Cabral: On “Delilah Green Doesn’t Care” and queer rom-coms

Emilio Cabral, Columnist

As a rom-com enthusiast, I have a set list of tropes I enjoy and those I don’t. While I could spend hours on the couch with a book featuring a well-developed friends-to-lovers relationship, I’ve been known to put books down because they revolve around a fake dating plot. 

But all those preferences go out the window when the rom-com is queer.

Part of it is that reading rom-coms that speak to my own experiences with love and heartbreak always carries a bit more weight than those that don’t. But there is also something to be said for the fact that queer rom-coms take stale, overused tropes and turn them on their head.

In Ashley Herring Blake’s debut novel “Delilah Green Doesn’t Care,” two women who grew up in the same small town reconnect in a funny, charming story featuring an ugly duckling with untamed hair turning into a swan with a sleeve of tattoos and incredibly tight, low-rise jeans.  With a plot that features a local bookstore, a wealthy stepmother and an extremely uptight bride, Blake’s book easily could have been destined for a lackluster Netflix adaptation. 

The difference between “Delilah Green Doesn’t Care” and Netflix’s collection of rom-coms starring Noah Centineo is the complexity its queer main characters, Delilah Green and Claire Sutherland, lend to the story.

Delilah is not just a woman who fled from a stepfamily she believes never truly loved her — she is a lesbian who ran from a small town in Oregon to New York City, where she found a world filled to the brim with queer people and welcoming communities. Claire is a bisexual woman who stayed in her hometown, trying to juggle raising her daughter, creating boundaries with her ex and running her mother’s bookstore.

Their relationship, as well as their own personal struggles throughout the book, cannot be separated from their identities as queer women. Each turn of the page reveals just as much of their relationships with their own queerness and the ways they perform it, as it does their feelings for each other.

And this isn’t unique to Blake’s novel, either. Books like Emery Lee’s “Café Con Lychee” and Alexandra Bellefleurs’ “Written in the Stars” take popular tropes — enemies to lovers and fake dating, respectively — and give them new life by weaving them into rom-coms that are just as much about queerness as they are about falling in love. 

My main issue with tropes like fake dating is that they feel stale and formulaic. I’ve read enough books to know the dark, brooding boy who agrees to pretend to date the bubbly girl he seemingly hates will end with her falling in love with him in 100 pages. When she does, he’ll reveal that he loved her all along. 

Taking these tropes and using them in queer rom-coms makes them more interesting for two reasons. First, it gives readers a chance to see a love story featuring people who are underrepresented in all forms of media. Second, it takes familiar tropes and puts them in new contexts. 

Because rom-coms are so representative of the communities and time periods in which they take place, the dialogue in them captures jokes and dynamics that don’t exist anywhere else. For example, in Hulu’s “Fire Island” — a gay, Asian retelling of Pride and Prejudice — the characters spend much of the film either joking about gay cruising culture or commenting on rich, white, gay men and their superiority complexes.  While the film is an enemies-to-lovers rom-com at heart, the fact that it’s queer gives it a perspective and depth that wouldn’t exist if it were straight.

None of this means I don’t think straight rom-coms can be complex. But it does mean that I believe we need more queer rom-coms. They force us to think about popular tropes in new ways, allow underrepresented groups to see themselves in media and give us glimpses into the heartbeats of different queer communities. So, while you’re free to pick up a copy of “The Love Hypothesis” the next time you go to the bookstore, I recommend finding a queer rom-com instead. 

Emilio Cabral is a Weinberg Sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.