Trapped Together: The Delicious Tension of Forced Proximity Romances

Forced Proximity
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Picture it. New York. 2019.

A young woman (we’ll call her “Sophia”) works late at the office, desperate to snag a promotion. The frustratingly-gorgeous colleague who is up for the same promotion is also working late. After an exhausting day, Sophia piles into an empty elevator. As the door is about to close, someone else slides in. It’s Meg, her work nemesis. Despite her best efforts to steer clear of Meg, she keeps bumping into her. Even now, in this enclosed space, her faded perfume teases. Is that orange blossom? Determined to remain aloof, Sophia looks away. The elevator door closes, but as it begins to descend, it lurches and gets stuck somewhere between the forty-fourth and forty-third floors. Fighting already-fraught nerves, Sophia presses the alarm button. Unfortunately, the person on the other end says it will be a while before emergency staff can respond. Meg’s red lips curl into a smirk. Why isn’t she panicking? Meg lifts one delicate shoulder in a shrug. “Well, I guess you’re stuck with me.”

No, I’m not indulging in a hot Sophia Petrillo-like fantasy. What am I doing is giving you an example of what can happen in one of my favorite romance tropes: forced proximity romances.

This sort of plotline is catnip to many readers. Basically, it takes the protagonists and places them in a situation in which they feel trapped (literally or figuratively.) Because they are caught in close quarters, very close in some cases, the characters are forced to learn about each other very quickly and romance develops. Sometimes they have to work together to get out of their circumstances. Sometimes they’re “stuck” for quite some time and might even have to share sleeping quarters. (Don’t we all love that part?)

Forced proximity romances don’t always take place in quarters as tight as wonky elevators. Many of us have enjoyed stories in which the characters are snowed in somewhere cozy. Being snowed in isn’t such a hardship when you’re stuck with a sexy love interest in a quaint log cabin…one that has a roaring fire. Some of these romances are fun and flirty with low stakes, but others are full of suspense. Imagine you’re on the run, with bad guys hot on your heels. Your car has just broken down in the middle of nowhere, and your only option for help is to approach the mysterious house at the end of a winding road. Luckily for you, the owner of that house is a hottie, a former Marine, and is more than willing to shelter you for a few days.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Close proximity tends to heighten the emotions in a romance. The protagonist is compelled to make split-second decisions about the other person sharing those cramped quarters. Because these romances often take place over a shorter span of time than others, the characters must confront difficult truths earlier in the relationship. Frustration and fear can develop, but so can curiosity and lust. And we all know what happens once lust kicks in!

It’s a trope that certainly lends itself well to “happy for now” stories, but also works in a “happily ever after.” I’ve seen it used in contemporary romance, paranormal romance, suspense, Sci-Fi, and just about every other subgenre. It’s safe to say that some of the most enjoyable romances I’ve read have been forced proximity romances. They’re just so much fun and they tick all my fantasy boxes. Heck, I think Sophia Petrillo would like them too.  

I’m thrilled to share some wonderful romances featuring characters who are “stuck.” I’ve divided them into fun categories that describe where the protagonists get trapped. I hope you’ll add these to your to-be-read list.

“Oh, no! We’re stuck in a five-star resort.”
“Oh, no! We’re stuck as roommates/colleagues.”
“Oh, no! We’re stuck on a plane.”
“Oh, no! I’m stuck with a creature.”
“Oh, no! We’re stuck, and some bad guys are after us.”
“Oh, no! We’re stuck in an elevator.”
“Oh, no! We’re stuck in the snow. But look…there’s a fireplace.”

So, there you have it. Lots of reading material for the next time you get “stuck.”

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