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Many highly regimented organisations, particularly militaries, have rules against their members having intimate relationships with each other (especially if they're both in the same chain of command). The rule-makers tend to feel that such relationships negatively affect the performance of their personnel (because Being Personal Isn't Professional), and are worried that it can give rise to favouritism (if someone's Sleeping with the Boss to get ahead) or abuse of power (if an officer uses Sexual Extortion).

Such regulations are a good way to prolong Unresolved Sexual Tension, as characters are forced to maintain a Strictly Professional Relationship despite being clearly attracted to each other. On the other hand, the Secret Relationship which may emerge if characters don't follow the rules can provide plenty of drama itself.

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Rules like this are pretty standard in military organizations, unless they're only Mildly Military or the writers are using Artistic License regarding military matters. (The relevant military word is fraternization, although that term is much broader than most examples here, with some militaries banning any kind of social relationship between people at different levels in the same chain of command). Non-military organizations which employ similar levels of discipline can also have this kind of rule. For relationships between people in less tightly controlled workplaces, which aren't necessarily prohibited, see Office Romance. If holding a certain job requires that you forgo all relationships (not just with colleagues), see Vow of Celibacy.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, Colonel Roy Mustang's assistant and bodyguard, Riza Hawkeye, would probably be more than that if not for the fact that they're both in the military and it would be forbidden.
  • Lyrical Nanoha: While it's never shown onscreen, Chrono was Amy's commanding officer during at least part of the time that they were dating, though Amy had retired by the time they get married. Of course, it's implied that this sort of thing is actually encouraged, since it leads to the next generation of mages being loyal to the TSAB. Having family members serve in the same unit is also fairly common, dating as far back as the first season where Chrono was his mother's XO.

    Fan Works 
  • Frat Regs is a G.I. Joe look at this trope.
  • In Bait and Switch (STO), Starfleet has apparently finally introduced these, which means that Eleya's relationship with her operations officer Gaarra is blatantly illegal. Her first officer Tess has turned a blind eye to it using some creative interpretations of the relevant regulations: she tells Eleya to always put the ship first, not Gaarra, and once threatens to remove her from command over it in Reality Is Fluid.
  • Zootopia fanfics vary in regards to the ZPD's attitude towards fraternization. Some writers add an element of drama to Nick and Judy's relationship by banning romance between officers, others don't have rules keeping them from sleeping together. This mirrors real life in that there isn't a standard policy among the various police departments about partners being romantically involved. The only universal prohibition is against a superior dating someone below them in their chain of command.
  • In To the Stars, the military has regulations in place to avert this, necessitating that magical girls be in reasonably separate commands if they are in a relationship. In one instance in a flashback however, a particularly brutal You Are in Command Now situation leaves Asaka forced to have her lover's unit to perform a Heroic Sacrifice to buy the rest of her forces time to regroup. This necessity causes her to suffer a near-fatal Heroic BSoD.

    Comic Books 
  • Judge Dredd: These are known as "extra-judicial liaisons" - Judges are NOT allowed to have romantic relationships, including with non-Judges (though these rules were somewhat relaxed under Chief Judge Goodman, as shown when Dredd visits his twin Rico shacked up with a rich woman). Judge DeMarco is a noticeable exception who eventually chose to resign when the Special Judicial Squad started to hound her over her affairs with other Judges.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Alien Cargo, crew on the freighter are prohibited from having relationships, but the two protagonists do anyway. Because only two crew members are out of cryogenic sleep at any given point, a couple who can arrange to be awake together are fairly safe from detection.
  • The makers of Top Gun were asked by the US Navy to change Maverick's love interest from a female enlisted member of the Navy to a civilian contractor with the Navy, due to the US military's prohibition of fraternization between officers and enlisted personnel.
  • In line with the usual tendency to ignore this in Star Trek, Kirk's "Captain's Log" segment at the beginning of Star Trek Beyond discusses overt sexual relationships being formed and split up among the crew as just something that happens on a long space mission. However, Captain Kirk, whose casual affairs were emphasized in the previous two movies, is noticeably devoid of a Girl of the Week in order to emphasize how utterly bored he is with his years-long mission.
