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Shock Value Relationship

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"I'm dating Dylan, a woman who volunteers at the Coalition For Gay, Lesbian And Bi Rights For The Homeless. Sure, I'm not really a lesbian, but showing up at Take Back The Night with Dylan captured a lot of attention. When I was in the bathroom stall the other day, I heard two girls I didn't even know talking about me. See, this feminism stuff works."
Megan Heller, The Onion

Most relationships are about mutual attraction — or at least a mutual something — but sometimes, there's another motive at work: Someone's only in it for the attention. Maybe it's a teenage girl dating a punk to get a rise out of dad, or a gay guy who's just not that into the other gay guy but really likes shoving it in everyone's faces. The person actually serious about the relationship might want to wait to kiss until nobody's looking, but the one out for shock value will only want to kiss when everybody's looking. Hilarity Ensues — or Tragedy Ensues, depending on how seriously this is played.

This seems to mostly happen with girls, due to the idea that people (particularly relatives) are more invested in who a women is dating than who a man is dating. The character who's serious about the relationship will probably come across as The Woobie for their one-sided affections.

Can occasionally overlap with Publicity Stunt Relationship, if the new "relationship"'s buzz-generating potential relies on the celebrity's new beau being shocking.

Super-Trope of Operation: Jealousy. Compare Intentional Heartbreaker.


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  • In CLANNAD, Mei (who is 13) and Tomoya (who is around 17, not to mention a delinquent) pretend to go out and actually do go out on a pretend date together all with the hope of shocking Sunohara into expressing care for and protectiveness towards his sister. It doesn't work and he waves the whole thing off, to Tomoya's fury. Ultimately, it's revealed that the reason why he didn't worry was that he trusted Tomoya enough that he thought he would take care of her.

     Comic Books  

  • A particularly nasty version of this is part of Dr. Mann's backstory in Y: The Last Man. Namely, her college girlfriend turned out to be a Lesbian Until Graduation who didn't even believe that homosexuality was real, thinking that girls only ever date other girls to piss off their dads. She then suggested that Mann look for a more mature way of pissing off her dad... like dating a black man.
  • Phat and Vivisector from Marvel's X-Statix comic pretend to be gay to steal the media spotlight back from their teammates. Phat breaks with the ruse, and eventually he and Vivisector conclude that they are both gay, but not attracted to each other.

     Fan Fiction  

  • In Harry Riddle (a Harry Potter AU in which Voldemort is Harry's father) Harry befriends Hermione because she's a muggleborn and such a move is bound to get daddy's attention.


  • In the backstory of Every Breath You Take, it's obvious Tom Wakeling brought the eccentric, working-class Tiffany as his date to the Met Gala purely to show up his family, whom he saw as snobs, and get attention for himself. They stopped dating not long after that and Tiffany makes it clear she was aware how out-of-place she was at the gala and that there wasn't much of a real connection between her and Tom.
  • In The Quantum Thief, Pixil openly admits that at least a part of why she's dating Isidore, from outside her weird high-tech enclave where people think of everything as a game to the point of wanting to keeping score in every activity, is because it upsets her relatives. He later realises it's only been a kind of game for him as well, though for different reasons.
  • Esther M. Friesner's short story "The Wedding of Wylda Serene" has the eponymous character's father, Frederick Austin-Cowles, who courted, married, and impregnated her mother, a blue collar florist named Nora Scruggs, out of a desire to spite his Control Freak Blue Blood parents. However, when Frederick died in a traffic collision while driving home to break the news to them, the Austin-Cowles chose to take in Nora and became loving grandparents to their new granddaughter.

