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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Olivia Petter

Bridgerton’s forbidden love storyline is far from romantic, it’s damaging


***This article contains spoilers***

There’s a moment in the new season of Bridgerton when it seems like Anthony Bridgerton and Kate Sharma are going to have sex. It’s a union that has been anticipated for several episodes and finally – finally – looks set to happen. “You are the bane of my existence,” Anthony whispers to her, all fear and fervour, “and the object of all my desires”.

As he edges towards her, talking of “all the ways a lady can be seduced”, Kate, who can barely speak through heavy breaths, laments being “plagued by these feelings” and the two agree that acting on them would be “impossible” despite his hands touching her face, their lips moving around one another like magnets. Just when you think the kiss is coming, though, Anthony backs away, shaking his head. And the moment has passed.

This sort of thing happens a lot. In fact, it is practically the only thing that happens in the entire season, which, far from what the Regency romp fans expected, is an ode to forbidden love and sexless seduction. The plot revolves around Anthony’s search for a wife, a pursuit he sees as purely logistical. It is not a love match he wants, but merely an appropriate viscountess, someone who will look good beside him.

Enter the Sharma sisters. There’s Edwina, the youngest, who is chosen by the Queen as the “diamond” – the season’s most sought-after woman on the marriage market – prompting Anthony to think she is the most suitable choice as his wife. Trouble is, he really likes Kate, the older sister. But both are keen to repress their desires, putting family ahead of feelings. Of course, denying their passion for one another only fuels it further, and the two spend a painful number of episodes dancing around this fact, both metaphorically and literally.

Charithra Chandran as Edwina Sharma, Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma, Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton (LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX)

Forbidden love is nothing new in pop culture, particularly not in the context of Regency-era dramas like Bridgerton. But this is different. Not least because − spoiler alert − Anthony and Kate do end up together (cue a long-awaited sex montage), but also because, thanks to the happy ending, it implies forbidden love is great and, well, sort of hot. In reality, it’s not that simple.

“When falling in love, it is common to experience intrusive thoughts, sometimes to the degree that the person in question, or the ‘love object’, becomes an obsession, rendering people less focused on their daily tasks,” said dating psychologist Madeleine Mason Roantree. “But when the ‘love object’ is someone with whom a relationship is unattainable, as in Bridgerton, it can feel more painful, as the longing becomes incessant.” Part of it is about the lack of dopamine you experience when you’re away from this person, which can trigger stress and pain sensations in the body.

When falling in love, it is common to experience intrusive thoughts, sometimes to the degree that the person in question, or the ‘love object’, becomes an obsession

Madeleine Mason Roantree, dating psychologist

There can be long-term ramifications that result from clinging to a forbidden romance too. “One moment, it fills the lover with excitement, and produces an invigorating adrenaline rush,” said psychologist Daria Kuss. “But later, it can lead to real heartache, depression symptoms, and experiencing grief reactions akin to relationship breakups.”

The problem is that it’s easy to conflate this intense feeling with love; it could be something else entirely. The further you go in your pursuit, the less you will be able to ascertain how you really feel. “You might not be compatible with this person,” said Mason Roantree, adding that what’s driving you to them could be more to do with a fear of intimacy. This may be why commitmentphobes might be more inclined to wind up falling for someone they can’t have because they know it cannot happen and so, in a way, it feels safe. “This can keep people trapped in the illusion of being in love whilst denying true closeness at the same time,” Mason Roantree said.

The only way to tell how you really feel in a forbidden love scenario is to see what happens when the barrier keeping two people apart is removed. It might well be that a relationship begins, as it does for the Bridgerton characters. But often, this is not the case.

“Sometimes people like the idea of flirting with danger or risk, they enjoy the high level of risk associated with forbidden love,” said dating psychologist Jo Hemmings. “But it is nearly always doomed to fail long-term – not necessarily in the Romeo and Juliet kind of way, but because it’s very often unhealthy, toxic or imbalanced. So you may never flourish as a healthy, authentic, and equal relationship.”

Falling into the trap of a forbidden romance could be a sign that you need to do some self-reflection and work on your self-esteem, said Mason. “If you find that you have been lusting after someone you can’t have, first of all, ask yourself why you think you can’t have a relationship with them,” she advised. “If, for example, they are already in a relationship or are not attracted to your gender, then set some time aside to allow yourself to accept that the relationship won’t happen.

Kate and Anthony. (LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX)

“Once you are able to convince your mind of the fact, you will be better able to focus on other things. Engage in social activities that do not involve the person you are lusting after. For a time, fill your spare time with fun things to do. Make a point of treating yourself too.”

Eventually, you should be able to build yourself back to a point where the relationships you pursue are not forbidden at all. They might be less dramatic, and perhaps less exciting, but these partnerships are likely to stand the test of time. As for what will happen to Anthony and Kate, well, we’ll have to wait until season three.

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