  • There's quite a lot of fraternization in the military of Starship Troopers. Rico even turns down an offer from a squadmate only for the CO to tacitly encourage him to take her up on it. Of course, that's merely one of many symptoms of discipline that the Federation military is clearly shown to be lacking in.

    Literature 
  • The Lost Fleet
    • It's noted that Victoria Rione, a politician, is the only person in John Geary's fleet that he could legitimately have a relationship with, since everyone else is part of his command. Later, he falls in love with Tanya Desjani, the captain of his flagship, but pursuing a relationship would involve breaking the rules, which neither is willing to do. They get around it when Geary resigns his admiral's rank and they both disappear for a wedding and honeymoon before the government can promote him back up again. They still have to go back to their best behaviour while on active duty.
    • In the spin-off series The Lost Stars, it's mentioned that the enemy Syndicate Worlds also put restrictions on relationships, but that these rules were often broken. Given the nastiness of the Syndic system, however, the breaches were often a case of either Sleeping Their Way to the Top or Sexual Extortion rather than actual romance.
    • Likewise, Geary's ancestor in The Genesis Fleet gets together with a civilian contractor rather than anyone under his command.
  • The titular character of the Paul Sinclair books gets early advice from a shipmate never to break the navy's rules against relationships between crew on the same ship, since it's impossible to keep something like that secret in the cramped conditions on board. In fact, the two end up breaking those rules themselves, although not too severely — an upcoming transfer is about to make the relationship permissible, and they just get started slightly early (and not on the ship itself). The ship's executive officer figures it out anyway, but is prepared to let it slide.
  • In the Honor Harrington books, the Manticoran navy has rules against fraternization in the same chain of command, which is one of several reasons that Honor's relationship with Hamish Alexander (her superior officer) is kept secret. This problem is resolved when the latter is made First Lord of the Admiralty, which is a civilian role despite its military focus. One of the earlier books mentions, though, that the RMN is a lot less strict about fraternization than the Earth militaries that preceded it, recognizing the realities of cooping up mixed-gender crews with no shore leave for weeks or months at a stretch (the commanding officer is apparently the only one seriously inconvenienced by the rules). The general rule seems to be no fraternization with someone who is in your direct chain of command and no fraternization between Officers and Enlisted.
  • In The Flight Engineer, it seems that relationships between officers and enlisted personnel is forbidden, but relationships between two officers would not be, since Chief Petty Officer Paddy Casey decides to apply for officer training so that he can get together with Second Lieutenant Cynthia Robbins. At the end of book three, protagonist Commander Raeder arranges for Casey to get a field commission, and Casey immediately asks Robbins to marry him.
  • In Temeraire, lack of concern about this sort of thing this is part of the more relaxed attitude taken by the Aerial Corps relative to other branches of the military.
  • Kris Longknife:
    • In Defender, Kris and Jack plan and execute their wedding in about four hours while the king is revising orders that would place them in the same chain of command. Kris is willing to call it off in deference to regs right up until "speak now or forever hold your peace".
    • Kris later chooses to significantly relax the rules on fraternization down to "no officer/enlisted relationships, no relationships with direct superiors or subordinates" due to ground conditions in her command at Alwa and the fact that she herself is now married to one of her officers, deciding to "treat sailors like adults". There's resistance: one captain rebels against this and gets herself relieved of command for disrespecting a superior officer (as well as unrelated poor captaining), and later (in Unrelenting) a supply noncom sabotages a shipment of contraceptive implants, causing over seventy unplanned pregnancies (including Kris herself) and getting a dishonorable discharge.
  • In Sten, it's thought that there might be some sort of libido suppressant added to everyone's food to make this a non-issue, although Sten's view is that simple tiredness would have the same effect.
