Disclaimer: I don't mean to insult you or condemn you if you previously identified with the archetypes I mention. I myself tried to identify with the Scorned Woman for a while, until I realized it wasn't helping me to move on. People learn from their mistakes and become better, yadda yadda, good day to you.
"She wears short skirts, I wear T-shirts
She's Cheer Captain and I'm on the bleachers
Dreaming about the day when you wake up and find
That what you're looking for has been here the whole time..."
- "You Belong With Me" by Taylor Swift.
"Even if I stop wanting you
A perspective pushes through
I'll be some next man's other woman soon
I can not play myself again
I should just be my own best friend
Not fuck myself in the head with stupid men..."
-"Tears Dry On Their Own" by Amy Winehouse.
We've all been there. Reading that comic strip of Charlie Brown standing outside of the Red-Haired Little Girl's house, muttering "Dancing in the rain is romantic...hiding behind a tree in the rain behind a tree isn't." Finding out the original ending of The Little Mermaid where some other chick takes credit for her rescue and the Mermaid just...turns into foam (kinda like Echo and Narcissus). Immediately guessed that the Asian woman has to kill herself at the end of Madame Butterfly over a white guy. Laughing at the gay guy who can't get any so he starts hitting on straight men. Justifying Frollo's angry burning of Esmeralda by saying "Well, she rejected him!" or crying out "Why didn't Esmeralda get together with Quasimodo?!"
Pining, longing, sighing, burning with anger.
Among the media's favorite heartwrenching tearjerker topics, unrequited love is a huge cash cow. It paints our protagonist as a martyr who is easy to relate to. It allows us to rail against all those shallow, shallow nimrods who rejected our irresistible offer to go out with us and like, do stuff (Shut up, we were fourteen and had no idea what people did on dates, cut us some slack). It allows us to create a Guy In the Friendzone Cause He's Too Nice, a Woman Scorned, A Predatory Gay or Psycho Lesbian, or a The Beast Loved the Beauty. Unrequited love can become a motivation, an affliction, a toxic factor.
"Nice guys finish last, that's why I'll treat you like trash
It's not what I really wanna be
But, you only date bad guys so
I'll give it my best try to
Be the guy you want me to."
- "Nice Guys," by Ryan Higa and Kevjumba.
1. The Nice Guy in the Friendzone
The trope is already quite familiar because many people see it as a reflection of daily life.
We know this one fairly well. The sensitive, slightly nerdy guy who has been raised to be polite by his mama and who always chivalrously holds doors open for ladies. He is a virgin because he's not sexually assertive enough, apparently, and too full of integrity to act like those muscle-buffoons who spend all day punching boulders and drinking protein shakes. Unlike other guys his age, who disgust him with their slovenly and ape-ish, jocky ways, he is a true gentleman - he wants to treat a lady right. To spoil her to no end (like a doll), to always display her with pride (like a trophy), and give her a REAL lasting relationship (not a one night stand, but also not celibate either). Unlike all those abusive assholes who women stupidly chase after for their money and six packs (cause obviously women are just victims of their own vices), he is true diamond in the rough.
Also, like, doesn't he deseeeeerve to get laid after all this time he's spent opening doors and not raping anybody?
This archetype is easy for us to relate to because internally, we often consider ourselves in this position. The martyred, unlucky-in-love childhood friend whose crush-next-door just never appreciated how wonderful and unique they are because they didn't date us. Through stories about the "Nice" Guy or the "Nice" Girl eventually getting a makeover, becoming cool, impressing their crush, getting recognized and eventually finding love, we get a sense of wish-fulfillment and satisfaction. What's wrong with a little fantasy?
Well, if you're a woman, the "Nice" Guy archetype may mean you can't say no, if you are a good person. And if you are the "Nice" Guy, you end up creating emotional patterns that aren't good for you, either.
The "Nice" Guy archetype isn't harmful because it values niceness and being polite. What is harmful is that it feeds into a complex where the "Nice" Guy continually represses his feelings and forces himself to be generous and self-effacing, for the sake of having a reason to guilt-trip his love interest once it becomes too much.
