Autostraddle March Madness 2023: Trope-y Wives – Friends to Lovers

A black ticket with orange and yellow trimming, inside it says: "The 5th Annual Autostraddle March Madness 2023, Trope-y Wives." In the middle of the text is a small graphic of a gold trophy.

What a weekend for college basketball. And while I’d like just a second to catch my breath from it all, another 16 teams are battling tonight to see who will make it through to the Sweet 16…and, frankly, I’m on the edge of my seat. Let’s focus on something a little less stressful: the outcomes of the Opposites Attract region.

Things went about as I expected in the Opposites Attract Region. Maya and Carina of Station 19 had a dominant showing out of the gate: coming off one of the best episodes for the couple in a long, long while, they scored an easy victory in the first round. As we learned last year, the #Marina fandom is dedicated and it’s going to take a concerted effort to bring down this #1 seed.

I expected the match-up between Lucy and Kate of NCIS: Hawai’i and Kai and Amelia of Grey’s Anatomy to be the most competitive of the bracket but, to my surprise, it wasn’t. The closest contest of the round was Taissa and Van vs. Luz and Amity. I imagine Taissa and Van will get more formidable in Round 2, given the impending return of Yellowjackets, but can they marshall up enough buzz to dethrone our frontrunners?

I wasn’t surprised to see Hen and Karen pull off the upset in the #4/#13 match-up either. Forgive me if that outcome just convinces me to step up my “You NEED to watch P-Valley” evangelism. Also? I wasn’t surprised to see Ana and Mariana of Madre sólo hay dos fall to Feel Good but I was surprised by how close it was. Hopefuly someone at Netflix notices and gives the show another season.

Now we’re back with more one more region — Friends to Lovers — before we move onto Round 2. Here are the competitors.

#1. Nicole and Waverly – Wynona Earp

When Nicole Haught first saunters into Shorty’s and meets Waverly Earp for the first time, it truly is love at first sight for the both of them. But at that point, Waverly just isn’t ready to make that admission so, instead, she’s just flustered by Nicole’s presence. She stumbles over her words. She gets tangled in her beer-soaked shirt and has to ask for Nicole’s help to get out. She comes up with preposterous reasons to keep Nicole at arm’s length. And, of course, she affirms her heterosexuality — she’s in a relationship, “with a boy-man” — but, in that moment, it’s less about telling Nicole and more about giving herself a reminder.

She just wants to be friends, Waverly asserts a few episodes later — an assertion that Nicole begrudgingly accepts — but then fate intercedes. Aunt Gus encourages Waverly to embrace freedom and to stop doing what’s expected of her. Gus reminders her: “some of the best things in life are the surprises it throws us. About what we want. Who we want.”

It’s enough to convince Waverly to embrace what and, more importantly, who, she wants. It’s enough to convince her that she should stop being afraid and do the thing she most wants to do in this world: be with Nicole.

#16. Jamie and Dani – The Haunting of Bly Manor

For most of her life, Dani’s been scared. So scared she pushed her lesbian feelings into a closet and agreed to marry a man she didn’t love. The moment she lets go of that fear — when she breaks things off with her fiancé — he gets hit by a car and dies. It feels like a cosmic punishment for her bravery. So she’s retreats in the face of that loss…haunted by his ghost…convinced that it was her and her lesbian feelings that got her fiancé killed. But then along comes Jamie. She sees Dani, truly, and begs her to let go of the guilt that she’s been carrying.

“We leave more life behind us. That life refreshes and recycles and on and on it goes,” Jamie reminds her. She notes, it’s the mortality of the thing that truly makes the moonflower…life…her…beautiful.

It’s then that Dani realizes that her fear is serves no one. She isn’t the reason her fiancé died and her feelings aren’t responsible either. She can have love with someone who returns it wholeheartedly…and that someone can be a woman. Dani can give up the ghosts of the past and embrace the promise of a future with Jamie.

