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Will TV in the Time of the Pandemic Free Us of Tiresome Romantic Plots?

The TV industry is fretting about the stories they will be able to tell as the coronavirus pandemic imposes unprecedented obstacles. A representative from one of the major networks, who spoke anonymously to HuffPost, asked, “How do you shoot, say, a romantic scene between two people?”

Exactly! They may be worrying, but I’m celebrating. I am so tired of the obligatory, predictable, soporific romantic storylines. Maybe all those writers who are supposed to be so creative finally will be creative. Maybe they will discover all the other kinds of relationships, pursuits, and passions, as well as the obstacles and challenges, that make all our lives so fascinating.

I just discovered a brilliant essay, “We need more books without romance,” written by Angela Chen in 2018. (Yeah, I know, I’m really on top of things.) Chen underscored how limiting and frustrating it is for people who are asexual and/or aromantic (they are not the same thing) to be written out of existence by just about every major work of fiction. Her focus was on books, but the same point applies to TV, movies, and every other form of entertainment or education.

I think it is important for everyone, not just people who are asexual or aromantic, to see a whole wide world of human possibilities represented in the media we consume and in the lessons we are taught. Chen agrees. A surfeit of “books implying that life is pathetic without romance,” she points out, “is harmful no matter how you identify.” In fact, it could shape the way we understand, or fail to understand, significant aspects of ourselves.

“If the vast majority of stories posit sexually active people as heroes, love as the ultimate goal, and unpartnered people as losers, you’re less likely to think outside those narrow lanes — or even notice how you’re being corralled. When we remain unaware of how deeply steeped we are in romantic plots, we don’t realize how much of our desires come from social scripts, how we’re limiting ourselves without knowing it.”

Chen quoted Lauren Jankowski, the founder of Asexual Artists, who asked, “Why can’t we just have more narratives where you find two best friends fighting for each other and to protect each other, or a group of friends going off on adventures?” Expanding on that sentiment, Chen asked, “What if books focused more on the emotions that you could get from friendship, ambition, family, self?”

Have you heard of the Bechdel test? It was originally created to evaluate movies. To pass the test, a movie had to meet these criteria: “(1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man.” The test made a splash when it was first proposed because of how difficult it was to come up with movies that met those simple criteria.

Chen created her own test for novels without romantic plots. You can read her four criteria here. The two I want to highlight are:

  • “The novel is not “about” romance, and romance — or yearning for romance — isn’t a major plot point even if it’s there. So, maybe there’s a couple, but their relationship is taken for granted and the book doesn’t focus on its evolution. Maybe someone goes on a date, but dating doesn’t move the story forward.”
  • “The novel doesn’t present romantic love as necessary and central to flourishing. …Even if there are no sex scenes and nobody goes on a date, if the main character is constantly thinking about how he should be dating or what a loser he is without a romantic partner, the novel is disqualified.”

The other test is whether the forthcoming TV schedules will include more shows that meet Chen’s criteria or if instead, the entertainment industry finds a way of telling the same stories it has always told.

Will TV in the Time of the Pandemic Free Us of Tiresome Romantic Plots?

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single," Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2020). Will TV in the Time of the Pandemic Free Us of Tiresome Romantic Plots?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 8, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Jun 2020
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