The classic meet-cute can be the best part of a love story, or the most cringe-worthy. The more awkward, quirky, or downright doomed the relationship seems from that first connection, the better the chance at true, happens-once-in-a-lifetime love—usually. At least in books. And while it may be a newish term, it has been happening for ages. To prove it, here are some of our favorite examples from classic lit, ranked from least to most swoony.
10. Romeo and Juliet (Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare)
Meeting at a party, hitting it off, and not realizing your families are mortal enemies? Yep, that’s a pretty standard rom-com start. And while Juliet totally holds up her end of the bargain with the witty banter, Romeo just comes across as a desperate teenage boy (which, to be fair, he is). Plus, of course, they totally botch it by dying at the end.
9. Emma and Mr. Knightley (Emma, by Jane Austen)
We could name a number of meet-cutes that occur while one party is bawling their eyes out…of course, neither party is typically an infant. Props to Jane Austen for avoiding the childhood friends cliché and taking the introductions all the way back to Emma’s very early days on earth—but it’s hard to get those cuddly, anticipatory romantic feels when you’re imagining that 16-year age gap during Emma’s childhood. But all’s well that ends well, and it is legal and not weird at all in the end.
8. Catherine and Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë)
No couple says quirky and adorable quite like Catherine and Heathcliff, right? Here we have yet another interesting take on the childhood meet-cute: Catherine is a spoiled brat when she meets her new adopted brother—so far, so full of opportunities for a dramatic turnaround. Of course, things get rocky when she actually spits on him and then makes him sleep in the hallway outside her room. Even that would be surmountable, except for the teensy problem that their relationship basically never evolves from there, and Catherine still acts like a spoiled brat till the day she dies.
7. Christine and Raoul (The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux)
Of course, we have to follow those up with an actual childhood meet-cute, because you never forget your first love: Christine and Raoul first meet as young humans when he dashingly rushes into the sea to rescue her scarf (points for heroism and adorable smallness). Plus, they get a sort of second meet-cute when he re-falls in love with her after hearing her sing.
6. Lady Chatterley and Mellors (Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D. H. Lawrence)
There’s nothing quite like meeting the future love of your life while pushing around your current (increasingly estranged) (paralyzed) spouse in his wheelchair. But when you toss in him ignoring you the entire time and add on an awkward second meeting where you judge his parenting technique, you’ve essentially got the secret recipe for a quirk-ton of true love. Or lust. Or whatever.
5. Ahab and the Moby Dick (Moby Dick, by Herman Melville)
Melville really knows how to set the stage for a wonderful, encouraging relationship: you’ve got one party whose only job in life is to kill the second party, and a second party who happens to maim the first party in an effort to survive. Sure, it sounds doomed, but there’s no denying it’s obsession, er, love at first sight. Because sometimes, “I love you,” sounds a lot like “I want to put a harpoon through your eye.”
4. Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester (Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë)
As far as setting up romance goes, Charlotte way outstrips her sister Emily. Jane and Mr. Rochester meet when he falls off his horse and she helps him up, totally unaware he’s actually her boss—a solid, steady attempt. The cuteness continues when they’re introduced for real and strike up a lovely round of witty banter, teasing, and flirting. (It’s all tarnished a bit later when it turns out he was married all along, but hey, points for a good beginning.)
3. Anne and Gilbert (Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery)
Oh Gilbert, how we love you and your good intentions. All he wanted was Anne’s attention; it’s hardly his fault he didn’t know Anne’s hair was a sensitive topic for her. Their introduction ends with a slate to the head and the beginning of a strong, slow-burning grudge. One pond rescue and many years of academic rivalry later, and Anne and Gilbert might finally be on the (long) road to romance.
2. Scarlet and Rhett (Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell)
If you thought Anne was extreme for hitting Gilbert with her slate, Scarlet one-ups her by slapping one guy and throwing a bowl at the wall near Rhett’s head. Toss in a few insults, a declaration of love for a guy who’s not Rhett, and incensed storming off, and you’ve got a near-perfect (for the reader) first meeting.
1. Elizabeth and Darcy (Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen)
Of course, no meet-cute can quite compare to Lizzy and Darcy’s: he’s aloof, she’s outgoing and fun. He’s grumpy, she’s a little too poor. He insults her looks, she insults his feelings about poetry. Things are looking about as unlikely as they can get—and yet, they’re so perfect for each other. It’s just going to take approximately two dozen more awkward interactions before they get there.