  • Ciaphas Cain:
    • The possibility of a relationship between Cain and Colonel Kasteen was mentioned by Cain, but neither pursued it as it could have given rise to the type of problems seen in the description (the fact that Cain is frak-buddies with Inquisitor Vail probably helped a little). That said, before he meets Vail he has no problem using his personal charm at any level of the Guard command, nor does he have a problem letting Kasteen go up the stairs before him so he can look at her ass (which incidentally saved their lives, as he wouldn't have noticed an incoming Attack Drone otherwise). He does idly wonder if he'll have to have a word with Kasteen and Broklaw (her second in command) at one point, but never follows up on it.
    • The Valhallan 597th is a mixed-gender regiment created from two different single-gender regiments, and it's mentioned in passing that pregnancies happen often enough that Cain is familiar with baby behavior.
    • Cain is also aware of a less-than-regular relationship between Corporal Magot and Sergeant Grifen, but chooses to stay well out of it, since he prefers to avoid being as much like harsher commissars (who tend to die of friendly fire far from enemy lines) as possible. Additionally in The Traitor's Hand, Cain notes that Beije probably suspects that he's in this relationship with Magot, because he's being lenient with her (to avoid damaging the morale of her squadnote ). He notes that even if she wasn't a lesbian, he already has enough dangerous women in his life (a clingy planetary governor's daughter, a daemon princess, and the aforementioned Inquisitor, who chooses to take this remark as a compliment).
  • In Rangers At Roadsend it is mentioned that relationships between Militiawomen are prohibited, but also that this is not very strictly enforced as long as it's not affecting their professional behaviour while on duty. Katryn gives such a relationship as the reason why she has been transferred to Fort Krowe.
  • In Angel in the Whirlwind, Captain Kat Falcone and Space Marine Major Pat Davidson were in a relationship on a previous assignment together but broke up when they were reassigned to different ships. They get back together after he's assigned to be the commander of her shipboard Marine complement, essentially saying "screw it, we're in love and we could both die tomorrow". This one slides into a legal gray area: despite being part of the ship's crew the Marine complement is technically a separate chain of command.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Occurs in Battlestar Galactica (2003), where fraternization in the military is frowned on. Tyrol and Boomer are an enlisted/officer couple and keep their relationship secret, but Tigh catches them and informs them that the two of them are an Open Secret anyway: he turned a blind eye when Galactica was slated for decommissioning but now that they're reactivated he orders them to break up. Eventually deconstructed in "Litmus" when one of Tyrol's crewmen lies under oath to protect him and Boomer when they're implicated in a Cylon suicide-bombing on Galactica. Tyrol comes clean to Adama but Adama lets the crewman's dismissal stand, punishing him for perjury and Tyrol for jeopardizing ship's security to meet Boomer. Tyrol and Boomer have a nasty breakup after this.
    • Any rules against fraternization aboard Galactica actually go against the president's own words in an early episode where she states outright that the only way the human race will survive is for people "start making babies". Presumably this includes the military personnel, not just the civilians. Illustrated by the fact the president, over the course of the series, enters into a romance with Adama himself.
  • Arises more than once in the JAGVerse:
    • JAG:
      • In the pilot, a regulation-breaking relationship was being concealed between Lieutenant Arutti (the murder victim) and someone in the same unit.
      • In the first season episode "Boot", Harm and Meg are investigating a marine's murder, and there's more than one person obviously keeping secrets. It turns out that Sergeant Gonzales is in a relationship with the base commander, but that this is independent of the murder. Harm decides, conditionally, not to report it.
    • The NCIS Christmas Episode "Newborn King" involved the team trying to protect a female Marine who had gotten pregnant by the son of an Afghan chief she'd worked with on deployment. Her CO docked her pay and sent her home.
    • NCIS: Los Angeles once has the team tracking some kidnapped Marines towards Mexico. They briefly suspect the kidnapping was staged to cover up a Love Triangle among the unit turned violent (the female squad member was pregnant by the dead one), but this is quickly ruled out.
