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Platonic Writing, Romantic Reading

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" cleaned his tonsils with your tongue! That's not a very 'motherly' thing to do!!"
Amanda Winn-Lee on Shinji and Misato's relationship in Neon Genesis Evangelion

Most people, after reading enough fiction, begin to have an idea of how relationships begin to fit together and can spot a budding romance a mile off. Sometimes, though, the writers break away from these expectations and do something different. Normally, the writers figure out what the relationship between two people should be in a series, then they take the stock derivatives and toss in cues to clue the viewer into how things are between those two people. However, sometimes writers put too much Belligerent Sexual Tension into Sibling Rivalry, or make the Platonic Life-Partners a little too close, or toss a few too many Love Tropes at a pair that were only meant to be Heterosexual Life-Partners.

This trope isn't about writers fumbling the treatment of some relationship they meant to put in canon. This is about a writer fumbling their treatment of something that wasn't supposed to be a romantic relationship at all, so fans look at it and go "huh, seems like there's something there." Regardless of how it happened, they managed to write a platonic relationship as a romantic one and now the writers are stuck dealing with the consequences. In minor cases, it will just be a popular Fan-Preferred Couple, but sometimes you'll have entire fanbases assuming that's what the writer "really" intended.

In some cases, the following occurs:

This is highly subjective, of course. What may seem like obvious subtext to you might not be the case to another (in particular, a lot of plain old Sibling Rivalry commonly gets interpreted as Belligerent Sexual Tension). See also: Ho Yay, No Yay, Incest Subtext, Hide Your Gays, and The Not-Love Interest. For the opposite of this trope, see Designated Love Interest. For when heroes and villains seem unusually like a romantic couple, see Foe Romance Subtext. Not to be confused with Just Friends, where a pair of friends have this dynamic intentionally to create sexual tension or Ship Tease.

Examples Subpages:

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  • This remake of an '80s Folger's commercial has a reunion between a guy who came back from for Christmas to his younger sister. In the original, this is innocent Big Brother Worship due to her young age, but the remake ages her up and makes her actions seem rather...flirtatious. It ended up inspiring some parody videos, and even fanfiction, to play up the incest angle even further.
  • A series of Renault Clio ads in the UK featured a pair of French people, a beautiful young woman named Nicole and a handsome old man—the viewer assumes from their ridiculous UST and the old stereotypes about French men that they're lovers, until The Reveal when the woman addresses him as "Papa". This doesn't dispel the sexual tension, though, and they just look like an incestuous pair. When Peter Capaldi was asked about his role in Series 8 of Doctor Who, he reportedly was adamant that his relationship with the companion Clara had no sexual tension or flirting at all, requesting "no Papa-Nicole moments".

    Comic Strips 

    Fan Works 
  • Child of the Storm had this between Carol and Harry, who were intended to be friends and Platonic Life-Partners. Despite that, there was some quite obvious chemistry between the two from the start and Word of God — after about forty chapters of vagueness — wound up grudgingly admitting that the ship name was cute, before apparently throwing up his arms, declaring that I Just Write the Thing, and deciding to go with it. He's also added that by the sequel, both are more than Just Friends, with literally everyone being able to see it and their protestations that they. Are. Not. Flirting being treated as a Running Gag. On a more serious note, both have tacitly admitted to being in love with each other, but with both of their issues (which are many, and varied), the two of them decided to keep things as they are for the time being, making it an Anchored Ship. For now. As of chapter 46 of the sequel, they've had a Relationship Upgrade.
  • Hogwarts Exposed:
    • Caitlin and Emily are basically sisters through adoption. They are constantly enjoying each other's company, sleeping in the same bed, and engaging in oral sex with each other. Word of God is that the oral sex is meant to be seen as a sign of the strength of their bond as sisters. A sporker of the series honestly couldn't tell if it was a joke or not when the girls declared themselves to be dating.
    • The Card-Carrying Villain school bully Dick Bancroft's interest in Jamie (who we're told he hates, and even tried to kill once) can easily be interpreted as romantic infatuation. Again, this hasn't been lost on sporkers.
  • Princess Trixie Sparkle: Luna and Shadow are supposed to be Like Brother and Sister, but many fans see them as a Childhood Friend Romance instead. It doesn't help that Shadow's Friendship Song ballad, "My Dear Luna", parodies a love song.