#2. Alex and Kelly – Supergirl

The bond between Alex Danvers and Kelly Olsen is forged by adversity. When Kelly arrives in National City, her brother’s been shot and she’s forced to trust Alex’s recommendation about the treatment that would save his life. Alex is there when Kelly’s forced to relive the abandonment she felt when James wasn’t there to support her during her father’s funeral. And when Alex faces challenges in her professional and personal lives, it’s Kelly that she leans on. Kelly is there when Alex receives the call about the adoption, soothing Alex’s anxiety so that she can make the most important decision of her life. When Alex doubts that she’ll make a good mother, it’s Kelly that reassures her that she will…that Alex cares too much to be anything less than great. And then, when the adoption falls through and Alex is understandably crushed, it’s Kelly that comforts her: holding her hand through it all.

“We’ve been through a lot of intense stuff together in a short amount of time, haven’t we?” Kelly asks rhetorically. But it’s hard to regret a moment of it — no matter how difficult it’s been — because that intense stuff brought them together…it forged their bond. She adds, “The closeness with you, it has felt like both the most natural thing in the world and like a revelation.”

Of course, Alex feels it too and they move from friends to lovers with a kiss.

#15. Sol and Ji-Wan – Nevertheless (알고있지만)

Sol and Ji-Wan have been best friends since middle school and, somewhere along the way, Sol fell in love with her best friend. She doesn’t dare tell her, of course, because she’s sure Ji-Wan doesn’t share her feelings. It’s a struggle to keep her feelings at bay, though. During a party with their friends, a game of spin-the-bottle breaks out and it lands on Sol and then close enough to Ji-Wan that she claims the victory for her own. Sol panics as Ji-Wan leans forward. She’s waited for this for so long but she can’t have her first kiss with Ji-Wan be like this, she can’t have it mean nothing, so she downs a drink and, quickly, makes her escape.

But, as is so often the case, Sol is so busy trying to keep her own feelings at bay that she doesn’t notice Ji-Wan experiencing the same. Sol doesn’t notice how jealous Ji-Wan gets when she goes out with someone else (even though it’s not clear that Sol realizes that she’s on dates). She doesn’t notice the comfort Ji-Wan takes in having their hands intertwined. But Sol doesn’t see any of that so when Ji-Wan drunkenly confesses her feelings, she doesn’t know what to think.

“Don’t hang out with anyone else,” Ji-Wan begs, as she wraps her arms around Sol. “Just like me, okay? Just me. Please.”

“Stop making me get my hopes up,” Sol answers to a passed out Ji-Wan.

K-dramas still have a along way to go with LGBT representation but Nevertheless feels like a tremendous step forward…not just in terms of storytelling but also because the relationship between Sol and Ji-Wan stole the show from the straight couple that was at its center. Give the people the Soljiwan spin-off we deserve, you cowards!

#3. Syd and Elena – One Day at a Time

When Elena first invites Syd over to the Alvarez house, she’s crushing on someone else…Dani, another member of the Feminist Gamers of Echo Park. Elena doesn’t want to admit it but her grandmother is an expert at detecting romance and sets out to teach Elena proper flirting techniques. But when Penelope arrives, she reminds Elena that she’s too young to date and that education will always come first. It’s only later, when she’s alone with Alex (or so she thinks), that Elena admits to her crush.

“I just… I assumed that coming out was going to be the difficult part,” Elena confesses. “But now that I like someone, I just… I don’t even know if Dani’s gay. What if she’s not? I don’t want to be the gay girl who asks out a straight girl!”

Elena’s abuela overhears her laments through the curtain and encourages her to be bold and to be vulnerable. Love, she says, requires both. And so, Elena tries…and fails — Dani already has a girlfriend — but Syd’s there to share her cookie (that’s not a euphemism…or is it?). They haphazardly fall into a romance like Elena haphazardly falls into almost everything. And while we don’t get to see them be friends as much as some of the other couples on this list, the couple’s shared interests anchors both their friendship and relationship.