"All this time I have been suffering for your sake, and not once did you recognize it, and you haven't even thanked me or rewarded me. I lent you money, I covered for you, I held open the door, and you still refuse to sleep with me cause I'm too nice and not jacked like Chuck Norris! You stupid fucking SLUT, I hope you enjoy going back to your abusive boyfriend, cause you DESERVE him! I DESERVE SOME ACCESS TO YOUR ASS FOR BEING SO GOOD TO YOU!"
Similarly, you have the "Nice" Girl, who also seems to have some anger issues.
"You know what? By the time you'll realize you're missing out on the love of your life, I won't love you anymore! All you want are slutty blonde bimbos who wear a ton of makeup and wear six inch high heels and leather miniskirts! But all this time you should have realized that I am the one you should be dating!"
The "Nice" Guy/Girl is kind and patient...until they're not. And yes, they will help you out...but only on one condition. That you commit to them as their love interest. Not because they genuinely don't mind helping out or because they are a good friend, but because they eventually expect you to reward them with romantic reciprocation. The Nice Guy, once rejected, views it as a betrayal and a sign that his love interest is trying to put him down. The "Nice" Girl prefers to slutshame other girls and essentially put down other people with her same gender (especially conventionally attractive blondes or cheerleaders), in order to make herself look better - a reverse of the cheerleader archetype who puts down nerdy girls.
The "Nice" Guy is ultimately his own worst enemy. Women aren't human beings with agency; they are coddled ladyfolk, to which a guy is entitled at least one during his lifetime. Not having feelings for him means they actively dislike him and are trying to make him feel bad about himself. He thus makes it impossible for himself to form a real friendship - his answer to the question "Can men and women be friends?" is no, because he expects friendships to turn into romance, therefore platonic friendships with women are seen as some consolatory, inferior level of intimacy.
Like Christians who think you should only be good so as to avoid the wrath of God, the "Nice" Guy thinks he should only be "nice" because women should reward him by wanting to be his girlfriend. He only wants to be nice and good when he will get something out of it.
Honestly, as you may have guessed, a lot of self-identifying "Nice" Guys aren't actually the kind of guys who women want to associate with. Like those Christians who go to church but don't care for the poor or help marginalized minorities like their religion instructs them to, the "Nice" Guy may open doors but he expects titty for it, unlike actual guy friends whose company I can enjoy.
If you have feelings for someone, best to tell them and take no for an answer instead of declaring yourself to be their selfless slave and getting angry when they don't reward you with booty, dawg. Screw that conditional love BS and get yourself someone who is interested.
Also? The "Friendzone"? I don't just befriend anyone, you know. If I actually consider you a good friend of mine, it doesn't mean I don't think you're good enough to fulfill some invisible boyfriend criteria, it just means that I enjoy your company and don't really feel like changing our dynamic by making out. If you feel differently, then maybe you should talk to me about it. What other awesome places are you gonna start complaining about? The "Cotton Candy and Sleeping Pods" Zone? The "Janelle Monae Zone"? The "My Mom Loves Me and Sends Me A Knitted Sweater and Homemade Cookies Every Christmas" Zone?
"Heav'n has no rage like love to hatred turn'd
Nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorn'd."
- The Mourning Bride, by William Congreve.
"Crazy is when I go off the rails, this is what you've done to me!
Crazy is how your lovin makes me feel, this is what I always wanna be...?"
-Crazy Ex Girlfriend Theme Song, Season Three.
2. The Scorned Woman
The Scorned Woman is the female equivalent of the "Nice" Guy. The odd thing is that, unless you are the woman who doesn't want to have sex with him, most people consider the "Nice" Guy to be relateable and believe his anger issues are righteously justified ("It is totally normal to coerce someone into sex after being a virgin for thirty years.") The Scorned Woman, however, is...a woman. Her anger expresses itself through sexy, vindictive, catty ways, and ultimately her storyline ends through the only possible catharsis, just like a Salem Witch: death.
