In my previous posts in this mini-series, I discussed why insta-love is an ineffective way to build a romance plot, and suggested some alternate first-meet reactions other than immediate true love.
Today I'd like to append that list with three more creative first-meets to add to your romance toolbox.
In the novel Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell sets the scene of schoolbus heirarchy, and the hero Park's tenuous position within it. She then introduces Eleanor as someone whose total lack of fashion sense will make her an easy target for bullies. Park studies her, describing her not in a cruel way, but with a kind of softly analytic approach. He sees vulnerability and worries for her: "She reminded Park of a scarecrow or one of the trouble dolls his mom kept on her dresser. Like something that wouldn't survive in the wild" (Eleanor and Park 8).
You might say his first impression is concern, compassion, or even pity. Feelings that make you say "Awww."
This kind of first-meet is often instrumental in friendships. Think of how Buffy first meets Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Queen Bee Cordelia has taken Buffy under her wing, and walks her through the school, pausing to bully Willow at a drinking fountain. Buffy stands by, helpless, as Cordelia spews a snotty put-down at the brainy nerd girl. But as a vulnerable outsider herself, Buffy connects with Willow in that moment and later seeks her out for friendship.
Insta-aww was a fairly common first meet emotion for the nurse romance genre, in which the spunky caregiver would fall for a brave patient. Today you're most likely to find it in Christian fiction, especially historical settings where the heroine is struggling through some kind of hardship. The hero will see her plight, worry for her, and want to help.
Pull two "fish" out of their natural habitat and toss them into the same "bucket" and they are likely to bond with one another. The shared sense of being outsiders, and shared experience of trying to survive hardship will create connection. Think of the romances that develop on reality TV competitions like Survivor. Think of Anne Frank, hiding from the Nazis and pining for the boy she left on the outside, stuck for years in a tiny, hidden apartment with Peter Van Daan. It's no surprise the two develop a romantic attachment.
Sometimes the "out of water" isn't quite so extreme as fish-in-a-bucket scenarios. Two characters might both be new arrivals at a venue that offers a benefit, such as drama club or Narc Anon or the honors dorm. The location will indicate that they have some similarity, such as thespian leanings, a desire to overcome addiction, or top marks, in the cases of my previous examples. Knowing that the other has at least one shared value removes a barrier and can open the way for other kinds of attraction.
What are some of your favorite books, films or shows that portray insta-aww, fish-in-a-bucket or "you, too?" first meets?