  • "Let's Love" by Echosmith, was originally written as a duet despite the fact that the two singers are siblings. When the label decided to make it a single, they understandably wanted it rerecorded as a solo.
  • "White Wedding" by Billy Idol, at face value, sounds a lot like incest. However, Word of God says that "little sister" was just supposed to be slang for "girlfriend" and is not actually about siblings.
  • "Drops of Jupiter" by Train is usually interpreted as a Grief Song addressed to a deceased girlfriend or wife by people who don't know the background behind it, since the lyrics make it seem like a Love Nostalgia Song. It was actually written as a tribute to the lead singer's mother, who had died a few years prior to the song's release.
  • "Space Between" from Descendants is supposed to be a song about friendship but the lyrics and subsequent scene in the movie where Mal and Evie are looking longingly at each other makes it seem more like a mutual breakup.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • In the Scars of Mirrodin Block, Venser is supposed to have a relationship with Karn akin to that of a long lost pupil meeting the remains of his mentor... a relationship that was never developed beforehand (in fact, downright Out of Character, considering both of them had more chemistry with Jhoira, Karn as a friend and Venser as a perv, and Karn actually disliked Venser), and this was never developed in the novel anyway.
    • In an earlier Mirrodin Block, the main characters Glissa — an elf — and Slobad — a goblin — were supposed to be good friends or adopted family at best. However, between the frequent kisses she gives him, the fact that she doesn't mind undressing in front of him, and the blatant confession that he is important to her implies something else. The epilogue in the 'Fifth Dawn' only made it worse. Considering it was caused by bad writing, the writers were asking for the fumble.

  • In Annie, Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks and Annie are obviously meant to be seen as learning to love each other as a parent and child. But the fact that Warbucks effectively "proposes" adoption to Annie by giving her jewelry (a new locket), that they share a Dance of Romance-like waltz during Warbucks's Parental Love Song "Something Was Missing," and that they go on to sing a duet titled "I Don't Need Anything But You," where they describe the pending adoption as "tying a knot" (a typical slang term for marriage), gives some viewers slightly "creepy" vibes. Some critics will claim the show hasn't aged well for this very reason.
  • In Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Albus and Scorpius develop a forbidden relationship with one another that involves them risking their lives for one another, defying other people's attempts to keep them apart, and is even paralleled at one point with Snape and Lily's relationship. Said relationship is supposed to be strictly friendship, with Scorpius asking out his actual crush Rose at the end, but some readers interpreted it quite differently. Notably, as same-sex couples have become more common and accepted in mainstream media, a revised version of the script used for later performances actually does very strongly imply romantic feelings between the two. It removes the Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today? conversation between them near the end, does away entirely with Scorpius's crush on Rose, and has Albus tell Harry in one scene that Scorpius is the most important person in his life, and maybe always will be.
  • Sunday in the Park with George has perhaps one of the oddest examples out there, introducing a fumble between a man and an apparition of his deceased great-grandmother that may or may not actually be there. The man in question, George, is the identical great-grandson of painter Georges Seurat, and she seems to think he's him, but Sondheim probably should've thought before giving lines like "We have always belonged together" to relatives.

  • Stunt and Bumper from Dominic Deegan gave off extreme vibes of Ho Yay from the start. Except they were only meant to be Heterosexual Life-Partners. In the end, the creator just went with it and gave them several moments of Ship Tease.
  • In Cucumber Quest, the Nightmare Knight is supposed to have a parental relationship with all of the Disaster Masters. However, that was not made very clear outside of Word of God, making many people assume that Rosemaster's deep devotion and love for him were romantic rather than daughterly.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: The on-panel dynamics between the main characters are meant to be entirely platonic. However, two of the closer pairs of friends are gradually gaining a Like an Old Married Couple dynamic and are frequently seen doing things alone together. When the story reaches a point where the main group would have every reason to split up, the two pairs of very good friends plan to stay together either by choice or because someone else wants them to.

    Web Original 
  • The Nostalgia Chick:
  • Flippy and Flaky from Happy Tree Friends are victims of this trope, according to most fans. In spite of the fact that the creator has set two prominent official couples (Cuddles/Giggles and Handy/Petunia), a lot of fans still want to see Flippy/Flaky happening. There are many reasons this happened, but the most important ones are the fact that Flaky is the only one who has appeared to get closer to Flippy, becoming a potential good friend of him, which apparently determined him to stop killing her. She even made him return to his normal self once, although Flaky has developed a phobia for him and she has started running away from him in the latest episode. There is also the fact that Flaky has no gender according to Word of God, in an interview that also reveals that Flaky is asexual.
  • A weirdly circular example in Hazbin Hotel. The friendship between Charlie and Vaggie was written so tenderly that many storyboard artists working on the show took them to be a couple; Vivienne decided to roll with that and they are canonically a couple now. But in the final product, their relationship is so subtle that many first-time viewers take Vaggie to simply be Charlie's friend, plus it doesn't help that Charlie is the only person Vaggie responds positively to and her goals entirely revolve around Charlie's.
  • RWBY: Qrow and Clover were initially supposed to be antagonistic towards each other and only become friends over the course of Volume 7. However, fans mistakenly thought the pair was being set up for a romance due to several unplanned events that forced writer Eddy Rivas to acknowledge with hindsight that it could have been better handled: the voice actors so underplayed the early antagonism that fans didn't detect it; certain animators improvised body-language to be more flirtatious than intended; and the official RWBY social media account played with Ship Tease. This led to a backlash from the LGBTQ community, who felt like they'd been queerbaited when Clover's death ended the opportunity for some rare male representation in a female-dominated show.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Friendship Writing Fumble



While playing a dating sim, Nozaki and Mikoshiba realize that the protagonist's best friend Tomoda might as well have been a love interest for all his devotion to him.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (14 votes)

Example of:

Main / PlatonicWritingRomanticReading

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