The Truth About Star-Crossed Lovers

According to Urban Dictionary, star-crossed lovers are two people who care immensely for each other, but due to their circumstances cannot be together.

Ah, to be young and in love, right? Wrong.

For whatever reason, “star-crossed lovers” is a term that people seem to think means a very romantic, happily-ever-after, Disney-like kind of love. I’m going to go ahead and ruin it for all those who still think that: this kind of love is depressing and dark, often characterized by betrayal, rape, suicide, or death (my definition). Not so fun, huh? Still, these types of stories will probably help you feel a lot better about your own love life.

I should warn you that there will be some book spoilers, but I think they’re pretty obvious by now.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

If you didn’t already know, they both die in the end. It’s a story of two teenagers who rushed into a relationship, and they couldn’t tell their families because of a rivalry between them. They made a plan to fake Juliet’s death and run away together, but it went awry; Romeo killed himself because he thought Juliet really had died. When she woke up, she killed herself too. Sure, there are a lot of lovey-dovey quotes that teenagers love to use, but if they were to actually read the play in its entirety, they would see the err of their ways. It’s not a happy story, kids.

Eternal love? Nope, sorry. Let’s just go die in WWII instead.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

When Robby and Cecilia finally realize they are in love with each other, everything in their lives falls to pieces. The very night of their acknowledging one another’s love, Cecilia’s sister accuses Robby of raping Cecilia’s cousin. Instead of avoiding the problem by running away with Cecilia, Robby goes to prison. After prison, he goes to the front lines of World War II, where he dies of septicemia. Fun.

Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

A well-known Greek mythological character, Oedipus is prophesied to murder his father and marry his mother. Of course, it happens. As an infant, Oedipus was abandoned, and later returns to Thebes. He kills a man on the side of the road, who turns out to be his father, and when he arrives in Thebes, he fights the Sphinx and wins, winning the hand of Jocasta, who is, unbeknownst to him, his mother. When the truth comes out, Jocasta hangs herself, and Oedipus gouges out his eyes. That’s true love.

That’s a little awkward during a budding romance.

1984 by George Orwell

In Oceania, where Julia and Winston live, it is illegal to fall in love. Men and women are merely props in society’s interest of reproduction. When he meets Julia, Winston thinks she is a spy from the government who is going to turn him in for all of the minor illegal actions he has been taking, such as writing in a journal. Eventually, they fall in love. While meeting in a room above an old shop, the two are caught in bed by government officials and taken to a torture chamber where they are tortured and brainwashed until they forget they ever knew one another, and the only thing they know about real love is their love for Big Brother. This book gets me every time.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

A young girl suffering from Stage IV Thyroid cancer that has metastasized to other parts of her body is pushed by her parents to go to a support group. She meets Augustus, a boy who is in remission from cancer, but suffers from an amputation. The two fall in love, and while it seems Hazel may be the one to die, Augustus’ cancer returns aggressively, and kills him shortly after treatment begins. The title mentions stars—and yes, it is a reference to Shakespeare—can perhaps be taken to mean that Augustus and Hazel are star-crossed from the beginning because they both have the potential to die very young. Although they are in love, and, though it seems like nothing can break them up, death does what nothing else can.

No you can’t, Sam. Sorry.

Holes by Louis Sachar

Kate and Sam fall in love, but cannot be together because she is white and he is black. Another man is in love with Kate, and when he sees the two kissing, he turns the entire town against them. The two try to run away, but they are chased down, and Sam is shot and killed. I don’t know how star-crossed this is, but it fits under my definition of it.

West Side Story by Arthur Laurents

Maria and Tony are characters molded like Romeo and Juliet; West Side Story is a modern Romeo and Juliet story. Rival teenage gangs—The Jets and The Sharks—prevent the two from being together. Tony is told that Maria has been shot dead, and he feels he has no reason left to live, so he begs to be shot too. As he is about to be shot, Maria shows up; he is shot anyway, and dies.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Celia and Marco are magicians who were magically bound to a deadly competition when they were children and did not know each other. They fall in love at Le Cirque de Reves because they do not know the competition is a deadly one in which one of them must die. The rules of the competition do not make sense to either of them, and all of their friends are caught up inadvertently in the dangers of the competition.

These are just a few stories you can read to make yourself feel better about your own love life when it is not going very well. Happy Reading! (Good luck with the happy part).


  1. Laissez Faire

    Great list. I think I’ve read them all except Night Circus.
    I was tutoring several high school students about ten years ago who had never read MacBeth. I got their attention when I told them it was full of murder and everyone pretty much ended up dead in the end.

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