     Live Action TV  

  • Cinderella and the Four Knights: In the first episode, Hyun-min pays Ha-won to pretend to be his fiancee at his grandfather's wedding just to cause a stir.
  • Desperate Housewives:
    • Andrew's relationship with Justin. Justin was in love, Andrew used him to drive his mother insane. Andrew's still gay, though.
    • While they were divorced, Gabrielle pretended to have very loud sex with a business competitor that Carlos knew, to make him stop thinking she still loved him.
  • Sex and the City
    • Miranda pretends to date a lesbian in an early episode to curry favour with the boss at her law firm. Fun fact, Cynthia Nixon who played Miranda have later come out as bisexual.
    • Oddly enough subverted with Samantha's short fling with a lesbian. At first it seemed like it would be a big shocking story line that would be played up, but it was oddly underplayed, with none of them treating it like a very shocking thing. Most likely because Samantha can't really surprise them anymore. It was more shocking that Samantha was in a RELATIONSHIP than a lesbian one. Her friends were shocked by them waiting to have sex.
  • Played with in Boston Legal - at the end of a court case involving one, it turned out that they were still seeing each other, and had faked the break-up and the ensuing case to maintain the publicity.
  • Murphy Brown: Murphy and her black boss at one point found it really amusing to "shock" people, especially by sending them kahlua and cream drinks. Eventually they figured out that the one thing they had in common was liking to screw with people.
  • Mad Men:
    • Paul Kinsey dated a black woman in Season 2 basically for the shock value/to indicate how "forward-thinking" and "artistic" he was. She eventually sees right through him and kicks him to the curb.
    • Averted by Lane Pryce and the literal Playboy Bunny Toni; it's clear that despite him being white and her black, to say nothing of the age element, and his being married (if separated), and the other chasms between them (e.g., he's a well-off business executive and named partner at an advertising agency, she's a working-class cocktail waitress; he's English, she's American) they actually have a legitimate relationship and aren't trying to shock anybody.
  • Ja'maie King from Summer Heights High does this twice over the course of an eight episode series: First by going out with a year 7 boy four years her junior, and again when she asks another girl to the year 11 Formal.
  • In Degrassi, Claire invited Eli over for dinner with her parents just as a way of shocking them with his black clothes, hearse, and chain necklaces to get back at them for getting a divorce. Eli was completely humiliated that she used him like that.
  • Attempted in the pilot of Arrested Development. Maeby was upset that she barely ever sees the rest of her family. She decided that a good way to get back at her parents was to pretend to make out with her cousin George Michael, and then pretend she had no idea they were related. This backfired on her in two ways. One, her parents didn't even notice her kissing her cousin. Two, George Michael ended really enjoying the kiss, and spent much of the rest of the show trying to deal with being attracted to his cousin.
  • On My Wife and Kids, Claire breaks up with her Christian abstinence-practising boyfriend, who her father approves of, for a gang banger who goes by "1040 EZ".
  • Frasier: Frasier's feud with his Sitcom Arch-Nemesis Cam Winston winds up their respective single parents to the point that they decide to play a prank on them by pretending to be going out. They succeed in getting their sons to make up, but hint that they're not planning on breaking up right away... (although they appear to have done so by the next episode, of course).
  • Non-romantic example in Community. Britta befriends a lesbian for the sole purpose of getting progressive liberal hipster cred to lord over everyone and feel morally superior to them. She was not happy to find out that the girl she befriended is straight, thought she was a lesbian, and was doing the same thing.
  • Downton Abbey:
    • This trope is strongly averted by Lady Sybil and Tom Branson—the daughter of the Earl of Grantham with an Irish socialist chauffeur? It is completely shocking when they announce their relationship, but Sybil in particular had given every indication that the shock to her father was a good argument not to go through with it. As for Branson, he recognised that his family considered him a damned fool, and although he did not care, he also did not particularly want that either.
    • In Series 4, Lady Rose, daughter of the Marquess of Flintshire, secretly dates the Black American jazz singer Jack Ross (and of course, even in 1922, "American" and "singer" would be bad enough, but "Black" and "jazz singer"...). While she does have some real attraction to Jack, a major factor in her decision to pursue him is simply the desire to spite her mother (Lord Grantham's cousin on his mother's side).
    • Lady Rose then proceeds to avert this in Series 5, when she marries the Jewish Atticus Aldridge, the son of Lord Sinderby; the Aldridges are Jewish, and the proposal causes quite a stir...among the Aldridges.
      • Atticus' father, Lord Sinderby, is particularly incensed, for reasons related and unrelated to religion. On the latter front, Lady Rose's parents are about to get divorced, and Lord Sinderby believes divorce to be a disgrace (which it admittedly was even in the 1920s, though that opinion was on its way out). As for the religious objection, Lord Sinderby wanted his grandchildren to be raised Jewish, which would not be possible for his son's children by a Gentile wife; as Judaism runs in the maternal line, the children would have to convert as adults to be considered Jewish under Jewish law).note  Lord Sinderby calls Rose everything but a shiksa. (Actually, he does call her a shiksa, but Lady Sinderby, who is much nicer makes him take it back.)
      • Mind you, it's not that there isn't some racism on Rose's side of the family, but the Crawleys—who are pretty much her main family by this point—have already had the much-more-shocking marriage to Branson and are relieved to see Rose marry a man of her own class. However, the Crawleys are already part-Jewish through Lady Grantham's father Isidore Levinson,note  and defend the marriage from all manner of antisemitism (in one particularly exquisite incident, Lady Grantham replies to one acquaintance's disapproving remarks by saying, in effect, "you know my father was Jewish, right?").
      • Interestingly, this relationship does end up apparently shocking Rose's mother, but she's such a bitter and unlikable person at this point that nobody cares. Also, it's not entirely clear if she is actually shocked or just pretending to be to make herself the center of attention and to get back at her daughter (with whom she has much bad blood), her husband (who approves of the match), and everyone else (whom she has various reasons for hating).
  • In the last two episodes of The Golden Girls, Dorothy invoked this trope with Blanche's uncle, Lucas Hollingsworth, as revenge for how she tricked them into going out so she could have a one night fling. The following afternoon after the date, Lucas shows up and makes several grand declarations of how much he loves Dorothy before asking her to marry him. Dorothy "accepts" much to shock and/or horror of Blanche, Rose, and Sophia. The two spend the following week acting like Sickeningly Sweethearts to further mess with Blanche, but decide to end the joke when it looks like they've gone too far. However, Lucas has genuinely fallen in love with Dorothy and proposes to her for real. She accepts.
  • In Murdoch Mysteries, Arthur Carmichael is an arrogant rich playboy who begins dating, and eventually marries, Miss Hart, and makes no secret of the fact this is largely to scandalise high society (because she's black), just as she makes no secret of the fact that her main interest is his money, to the extent that she drugs him with a paralytic to make him sign it over to her. They do seem to develop some kind of affection for each other, though, and she's horrified when her father murders him.

