The love interest – basically it does what it says on the box, because the love interest’s sole purpose is to be romantically connected to one of the main characters of whatever television show, movie, book or comic you’re looking at. Occasionally he or more likely she actually develops into something more but most of the time this character is simply a series of stereotypes with a pretty face. As a romantic subplot is expected in most stories this trope is fairly prevalent but sometimes it would be nice if they ignored the love story completely rather than included these shallow characters.
This is the ‘Bond girl’ or the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ or even ‘prince charming’; whoever they are they do not add anything other than romance (or sex) to the plot. They are there to make the hero (and occasionally heroine) look good, and be the well earn prize at the end of his or her journey.
It’s not like every romance falls into this trope, the best romances don’t because they’re about two fleshed out individual characters that interact in exciting and interesting ways - but we don't see it as often as we should. We excuse this trope in stand alone films and books because the genre is not romance, they are action or science fiction or fantasy and there is not enough time to flesh out the other half of the romantic subplot. So the hero’s girlfriend is reduced to a basic stereotype and that’s okay because she’s not really relevant to the plot anyway (that’s sarcasm btw).
The love interest is generally treated differently for men and women. Female love interests are the reward for the hero when he completes the task he has been set the beginning of the story (even if that task is to get the girl). In most masculine genres, such as action and science fiction her sole purpose is to prove the protagonists heterosexuality – despite the fact that he spends more time with men than women. Male love interests on the other hand are the task that is presented – the heroine is only complete when she has the love of a man and even if the protagonist is female it generally up to the male character to prove himself worthy (and perform the inevitable chase at the end).
While this trope may be easier to forgive in stand-alone films and books due to time constraints it unfortunately seeps into television shows as well. Eventually, when a series runs long enough, they run out of people for the main characters to hook up with, so they have to bring in some new blood. Generally this new character is not going to last long because endgame couplings have already been established, so the new ‘love interest’ is simply there to cause a bit of drama between the expected romance or will-they-wont-they storyline. (See also the introduction of a lesbian as love interest for a female characters until it turns out she was straight all along – note this does not have a gender reversal).
A lot of television series, (and even comics and book series) begin with a stereotypical 'love interest' but because of the available time these characters can grow to become more than just a romantic subplot (or at least we hope they will – we’re often disappointed of course). Sometimes this, usually female, romantic interest is killed off early in the series just to give the protagonist a little more angst, basically she’s Gwen Stacy. Don’t worry though, because a new love interest will soon be introduced.
Then there are the love interests that introduced in the second or third season of a television show with a predominantly male (or maybe female) cast. The first season presented the plot, but as romance was not an important part of the story there were very few (if any) recurring characters of the opposite sex. But then the show is renewed and there is only so long you can go without having a heterosexual romance – slash fans know what I’m talking about here.
This also happens when the powers-that-be decide not to pair the spares (aka couple the characters in an ensemble cast that are not yet part of an official couple or will they won’t they romance). Spares present a massive problem for writers because if they are not officially coupled with someone then they can be coupled with anyone. Although making a couple official doesn’t really stop the shippers.
If the writers are particularly lazy they might introduce a romantic interest in the final season to pair with the third wheel of a love triangle just so that they can have a happy ending without any loose ends. This is a pretty big cop out, and is generally not well received besides if the love triangle has not resolved itself by this stage usually the viewers are pretty apathetic anyway.
Basically the love interest (or romantic interest) is part of the way most narratives are structured, but just because history tells you there must be a romantic subplot doesn’t mean there should be one. It’s perfectly okay to introduce a character that will be romantically linked with one of the protagonists, but if the characters sole purpose is to be a love interest then they are probably not necessary. Just dump the dead weight and move on with the story (or better yet just admit that the real love story is the one happening between the two main characters that just happen to be of the same sex).
Anyway, there you have it. There are lots of different variants of this trope but it’s one that annoys me because most of the time it could be easily edited out. Say it with me – THERE DOES NOT NEED TO BE A ROMANTIC SUBPLOT!
That's all folks. Don’t forget to check out more talk about tropes here.