This Stalled Elevator Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us: Why Forced Proximity is My Favorite Trope by Cara Bastone

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[Note from Frolic: We’re so excited to have author Cara Bastone guest posting on the site today! She’s sharing her love for forced proximity romances. Take it away, Cara!]

Has the world ever needed romance novels more than we do right now? Oh, to be snuggled up next to someone in the time of Corona… Book boyfriends and girlfriends to the rescue!

This is why, over the course of quarantine, forced proximity has become one my favorite tropes. The thing about forced proximity is that it requires, ya know, proximity. The closer the better in my opinion! Forced proximity is lovely because it not only guarantees the lovebirds will be in the same place at the same time, it also speeds up the timeline on any other tropes that might also be in play. Enemies to lovers? Stick ’em in an elevator together. Brother’s best friend? Snow ‘em under in a cozy little cabin. Crush on a boss? Slap ’em into first class, side by side. The reader can almost set their watch by the sparks that will inevitably fly.Some of my very favorite romances play this trope to perfection:

The Wedding Date, by Jasmine Guillory, starts off with bang when the main characters are locked in an elevator within the first page and a half. Two people who might never have spoken to one another otherwise are suddenly breaking bread (she happens to have cheese and champagne in her purse (lol) (#relatablefemalemcs)) and sharing secrets. By the time the elevator starts working again, they’ve found themselves conveniently agreeing to take part in yet another beloved trope; she agrees to be his fake girlfriend at a wedding he has no desire to attend on his own. The elevator scene at the beginning of the novel puts the reader at the top of an emotional waterslide and the rest of the book is a delightful tumble of inertia and intimacies and conflicts and attraction. Because Guillory sets the stakes so high right from the beginning, the book has incredible momentum.

In The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary, forced proximity is handled in an unexpected way. The main characters share an apartment —and a bed— but never at the same time. He works nights and she works days. In theory, they should never have to overlap. In reality… well, it’s a romance novel after all, so of course they overlap. I love this example of forced proximity because the circumstance forces them to interact (through Post-it notes they leave for one another —seriously it is some of the cutest flirting of all time) but not to actually be in the same space as one another which means that the reader also gets to enjoy both intense connection and the tension of when will they meet?

Now, if you’ll allow me to fangirl for a moment, shall we talk about Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston? Ah, let’s all bask in the glow of a fake public relationship leading to forced (public and private) proximity leading to unwelcome sexual tension leading to life-changing love. These two main characters have such high profile lives (one is the son of the President and the other is the Prince of England) that they could never have been able to carry out a romantic relationship if they hadn’t been forced to fake a friendship for PR purposes. The two of them are shoved into the same photo-ops over and over and the unintended consequence is true connection, otherwise unattainable if not for sweet, sweet forced proximity.

In short, forced proximity conveniently makes the impossible possible. It softens, opens, and humanizes characters so that they can get out of their own way and find love. It paves the way for other (equally fun) tropes. And perhaps most importantly, it’s usually pretty sexy.

In my book Can’t Help Falling, (enemies to lovers), the forced proximity is both emotional and physical. The two main characters find themselves helping to raise the same teenager, which pushes them into the same room over and over, sure, but more than anything, it pushes them into the same emotional space over and over. Together, Tyler and Serafine experience the euphoria of parenting successes as well as the extreme lows of their failures. Because the wellbeing of Kylie —the hero’s teenage half-sister whom he’s just taken custody of after their mom ran out on her— is at stake, neither of them can tap out. They have to figure out how to survive their emotional close-quarters, and in doing so, they begin to see aspects of one another they hadn’t known were there. 

Because their circumstances have forced them together, Fin and Tyler find themselves sticking around long enough to actually start breaking down the obstacles and personality traits that initially made them chafe against one another:

“It just kills me when you do that.”

“What?” he asked.

“When you help me with my coat.”

“Oh.” For some reason, he felt his cheeks heat. “I…didn’t even think about it. I guess it’s reflex.”

“You also open cabs and hold the elevator doors open like they might slam closed and chop my head off.”

“Well, I—”

“It’s very cute,” she said, stalking forward.

He took a step back and found the front door up against his back. She went up on her toes and rubbed her cheek against his. Knowing just how much stubble she’d be finding there, Tyler winced. He was closing in on his necessary second shave of the day.

“Annoyingly cute,” she said, dropping back to the flats of her feet. “I tried not to have a crush on you, but then you just kept helping me with my coat.”

What Fin initially thought of as an annoying habit of Tyler’s ultimately becomes something that softens her up, unzips her, attracts her. Even when the forced proximity ends —and the characters are no longer panini-pressed into one another’s lives— they are each left with the imprint of the other. The characters confront their attraction to one another while in the pressure cooker of forced proximity, but it’s afterward when they truly start to love one another. It’s when the proximity becomes a choice that they truly fall in love.

About the Author:

Cara Bastone is the author of the Forever Love series, including Can’t Help Falling, available 8/25/20 from HQN Books. Her forthcoming Love Lines trilogy will launch from Audible Originals this October with Call Me Maybe. Visit www.CaraBastone.com for more.

Can’t Help Falling by Cara Blastone, out now!

Serafine St. Romain can see everyone’s future, including her own. Now if only she could change hers. Ever since she left the foster care system, Serafine has wanted to become a foster parent. But no matter how many times she reads her own future, she doesn’t see her dreams coming true. All she sees is handsome, boneheaded, but maddeningly appealing sports fan Tyler Leshuski and she refuses to compromise her dreams for a man.

For pretty much the last two decades, Tyler’s life was his work as a sports agent, friends, and the occasional woman. Then he meets Serafine St. Romain, the foster sister of his best friend’s new girlfriend, and she’s catapulted to the very top of his to-do list. Breathtakingly beautiful, sorta psychic, and a little spooky, Ty has never met another woman like her. But he’s not the marrying kind, and she’s not interested in a one-night stand so they’re at an impasse-until a phone call changes his entire life.

His much younger half-sister, Kylie, is in desperate need of a guardian so Tyler brings her to live with him in Brooklyn. And Serafine is the only person who can get his little sister to open up so any sort of fling with her has to be permanently off the table for Kyle’s sake. But the closer this makeshift family gets, the harder it is to resist the attraction between them. Could these two very different people have finally met their match?

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