  • In Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, Bel-Imperia confesses via monologue that one of her motivations for getting together with Horatio is to spite the prince who is wooing her and who killed her former lover Andrea (Horatio's best friend).


  • Shortpacked!. Poor, poor Leslie. Robin does eventually develop feelings for her, and by series end, they are married with three kids.
  • In Dumbing of Age, Walky gets Amber to pretend to be his girlfriend again, the logic being that she is absolutely the worst white girl he can take to meet his parents, which might make them feel more positive about his relationship with Lucy, a black girl who is practically their ideal match for him, but who they disapprove of for reasons they don't care to examine. Amber being Amber, she refers to "the Fake Relationship trope" by name and, scrolling for it on her phone in the middle of dinner, mutters that they're not doing a Romantic Fake–Real Turn.

     Web Original  

     Western Animation  

  • The Moral Orel episode "Closeface" had the lesbian couple Stephanie and Kim. Turns out Kim was using this trope all along, breaking Stephanie's heart. And it turns out one of the persons they shocked, Stephanie's father Rev. Putty, saw right though it as well and felt bad for Stephanie.
  • Toyed with once on Family Guy, when Meg pretends to be a lesbian in order to get some friends. A rare example of the deceptive one being the Butt-Monkey.
  • American Dad!:
    • Hayley once dated an illegal immigrant just to tick off Stan. Stan winds up hiring her boyfriend for his factory, however, and Hayley, annoyed that he isn't spending any time with her anymore, calls immigration on him and his family.
    • In another episode she tries to freak out her parents by suggesting that she might move to France and having a string of lovers, listing several French male names and ending with "Simone." They remain stoic until she points out that the last one is a woman's name.
  • Batman: The Animated Series: In "Birds of A Feather", socialite Veronica Vreeland is eager to be the center of attention when she arrives at a party with the Penguin. Next to this ugly oaf she will look flawless, and her Rich Bitch friends will have a good laugh at his expense. This plan backfires: Penguin charms her with his wit and Vreeland has a Heel Realization.
  • A Cutaway Gag on The Cleveland Show had every girl at a college graduation ceremony breaking up with the girl next to them as soon as they've graduated.