The Best Worst Couples in Literature

Every February, Valentine’s Day makes people in romantic relationships sweat their way through increasingly elaborate displays of affection, while everyone else purchases ever-larger bottles of liquor, boxes of candy, and improved video streaming services in lieu of companionship. A holiday celebrating love can make single people feel lonelier than ever, and put undue pressure on existing relationships, especially when every film, TV show, and book seems to imply that all relationships are happy, healthy, and necessary to prove your worth as a human being. The fact is, not all relationships are good—for the individuals or the universe. If you’re feeling sad and lonely this Valentine’s Day, consider these five couples and the horrors that are their relationships, and feel better about yourself.

The Creepiest Duo in History: Humbert and Dolores (Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov)
We all know that if someone behaved in real life the way people act in romantic comedies, bursting in on weddings and making speeches and committing all sorts of atrocities in order to prove to someone that they’re insanely obsessed, they’d be arrested. Take that sort of obsessive behavior even further and you get into the dark, icky waters of Humbert Humbert’s sick obsession with the young girl he calls Lolita. You may not have a boyfriend or girlfriend this Valentine’s Day, but at least you didn’t have some creepy old murderer chasing after you as a child, even as he erases all evidence of your actual personality from his solipsistic and horrifyingly self-forgiving memoir. It’s the little things in life that get us through each day: coffee, kitten videos, and the lack of pedophile stalkers.

The Couple We Can’t Wait to See Murder Each Other: Cersei and Jamie (A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin)
Incest is a go-to trait when authors want to ramp up the hateability of their characters, and Martin certainly succeeded with these beautiful, rich twins who are (not so) secretly lovers and evil plotters, responsible for plenty of misery in the Seven Kingdoms. Of course, part of the appeal of these books is the way Martin manages to shade even the Lannisters so they become almost sympathetic over time, despite all the incest, murder, attempted murder, rape, and attempted rape. Feeling lonely? Maybe so, but at least you’re not locked in a lifetime relationship with your own twin sibling who’s clearly murderously crazy and also not very receptive to any sort of personal growth or self-examination that might lead to a reluctance to murder your enemies.

The Least Charismatic Main Characters in a Highly Successful Novel Award: Amy and Nick Dunne (Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn) SPOILERS AHEAD
Let’s contemplate the Dunnes: she’s a sociopath so broken by her parents’ selfish upbringing that she considers faking her own murder in order to punish her husband a reasonable course of action. He’s a slow-witted weakling who wallows in self-pity and failure, so self-involved he doesn’t notice his wife is framing him for her own murder right under his nose. If the twisty story in this book wasn’t so darn great, it would be unbearable to spend even five minutes with these two. Next time you find yourself wishing you were in a relationship, ask yourself if you know any Nick and Amys in your life—you almost certainly do. Now, consider yourself lucky you’re not them.

The Mean Drunks Award: George and Martha (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, by Edward Albee)
At least George and Martha in Edward Albee’s classic play are clever, which gets them one point more than the Dunnes. We all know a couple like George and Martha, though perhaps not quite as witty and educated; that couple that drinks too much and can’t help but ruin every evening with their mean-spirited sniping. When you’re single it can feel like everyone else is happy, ensconced in a warm blanket of mutual love and support—but the Virginia Woolf Couple proves relationships can become a Hunger Games of the heart if we’re not careful, with small resentments slowly boiling into hateful explosions that make both of you—and everyone around you—miserable. Don’t be like George and Martha, stay single and feel good about it.

The Iggy Azalea “I’m the Realest” Award: Norman Mailer and Adele Morales, Real Life
In fact, Norman Mailer and his second wife Adele were that Virginia Woolf couple, weren’t they? With a mutually abusive and hostile relationship that reportedly became worse and worse as the couple drank more and more, their love/hate shtick hitting a low (high?) point when, after six years of marriage and nine years of being together, Mailer stabbed Morales twice with a penknife in full view of witnesses at a party. He very nearly killed her, and spent a few weeks in an asylum as result. Morales didn’t press charges, and it took the couple more than a year to get around to divorcing (stabbings being No Big Deal in literary circles, apparently). So next time you’re feeling like eating frozen pizza in front of Netflix isn’t quite your dream, remind yourself that sometimes It Couples stab each other with penknives, and feel better.

What literary couples remind you that being single is far, far from the worst possible situation to be in this Valentine’s Day?

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