You know you've seen her. The suicidal and mentally ill Alex from Fatal Attraction, Medea from Jason and the Argonauts, the Evil Queen from Snow White. Taylor Swift in...well, Taylor Swift songs.
She is dumped, and flies into an angry rage which causes her to go a little further than she should. She gathers her wiles to seduce the love interest and tempt him to take her back. She threatens, she manipulates, she does her worst to eliminate her competition, and she keeps on committing more criminal acts until she finally is disposed of and killed off. Only then can the male protagonist return to his loving wife/girlfriend and children, while his surviving friends shake their heads and chant What a crazy bitch, amiright?
The Scorned Woman, at first, sounds very tempting. Hell yeah, Carrie Underwood, you dig your key into the side of that skinny little souped-up four wheel drive. Carve your name into his leather seats. Scorned Woman anger is empowering.
The Scorned Woman's anger makes her dangerous, but also, kinda sexy - she dresses in black with lustful smoky eyes, she seduces or eliminates all those who stand in her way, and her passion makes her great in bed.
But then again, there's the whole death catharsis thing. Okay, yeah, the scorned woman kinda murdered your wife/girlfriend. Also she's like, crazy, and crazy is bad. Especially woman-crazy. In order to end the cycle of violence, you have to kill the monster. Whether you are Lady Snowblood or Madison Bell from Swimfan, you have to die at the end. Some, like Tessa from Unforgettable (2017), have to kill themselves. Even Madame Butterfly results in the woman killing herself, just because some part of us expects that tragic cycle.
In a way, the Scorned Woman may have been put down or rejected in a humiliating way by her love interest because her craziness scares him, which is what the "Nice" Guy believes has happened to him. But the anger that she feels from being rejected and put down, the anger she feels against the man, however empowering it may seem at first...ultimately it's discounted when she is killed off because the story writers don't believe that as a mentally ill person, she is capable of working out her problems eventually.
The Scorned Woman narrative also focuses solely on the woman's relationship to the man she's interested in. It doesn't focus on why she's this way, on examining her mental illness in a non-stigmatizing way, or asking what she could do to improve. Her anger is part of her mental illness, because angry women are crazy women. And finally, crazy people can't live fulfilling or stable lives, they've already gone too far by giving into their mental illness. Thus, you get an ending like Unforgettable.
The Scorned Woman sounds cool at first, especially to people like Rebecca Bunch from Crazy Ex Girlfriend, who obsesses over Josh Chan and has BPD and has a tendency to go out of her way whenever she wants to turn a new leaf. But as she realizes later on, maybe her obsession and neediness are feelings that she needs to grow out of. Maybe, instead of being a furious seductress, she needs to empower herself by seeing herself as something other than Josh's potential/current/ex girlfriend. Maybe instead, the patterns and cycles she falls into with regards to men have a deeper rooting within her psyche, and she needs to be more accountable and aware of how she goes too far sometimes, but she still ultimately deserves compassion as a human being and treatments that will actually help her mental illness. Like Tessa in Unforgettable, she also has deep-rooted issues with how society sees her and an abusive mother. Unlike Tessa in Unforgettable, death isn't the only solution.
Indeed, the crazy ex girlfriend's actions are out of line and need to be accounted for. But perhaps, this archetype also speaks of deeper social expectations and ideas that are partially (not wholly, partially) responsible for her creation and miserable existence. And maybe we need to stop stigmatizing mental illness and start doing something to help with it.
What's wrong with being a perfectly happy spinster who lives with a fuckton of cats? That guy ain't worth shit, girl. Both you and him deserve better.
"And that's Predatory Lez. Pretty sure I caught her staring at my butt earlier."
- Scream Queens, 2015.
3. The Depraved Homosexual/Psycho Lesbian
See TVTropes page for specific examples. But honestly...
Do I even need to go into why this is problematic...?
