It’s easy to think of boyfriends in literature I want to cuddle up with in real life (call me, Mr. Darcy!). But sadly, I’ve also encountered a number of less-than-scintillating romantic prospects as well—boyfriends so dull or exasperating that I want to put my arm around their hapless sweethearts’ shoulders and say, “Girlfriend, please! There’s a whole lot of fish in the sea…in this book that you live in.” Here’s a roundup, in no particular order, of the lamest boyfriends in fiction.
Ned Nickerson (Nancy Drew series, by Carolyn Keene)
There was nothing really wrong with Ned Nickerson, per se; he just didn’t have anywhere near the charm, wit, and steely determination of his brilliant detective girlfriend, Nancy. Also, I can’t claim that this was ever specifically noted, but I’m certain Ned regularly wore turtlenecks with button-down cardigans, if not sandals with socks. You just tell me he didn’t.
“Nancy!” I always wanted to wail. “You can do better!” I’ll never forget a scene in one of the classic early books during which Nancy slyly asked Ned if he minded going sleuthing instead of attending prom, and Ned was all, “I guess.” No, Ned—your response when your gorgeous, titian-haired crime-solving girlfriend asks if you want to blow off your stupid prom to solve mysteries with her should have been, “Absolutely, you beautiful ginger goddess who can actually pull off a flip hairstyle, I will follow you to the ends of the earth. Let’s steal a powerboat and discover a mysterious subbasement beneath the lighthouse on Rocky Point and make out in it!” Missed opportunity there, Ned. Per usual.
Gilbert Blythe (Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery)
I realize I’m probably in the minority here, but Anne’s longtime friend–turned-paramour Gilbert always struck me as kind of a drip—Ned Nickerson 2.0, with a sexier name. If you’re a fan of the television show 30 Rock, you’ll know what I mean when I say he seemed like Anne’s “settling soul mate.” I mean sure, he was a nice guy, but she was so back and forth about him for so long, even turning down his first marriage proposal, that eventually I found myself giving their whole relationship the side-eye. If it takes you the better part of three books to finally discover you like someone as more than a friend, maybe you should keep your options open, Anne.
Edward Cullen (Twilight series, by Stephenie Meyer)
I may get some heat for this one, too, but come on. Sure, Bella’s vampire boyfriend Edward was handsome, charming, and devoted, but he was also sneaky and manipulative. If any of my boyfriends had disabled my car to prevent me from visiting one of my friends that he didn’t approve of, he would have been kicked to the curb faster than he could say “Also, you smell like delicious steak and it’s taking all my willpower not to eat your face.” Not to mention Edward’s penchant for watching Bella through her bedroom window at night while she sleeps, which to me just screams “we are going to end up on Maury Povich.” I don’t care how romantic your partner is, a boyfriend who is constantly fighting the urge to drink your blood is waving a pretty big relationship red flag as far as I’m concerned.
Christopher Dollanganger (Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews)
On the surface, Chris didn’t make such a bad boyfriend. Not only was he smart, sexy, and studying to be a doctor, he was also great with kids, and he’d totally brush your hair without your having to ask. Still, he could be a bossy know-it-all, insisted on having things his way, and didn’t get out a lot. And unfortunately for his one true love, Cathy, he was also her brother. Errrgghh! Guess there’s no such thing as the perfect man, right?
Mr. Rochester (Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë)
This is a hard one for me to write, because I would take up with Mr. Rochester in a hot minute if I got half the chance. Despite my criticisms, he’s still one of my favorite fictional boyfriends of all time, and Jane Eyre helped shape my impressionable young mind about what an ideal romance should be like (not that this is good). But to be honest, Mr. Rochester was, for a number of reasons, a terrible boyfriend. For one thing, before admitting his true feelings for Jane, he concocted a fake romance with a beautiful woman right in front of her to make her jealous, which was not very sporting. Then there was the memorable evening he disguised himself as a fortune-teller and then was all, “Hey Jane, what do you think of that Mr. Rochester guy, do you like like him?”—that’s a manipulative tactic straight out of middle school, minus the cross-dressing. Finally, he wooed Jane and asked her to marry him while he was, in fact, still wedded to a crazy lady he kept locked in the attic. Party foul there, friend. And that’s three strikes for you.
What guys in fiction do you find completely undatable?