#14. Judy and Michelle – Dead to Me

When Michelle meets Judy for the first time, she’s moving her mother into the retirement community where Judy works. She and her mother had tried for a year to make it work — living together — but when Michelle’s mother broke her hip while her daughter was at work, something had to give. While taking a smoke break with Judy, Michelle laments how bad things have gotten with her mother…wondering if she gave up on joy when her husband died.

Judy can relate to that feeling but Michelle thinks it’s selfish. She asserts, “we’re all gonna die at some point, you know? It’s life — it’s what happens — but the world keeps going, and other people need you. It’s like you have a choice: you either go down with the ship or you grab a fucking life raft and you hold on, you know?”

Unbeknownst to Judy in that moment, Michelle is going to be her life raft. They become friends, sharing stories and drinks and weed, and, eventually a kiss in a photo booth like an adult Emily and Maya.

#4. Kat & Adena – The Bold Type

Adena El-Amin isn’t a woman who cheats. She’s so certain of who she is, of what she values, that cheating just isn’t her. But then she meets Kat Edison…and Kat is just a ball of energy and enthusiasm and it’s hard to imagine not liking her (unless you’re the writers of The Bold Type in the latter seasons, then I guess it’s not so hard). It’s easy for Adena to allow her own cynicism to prevail — it’s a well-earned cynicism, after all — but when Kat comes in with her indefatigable optimism, it’s hard not to be moved by it. And Kat’s smart and inquistive and beautiful (HAVE YOU SEEN AISHA DEE?!)….and how could you not want more of that in your life?

And so Adena cheats. Emotionally first but then Kat kisses her and she doesn’t stop it. They kiss for hours and wake up together the next morning. She cheats and has no regrets.

“If I’m being honest with myself, I have been cheating for a while. Probably since I decided to pursue a friendship with you, knowing that my feelings were not entirely friendly,” Adena admits.

#13. Rubi and Macarena – Edificio Corona

For years, I’ve lamented the lack of LGBT representation in Spanish-language programming but over the last decade we’ve seen a marked improvement. What’s been particularly interesting to watch — as someone who doesn’t speak Spanish — is to see the way queer communities have sprouted up around these shows, translating them to make the more accessible to a global audiences. Perennial March Madness fan favorites, Juliana and Valentina, are the best example of this: the combination of the storyline on Amar a muerte and the undeniable chemistry between the lead actresses plus the community of fans who clipped and painstakingly translated every single scene, turned Juliantina into a global phenomenon.

Rubi and Macarena had the potential to achieve similar heights but fell short. Still, it’s an adorable story a lesbian girl (Macarena) who falls in love with her best friend but doesn’t share her feelings, fearing that doing so might endanger the friendship. Plus Rubi’s straight…she’s dating this man-child named Miguel…and obviously can’t return Maca’s feelings. But then Macarena starts dating another girl and Rubi can’t be happy for her. She pulls away from Miguel and slowly but surely, Rubi starts to recognize why she’s so jealous of Maca’s new girlfriend.

#5. Sophie and Finley – The L Word: Generation Q

Oh, it used to be so good. Remember at the end of season one when Sophie goes to the airport…and Dani’s at one gate and Sophie’s at another…and you’re just hoping/praying that Sophie’s running towards the right one? And then they just ruined it for whatever reason? I’m still mystified by it.

Riese’s words about the couple, post-season one, capture their “friends to lovers” appeal best:

I think one of the most thrilling parts of watching television is when you THINK you’re picking up on some chemistry but you’re not sure if it’s intentional and then… suddenly, it is! Sophie and Finley were the only match-up we didn’t see coming…and also turned out to be the one with the most genuine chemistry and intimacy behind it. I never would’ve imagined these two together from the first few episodes but retroactively it makes perfect sense, much like Alice and Dana did in the first season of the original series. These two are happiest and most themselves when they’re together and are incredibly adept at providing emotional support to each other in ways other partners have been unable to.

We almost had it all.