  • Stargate-verse:
    • Stargate SG-1 has the relationship between Colonel Jack O'Neill and Captain/Major/Lt. Col Samantha Carter being inhibited by the rules: they've admitted to their mutual attraction on-screen but agreed to keep it professional. Though multiple Alternate Universes have appeared where Sam is a civilian and she and Jack were a couple. Word of God has it that they got together when Jack was promoted out of the main cast after "Threads", which took him out of Sam's direct chain of command. Jack's temporary love interest even points out that there's an easy solution to the problem - Jack can resign.
    • Stargate Atlantis: Major/Colonel John Sheppard is professional enough not to engage in this (and besides that, the most Ship Teasing involving him were with Elizabeth (civilian) and Teyla (alien)), but there is a version of him who bucked the rules in the Alternate Reality Episode "Vegas". When Sheppard was stationed in Afghanistan, he ignored direct orders to retreat so he could attempt a failed rescue mission that got him discharged from the Air Force. The alternate universe version of Rodney McKay figures out that it was because Sheppard was in a relationship with one of the soldiers he tried to rescue, which he doesn't deny.
    • Stargate Universe depicted way more fraternization to increase the level of personal drama amongst the Destiny crew. The pilot episode shows that at least two separate illegal relationships were taking place on the base among the military staff, one between Colonel Young and Lt. Telford and another between Lt. Scott and 2nd Lt. Vanessa James. In the former case, this even resulted in a pregnancy.
  • Andromeda features rules like these — including, apparently, for warship AIs. It's implied this is a major reason for the lack of Robosexual relationships — most AIs are warship AIs, and the organics they interact with often enough to form relationships with are mostly their crew, who naturally count as part of their direct chain of command. One episode dealt with the consequences of a relationship between a ship's AI and her captain. The AI refused a direct order by the captain to self-destruct in order to keep sensitive data out of Nietzschean hands and, instead, blew up the planet the captain was on, and consequently went insane.
  • In The Last Ship, Danny Green and Kara Foster play out this trope well, even endangering a mission because of their feelings. Averted: Because Dr.Scott is a civilian and a triangle arises between her, Tex, and the Captain.
  • NYPD Blue: One Victim of the Week is a Marine Corps recruiter who is having an affair with his married partner. Though she's married to a recently retired General.
  • Any inhibition about sexual relationships within the military is usually completely thrown out of the window in Star Trek. Starfleet has always been Mildly Military since its charter combines military duties with scientific and diplomatic ones. On a very few occasions the potential pitfalls were discussed.
    • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Change of Heart", Worf and Jadzia (a married couple) are sent alone on a mission together in wartime, and he abandons it completely to save her life. Worf faces some serious career consequences in the aftermath, and their superior officer issues orders that the two of them are never to be sent alone on a mission ever again.
    • Another example is in Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Lessons", where Captain Picard breaks off a relationship with one of his officers, after ordering her into a life-endangering situation. Even before then, she found the stoic mask of command he had to maintain between them rather awkward.
    • Also Captain Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager avoids relationships with her crew, despite overt Ship Tease with Commander Chakotay. However, she puts no prohibition on others getting together, resulting in (amongst others) Paris and Torres not only becoming a couple, but getting married. Justified given that, for most of the series, she and her crew are under the assumption that they will live out their remaining lifetimes before the ship travels far enough to return to the Alpha Quadrant, and somebody has to fly the ship.
    • Star Trek: Enterprise travels this road for the first two seasons why generating significant Ship Tease between Capt. Archer and his first officer, T'Pol, cranked Up to Eleven by the controversial episode "A Night in Sickbay" in which Archer makes a reference (albeit accidental) to T'Pol's breasts. In Season 3, this ship is mostly anchored (except for a story set in an alternate timeline in which T'Pol gives up her career to become Archer's caregiver after he loses his ability to retain memories for more than a day). Instead, she enters into a sexual relationship with the chief engineer.
      • An Enterprise novel does address the issue and points out that Starfleet does have anti-fraternization rules in place, but a crewmember points out that they're just copied from the old navy and don't really apply to long-term space missions.
