*** This article contains spoilers ***
There’s a moment in the new season ofBridgerton 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 fervor, “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 the Regency romp fans expected, is an ode to forbidden love and sex-less 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, 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 this season’s “diamond” – a highly sought-after societal stamp of approval – prompting Anthony to deem her the most suitable choice di lei as his wife di lei. Trouble is, he really likes Kate, the older sister. But both are keen to repress their desires, putting family ahead of feeling. 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.
Forbidden love is nothing new in popular culture (Romeo and Juliet, anyone?), Particularly not in the context of Regency era dramas like Bridgerton, where characters operate within rigid societal restrictions. 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, by dint of this happy ending, the implication is that forbidden love is sort of great and, well, sort of hot. That might be the case on screen. In reality, though, it’s not quite 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,” says 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 apart from this person, which can trigger stress and pain sensations in the body.
From a psychological perspective, there can be long-term ramifications that result from clinging onto a forbidden romance. “One moment, it fills the lover with excitement, and produces an invigorating adrenaline rush,” says 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 intensity of feeling with love when it could be something else entirely. And the further along you go in your pursuit, the less you will be able to ascertain how it is you really feel. “You might not be compatible with this person,” says Mason Roantree, who says that what’s driving you to them could be more to do with a fear of intimacy. Hence why people with fears of commitment 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 adds.
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 very well be that a relationship then 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,” says 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 tap of a forbidden love romance could in fact be a sign that you need to do some self-reflection and work on your self-esteem, says 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 advises. “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.
“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 up to a point whereby the relationships you pursue are not forbidden at all. They might be less dramatic, and perhaps a tad less exciting, but these are the partnerships that 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.