#12. Rue and Jules – Euphoria

“Rue is in love with Jules, I think,” Gia opines early in Euphoria‘s first season. I think it was always that way. From the moment that Rue meets Jules at the party, I think Rue is in love with Jules. She’s new to this world…Jules is someone who doesn’t look at Rue and automatically think of her mistakes….and Rue loves that. Or maybe Rue just needs a new thing to be addicted to…and the warmth of Jules’ light — her euphoria — is as good a high as any. But Jules doesn’t love her — at least not yet — and so she just waits and tries to be the best friend she can until Jules shares her feelings.

They’re the best of friends. They are almost inseperable, spending most of their time at school together, hanging out and cracking jokes about the football team. It’s as close to normal as Rue’s ever been. The friendship is conditional though: Rue needs to hold onto her sobriety…”I’m not trying to become best friends with someone who’s gonna fucking kill themselves,” Jules says. Rue tries to abide by the rule or, at least, hide her rule breaking well.

Rue is in love with Jules and, for a while, she’s able to hide it but then she impulsively kisses Jules one night and the dam breaks. Though she doesn’t return the kiss at first, Jules eventually returns to Rue’s side, returning the kiss with intention.

#6. Annika and Helena – WIR

When you hit 30, there’s always this intense period of self-reflection that accompanies it. What were the dreams you had for yourself as a kid? Are you where you thought you’d be? Are you the person you thought you’d be? Are you with the person you imagined you’d be? Are you living where you want? Are you going to have kids? WIR is about that period: with each series, focusing primarily on one character or couple (in a similar way to SKAM/Druck). Essentially, the show asks “who are we?” (“wir” meaning “we” in German). The first series is about a couple, Annika to Helena, that goes from friends to lovers to radio silent to possibly friends to lovers.

Once upon a time, Annika and her friends wrote their greatest wishes for their future down on a sheet of paper and hid it from view. On Annika’s note? A wish that she’d be with her then-girlfriend, Helena. But that’s not what happened, at least not immediately. Instead, Annika leaves for 12 years for reasons she doesn’t explain. She returns, a successful architect, to the town where she grew up and where her family still lives. And Helena’s still there too…having just bought a fixer-upper in town with her boyfriend. They’re talking about mariage and kids. But then Annika comes back and the questions that Helena’s avoided now necessitate answers.

#11. Grace and Anissa – Black Lightning

Sparks flew when Anissa Pierce met Grace Choi for the first time. The two share an easy rapport and bond over comic books and superheroes. And then, when danger threatens, they realize they share a set of values. But just as they’re starting to build something — to work their way from friends to something more — Anissa ghosts Grace. They’ve barely rekindled their friendship when Anissa shows up at Grace’s door.

Grace shouldn’t let her in. It’s too soon. Anissa’s been reluctant to commit and Grace shouldn’t give in until she knows that Anissa’s ready for something real this time. But something real has happened: Anissa’s Uncle Gambi is dead and Anissa’s searching for a reminder that she’s truly alive. Anissa shows up with tears in her eyes, a broken heart, looking like Anissa Pierce looks and wonders, “if I knew I only had one day to live, who, besides my family, would I want to spend that day with? I only came up with one name. You.” Some things are irresistible, even if you’ve got superpowers.

#7. Dani & Gigi – The L Word: Generation Q

I’d write something else but now I’m just mad that they ruined them all over again.

#10. Alice and Sumi – Good Trouble

Soon after we meet Alice for the first time, she’s protecting a birthday cake from excited party goers. It’s for Sumi — the ex-girlfriend that she’s still in love with, despite Sumi having cheated on her — and Alice is eagerly awaiting the chance to surprise her. But when Sumi walks in with her girlfriend, Meera, it’s Alice who gets the surprise: she’s engaged! Despite the heartbreak, Alice remains her dutiful friend, planning the entire wedding and trying not to celebrate when the marriage doesn’t happen.

And you think, for a moment, that Alice will step in to ease Sumi’s heartbreak — that she’ll just swoop in and she and Sumi will get their happily ever after — but that’s not what happens. Instead, the characters work on building that friendship back, on building the foundation of their relationship back. Once that’s in place, they’re able to work towards building a real relationship…well, that is, after they showcase a fake one to help Gael keep Isabela at the Coterie.

