As January draws to a close, the Valentine's Day panic starts to set in. It's one of those magical holidays that produces anxiety whether or not you're actually celebrating it! Single people have to suffer through lacy heart decorations, and hearing their friends gush and/or whine about their significant other's behavior. People in relationships have to take a wild guess at just how serious their partner is and then buy them the perfect present (not too serious, but not too cheap — it's a romantic minefield). At least everyone gets to eat those weird chalk hearts, though, right?
Really, though, Valentine's Day can be a ton of cheesy fun if you don't take it too seriously. Or if you take a cue from some of literature's cutest couples. And when I say "cutest" couples, I mean "at least somewhat functional" couples. Because boy is literature full of really dysfunctional couples. I mean, there's Gatsby and Daisy, Bella and Edward, Cathy and Heathcliff, the couple from Gone Girl, the Phantom of the Opera and Christine, every character George R. R. Martin has ever created... there are a lot of wildly romantic couples that are in no way an example of a healthy relationship. It's actually a bit of a challenge to find any couples in literature that are "cute" rather than "a total train wreck," but here are some of the lucky few:
1. Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
Shakespeare gave us some of the greatest lovers in literary history: Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Desdemona, Hamlet and poor, poor Ophelia. But as beautiful as his tragic romances are, you can't get much cuter than the couples in his comedies. And Beatrice and Benedick are by far the snarkiest, funniest, most adorably hateful couple in all his comedies (and perhaps the world). They insult each other, engage in the wittiest of banter, and swear eternal hatred — and so, naturally, they fall madly in love and end up being much more functional than the more traditional couples in the play. A perfect V-day inspiration for that couple that just loves to out do each other when it comes to punny put-downs.
2. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Emotionally reserved couples, this one's for you. Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy are the mascot of socially awkward couples everywhere: you know, that couple where they were both crushing on each other for so long, but they were both too embarrassed to ever say anything. Everyone else probably knew that they were dating before the two of them knew. But that's OK, because Lizzie and Darcy make up for all that weird repression in the end, when they finally get in touch with their feelings and admit that they love each other. Ardently. Good inspiration for anyone planning a tea-and-heart-shaped-cookies kind of Valentine's.
3. Morticia and Gomez Addams from The Addams Family Cartoons by Charles Addams
Look, you can argue whether or not collections of New Yorker cartoons really count as literature, but you can't argue that Morticia and Gomez aren't one of the best fictional couples of all time. They're just so ridiculously in love with each other, even in their one-panel comics. This one's for all those couples that live... a little outside the norm, because Morticia and Gomez are completely comfortable being unconventional. And they're completely expressive about loving each other (even if it makes everyone else in the room a little uncomfortable).
4. Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
No disrespect to Harry and Ginny, but... c'mon. Ron and Hermione are the real will-they-or-won't-they for the entire Harry Potter series. They're the perfect inspiration for any couple that started out as close friends. Because it can be a hell of a transition from best friends to best friends who are kind of a little bit dating to actually dating. They're also a great inspiration for couples who have very different interests, and they have quite a few ups and downs before that infamous kiss at the Battle of Hogwarts. But in the end, they prove that people can grow out of petty differences, and get together despite Harry being an obnoxious third wheel all the freaking time.
5. Therese Belivet and Carol Aird from The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
The Price of Salt was a revolutionary novel when it came out back in the 1950s, and not just because it was a lesbian love story. It was revolutionary because it was (spoiler alert) a lesbian love story with a happy ending. Patricia Highsmith subverted a lot of the typical tropes, and actually let her leads end up together, despite all the obstacles (most of them angry men) in their way. Their love defies the odds, and so The Price of Salt is perfect for anyone feeling like there are just too many things standing in the way of a happy relationship. Therese and Carol are here to remind you that you can find a happy ending even if you're a gay couple in the '50s and a private investigator is chasing you across the country.
6. Westley and Buttercup from The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Westley and Buttercup are your classic fairy tale romance. Yes, William Goldman's writing is a wry take on the High Adventure genre, but Westley and Buttercup are that sort of rot-your-teeth sweet romantic couple that you've just got to love. They're for all those people who like their Valentine's Days to be full of homemade cards covered in glitter, and cut-outs of baby cupid, and engagement rings hidden in pastry. Because there's nothing wrong with being a full-on hopeless romantic sometimes! You might not find your prince charming, but there is certainly a stable-boy-turned-pirate out there waiting to steal your heart.
7. Ifemelu and Obinze from Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
We all know by now that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a feminist hero and brilliant writer, and her lead characters take after her in all the best ways. Ifemelu and Obinze are in many ways a classic love story: they're madly in love, circumstance tears them apart, they date other people, and (spoilers!) find each other again years later. So this one's for you, rocky long distance couples. But they're also a refreshingly modern love story, in that they both become socially aware in their years apart. When they reunite, their eyes have been opened to so many injustices, and it only makes their love that much stronger. So this one's also for all those more mature couples who can bond over social justice.
8. Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Can you really call Jane and Rochester a functional or cute couple? ....ish? Yeah, OK, I know that they're not perfect. She walks out on him. He has a secret wife in his attic. But what couple is perfect? (I mean, not to pit the Bronte sisters against each other, but at least they're better than Heathcliff and Cathy.) When Jane and Rochester do end up together, Rochester seems to have learned his lesson about hiding extra wives in his attic, and Jane goes back to him as a self-reliant young woman who doesn't need to be taken care of. Jane and Rochester are there for any dramatic couples out there who like their Valentine's Days to be full of brooding, secret revelations, and possibly fire.
9. Ennis and Jack from Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx
They may not quite get their happy ending, and their love may be fraught with obstacle upon obstacle (I mean, it's hard enough just being a cowboy, without being involved in a forbidden love affair), but you can't deny that Ennis and Jack have their adorable moments. Brokeback Mountain is one of the most famous modern stories of forbidden love, and it still strikes a chord with anyone who's ever had to keep their relationship a secret. Plus, if your Valentine's Day plans involve the outdoors, cowboy boots, tents, or a fishing trip, then you can't do much better than Jack and Ennis.
10. Fermina and Florentino from Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
OK, sure, here's another couple that goes through years (half a century, actually) of things not quite working out. Even when they get together things... don't quite work out, at least at first. But these two are a testament to second chances. Their youthful romance has ended long ago, but they reunite to find that their love can blossom again in old age, because who says new love is just for the young? Couples with a long, long story can identify with Fermina and Florentino, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's masterful writing is perfect for anyone who likes a little Valentine's Day lyricism.
Images: 20th Century Fox, Giphy (9), haidaspicciare/tumblr