need of a good love story, encourage them to think outside of their rom-com box. No doubt they will be glad you did.