“I know I didn’t treat you well when we were together, but I’ve done a lot of work to mend that,” Sumi acknowledges. “And I’ve been there for you through thick and thin…I’ve worked hard to earn your trust.”

Alice realizes that Sumi’s right…and that she does trust Sumi…and that she wants to be with her.

#8. Ava and Beatrice – Warrior Nun

There’s just something about Ava and Beatrice. From the very beginning. Their lighthearted banter sizzles just a little too much for just gal pals. The way they’re the only ones who understand each other is just a little too romantic for buddies. By the time Beatrice confesses to Ava that she’s not like the other nuns (due to LESBIANISM), it feels like Ava’s already halfway in love with her already. Really good will-they/won’t-theys are rare in sapphic couples on TV, even though it’s one of the most satisfying tropes in the world. It was hard to know, for sure, if Ava and Beatrice were flirting, in their early days, or if we just really wanted it to be true. But by the second season, there’s no question about it. It wasn’t just crumbs we were gobbling up, it was a trail of bread leading us to an epic romance. Ava tells Beatrice her deepest fear, and Beatrice promises her she’ll never be alone. They constantly try to keep each other from sacrificing themselves to save the world. And when everything’s on the line, they finally stop hinting around and kiss right on the mouths. Their nunnery wouldn’t have liked it too much, but us fans? Well, watched it enough times for it to be seared into our memories forever. — Heather

#9. Kit and Jade – Willow

Kit and Willow aren’t just friends; they’re best friends. Sparring partners, training comrades, sisters in arms, best friends (wink). By the time Disney+’s Willow series kicks off, they both know they’ve got a thing for each other, but neither of them have the guts to really do anything about it — until Kit decides to run away from her future husband, and smooches Jade right on the lips on the way out. Alas, monsters! A prince kidnapped! A journey across the lands! Along the way to saving the world, Jade finds out she’s a kind of princess too, and under the power of a truth plum, Kit finally confesses that she’ll follow Jade anywhere, any time, forever, she says all she wants to do is be with Jade, that it’s literally the only thing she cares about. And Jade, well, she goes in for the slowest kiss in history, talking about how deeply in love she is with her best friends. Alas, trolls! But nothing can really keep them apart, and then finally get down to business after a sword fight that leaves Jade so, um, frustrated, she nearly bursts. They go diving off the edge of the world for each other, save each other over and over, and have the only real happy ending in the series. Willow might be over, or it might not be, but whatever the case, they’ll never take away our queer Disney Princesses. — Heather

You have 48 hours to cast your ballot in the Friends to Lovers Region. This year, you can vote four times over the voting period (or to be more precise once, every 12 hours). We’ll be back later this week to announce who you advanced to Round 2!

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A black biracial, bisexual girl raised in the South, working hard to restore North Carolina's good name. Lover of sports, politics, good TV and Sonia Sotomayor. You can follow her latest rants on Twitter.

Natalie has written 396 articles for us.


      • Agreed that it genuinely sucks, though. Tanthamore is the couple I’m probably most invested in in the tournament, so to have them set up to get knocked out in round 1 feels like salt in a very fresh wound.

        • It does genuinely suck! I had to go for Avatrice just because they had more meaningful scenes together (and the show’s writing was better), but I loved both shows/couples. I don’t care about many other couples in this round (just Wayhaught and Dani/Jamie), or in the overall competition, really. Oh well. I’d care more if it could actually change the shows’ cancellation/limbo status.

  1. This challenge made me realize i may have a trope type.
    I liked many couples in opposites attract but this friends to lovers bracket doesn’t have me rooting for many

    But Jamie/Dani and Kit/Jade all the way

  2. Dang, the only one I really struggled with was the last one. I really love Ava/Beatrice in Warrior Nun because I love a good slow burn with lots of angst and longing glances, but lesbian knights just hit on all the things I like in a friends-lovers (it’s about the devotion!) so Jade and Kit had to win out for me in the end.

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