    • In TOS it's stated early on that The Captain and only him is not allowed. Kirk states that Spock can notice Yeoman Rand, but he isn't. There is some heavy Ship Tease early in the series however. Kirk did have previous relationship with another Starfleet officer, but she was a lawyer and there's no indication they were ever in the same chain of command. There was apparently a possible one night stand after the science lab Christmas party which he appears a bit embarrassed about.
  • In Babylon 5, there's a Running Gag about a minor character, the nerdy bridge officer Lt. Corwin, being secretly in love with Commander Ivanova, who is the second-in-command of the whole station, and later again with her replacement Captain Lochsley. The humour is all based around how out of his league his superiors are in terms of attractiveness, with the chain-of-command issues never hinted at.
  • A sexual relationship between a doctor and a nursing sister is at the heart of the UK medical drama, Bodies, with its appropriateness (or lack thereof) addressed.
  • Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries: In "Murder & the Maiden", one the secrets Phryne uncovers on an RAAF base is a sexual relationship between two of the officers; one of whom is a Sweet Polly Oliver.

    Video Games 
  • The subject is raised in Mass Effect:
    • In the first game, you can read an email from Ashley Williams to her sister in which she describes the problem:
    There's all sorts of problems that can happen when two people in the same unit get together. Let's say your unit is in a tight spot. [...] Someone has to be left behind. You think it's going to be someone you're sleeping with? [...] I hope I never have to decide who lives and who dies. But if I have to, my decision can't be muddled up by magic-sparkly-hearts-and-stars feelings.
    • Later on in that game, that situation can cease to be hypothetical, although it's not Ashley making the choice but players. Either Ashley or another crew member, Kaidan Alenko, must be left to die, and players may indeed be in a relationship with one of them when it happens. If s/he saved his/her love interest, Shepard will wonder in dialogue if s/he left the other to die for the sake of the mission, or for love's sake.
    • Also, at one point in their romance arc, FemShep can respond to Kaidan's confession with "You're not wrong. But there are regs," indicating that at that point in the story, they're an Anchored Ship because of Alliance fraternization regs. It doesn't last.
    • In the second game, by contrast, it's specifically noted that Cerberus (a N.G.O. Superpower with a Mildly Military approach), does not have rules against this.
    • In the third game, the rules about fraternization can be invoked for once — by Shepard's clone against Samantha Traynor, with whom Shepard may be having a relationship.
    • In the fourth game, protagonist Ryder can, like Shepard before, flirt with and even have romances with more than one of his or her crewmembers. Although the Pathfinder team is explicitly described as non-military (despite having a human commando as a member), players are given dialogue options can be used to friendzone any undesired romance, or any romance at all; several of these reference Ryder wanting to keep a professional distance. (Successfully friendzoning everyone results in a funny visual gag during one sequence where, otherwise, Ryder would be seen cuddling with his or her beloved.) One character, ship's doctor Lexi, while happy to flirt, states directly that a romantic relationship for someone in her position is unacceptable; that doesn't stop her from crushing on grumpy Krogan Drax or implying that she gave up her life in the Milky Way because a fellow doctor she'd grown close to asked her to come along.
  • Some of the romance options in Star Wars: The Old Republic run up against this.
    • Elara Dorne, a romance option for Republic Trooper characters, isn't really supposed to get into a relationship with her commanding officer, but is sufficiently well-versed in the regulations that she can find the right way to fill out forms to make it happen.
    • In the Imperial Agent plotline, any romance with Watcher Two gets cut off (by her) when she gets promoted to a position where it would be improper to continue it.
  • In Sunrider, Kayto Shields and Ava Crescentia had a close relationship as high school students. When they meet again twelve years later as captain and commander of the Sunrider, Ava refuses any and all attempts by Kayto to reignite their previous relationship, as is it against the rules and she fears that to do so would compromise his judgment. Her fears can be confirmed during the Battle of Helion if the player refuses to let her manually fire the Sunrider’s damaged Vanguard Cannon, sacrificing their one chance to finally destroy the PACT flagship Legion because the risk to her life is more than Kayto can bear.