Look, I know I just did a chapter on how it's okay to write problematic characters of all types, but 1) you need to provide more than one sort of the character to prove they're not representative of their entire minority they belong to, and 2) considering this is a very old, tired archetype, it wouldn't be revolutionary and probably won't add anything. There
Right now, it would probably be more controversial to write about gay characters who find mutual love and are happy without one of them getting killed or persecuted somehow. Go figure.
"A guy like you
She's never known, kid
A guy like you
A girl does not meet every day!"
- "A Guy Like You," from The Hunchback of Notredame (1996).
4. The Beast Who Loved the Beauty/The Little Mermaid Who Turned to Foam
This is probably what every "Nice" Guy seems himself as. The Beast, like him, is not popular and has trouble with girls.
The part that "Nice" Guys may not like, however, is the fact that sometimes the Beast doesn't get the girl. And he seems...pretty happy with it.
The Little Mermaid would rather melt into foam, despite all her sisters' sacrifices, than kill her loved one. Her story ends with her, rewarded for her kindness, happily watching over the couple's wellbeing. It lacks the hellish fury of the Scorned Woman and she still died andconsidering she doesn't knowing the other woman, it's really quite generous of her, but ultimately the story stresses that she is perfectly happy without the prince whose life she saved twice.
Ultimately, Quasimodo from Hunchback of Notredame is extremely kind and sensitive and deserves better than his abusive foster father. But ultimately, what makes him so nice is that, despite the fact he is definitely saddened by Esmeralda not picking him, he understands that he isn't entitled to her. This is the difference between Quasimodo and Frollo, who declares Esmeralda must marry him or die. Quasimodo's decision is what truly makes him more human that Frollo, who constantly told him he was a monster.
As the Beast, the options may seem way worse. Why didn't the Beast get to unleash their anger and sadness and get revenge on their loved one? It seems like they were just...forced to swallow all their feelings and move on.
What also defines The Beast is that, ultimately, they are able to find fulfillment elsewhere. In their art, their work, their family, whatever. They don't just see their former love interest as their destiny; they recognize that, hey, Esmeralda has a whole life and agency of her own. And this makes them a better human. They don't seek revenge, tear apart families, murder wives, try to become "alpha males," or whine about how they swear off women because they're just a bunch of shallow sluts who can't appreciate a REAL man. They just...find something else meaningful to devote their life to, and attain happiness in some other way besides romantic love.
The Beast's happy ending may seem like a depressing fate, but honestly, once we dig ourselves out of the vindictive and spiteful mindsets that the "Nice" Guy and Scorned Woman enforce, maybe then we'll be able to be happy. Not because we find a different romantic partner to obsess over, but because we realize that we don't need to focus on "earning" the romantic love of one person. Instead, we learn to focus on ourselves and what truly matters to us. And in a way, that change of focus is somewhat liberating.
Beyond our failed loves and broken hearts, there is still a wide world of other wild, enormous, fulfilling life projects to explore.
"I'm not gonna let this crush just crush me
I'm not gonna cry cause you won't love me
I'm not gonna let this crush just crush me
You don't know me, you can't control me..."
- "Can't Crush Me" by Jan and Dan.
All in all, unrequited love is a topic that we may never stop talking about.
But you know what? Maybe the archetypes we create around it are...kinda harmful and not what we should encourage or aspire to. Maybe we should start focusing less on guilt-tripping women for saying no, treating their anger or mental illness as one and the same evil that must be eliminated, or the idea that you should only be nice if you'll profit from it somehow.
And maybe, maybe the problem lies with placing too much importance on romantic love as the pinnacle of happiness, equivalent to self-actualization. Maybe instead of spending our lives chasing after people who just aren't into us like that, we should focus on other stuff that make us "happy." Not the giggly pink euphoria we associate with the limerence of first crushes, but truly happy, knowing that what we do makes us feel complete. Or maybe we should learn to just enjoy crushes without expecting closure or some reciprocation and stop treating them like life-changing events.
Who knows. Maybe this will help us to be more grateful for the platonic friendships that we do have, or even become better people.
Ultimately, the responsibility rests on us as the characters in our own story.