    • Ava's rejection ends up driving Kayto into the arms of his chief engineer Chigara, who is technically a civilian, and by Sunrider Liberation Day they've become the Official Couple. This also ends up impairing his judgment, as he refuses to consider even the possibility that Chigara might be a Prototype spy despite all the evidence suggesting otherwise and puts his blind faith in her, which does not end well.
  • Axton in Borderlands 2 was married to his commanding officer, until his Military Maverick behavior ended in a simultaneous discharge and divorce. Really, Axton's backstory comes off like a way-over-the-top action movie.
  • In Nexus: The Jupiter Incident, Captain Marcus Cromwell eventually realizes that he has feelings for Commander Sweetwater, which is why they're constantly arguing. He never acts out on those feelings in the game, partly because they're too busy trying to save the galaxy from the Mechanoids, but also because she's technically his subordinate, even though his commission in the Noah fleet is only temporary (he's actually a SpaceTech employee), and she's on loan from the Ghosts. It also doesn't help that Sweetwater grew up among the Ghosts, having little interaction with other humans until recently, so her abrasiveness is partly a result of a lack of social skills.
  • Shogo: Mobile Armor Division: Protagonist Sanjuro Makabe was in a relationship with his fellow mecha pilot Kura Akkaraju until she was killed in battle (she's actually gone undercover in enemy territory). He then started dating her sister Kathryn, who was previously dating Sanjuro's brother Toshiro, who was killed in the same battle as Kura (he's actually become Brainwashed and Crazy courtesy of the Big Bad). Just to make things even more interesting, Kura and Kathryn are Sanjuro's CO's daughters.

    Web Comics 
  • The pilots don't have to worry about this for the most part in Evangelion 303, since Misato doesn't really care who they're sleeping with, but it's played completely straight in chapter 19 when they're told that all illicit relationships are forbidden while they're aboard the aircraft carrier (with special attention being drawn to the recently hooked up Kaworu and Rei).
  • In Galaxion, the captain of the titular starship believes that regulations of this sort are silly, and actively plays The Matchmaker to her crew.
  • In Schlock Mercenary Tagon's Toughs have some rules against relationships with superior officers, but they're loose. The engagement between Dr. Bunnigan (lieutenant) and Reverend Forbius (sergeant) is tolerated because neither of them have any commands, though the chaplain is promoted to lieutenant after their marriage. While Captain Tagon brushes off Elf's advances when she is a lieutenant, and suggests she get together with Commander Andreyason after she's promoted to Cmdr.
  • In S.S.D.D Julian and Tessa aren't technically supposed to be sleeping together according to the CORE Marine's regulations, but their corporal has been unofficially helping to get them together.

    Web Original 
  • Red vs. Blue demonstrates exactly why such laws exist:
    Capt. Butch Flowers: Men, your delightful tomfoolery puts a spring in my step and a bounce in my britches. If I weren't your Commanding Officer, I'd pick you both up, give you a big bear hug and make you call me "Daddy".
    Church: Uhh... Thank God for the Chain of Command?

    Real Life 
  • This is normal in most modern militaries around the world. For example, the United States Army bans fraternisation between officers and enlisted soldiers.
    Fraternization is a military crime punishable by a maximum of two years in prison, and a dishonorable discharge for enlisted personnel and dismissal for officers. While the Army defines fraternization differently from the other services, the maximum penalty is the same in all. As a practical matter, though, fraternization alone is rarely prosecuted; instead, most such cases are handled with administrative punishment like a letter of reprimand.
    New York Times, Pentagon to Tighten Army's Fraternizing Ban (July 28, 1998)
  • However, it certainly wasn't the case in Ancient Greece, where it was virtually a prerequisite of acceptance into a military unit to sign up alongside one's (male) lover. The Sacred Band of Thebes, an elite fighting group, was actually composed of 150 pairs of male lovers. (Other Wiki). The idea was that each pair consisted of an older erastês (ἐραστής, "lover") and a younger erômenos (ἐρώμενος "beloved"). This idea was taken up by other Greek cities including Sparta and Athens.

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