Stories are wonderful; they teach us how to be human. One of the ways they do this is by teaching us how to step into the shoes of another person, to be empathetic. But one place I often see people failing to be empathetic about fiction is when romantic relationships are involved.
This is most obvious in anime, where a character will often have multiple romantic options (harems, love triangles, etc). Take Golden Time – many people were annoyed with Banri because he picked Koko over Linda, who was thought to be the “best girl”.
If I were the protagonist, I would pick Linda. I feel like I would get along much better with her, and she’s more my type of girl. But what does my opinion matter? I’m not the main character. Banri is. For Banri, Koko is the better fit. She’s the right choice, even if she’s not the best.
This reminds me of Sakurasou, where many people thought Nanami was the better girl. Once again, fair enough – Nanami is great. But is she better for Sorata than Mashiro? I would argue no. Then there was Amagami SS, where many people picked their favorite girl based on who they liked, while I focused on the one who fit best with Junichi (Kaoru, obviously).
This is not confined to just romantic relationship. It extends to many things – when a character makes a stupid (but believable) decision, when they fail even though the right choice was so clear, when they choose pride over victory, or undercut themselves when happiness is so near. Readers don’t always focus on what is right and appropriate for the character in question, but rather on what they would do.
And I’m guilty of this as well. It’s natural, wanting the characters in our stories to be better than us, or at least as wise as we are. But we have an advantage. We’re looking in from the outside, and it’s always easier to see the solution when you’re detached, and don’t have to actually implement it.
Don’t look for the best girl, or the best solution, or the best outcome. Look for the right one, the one the character in question would pick if they were themselves. After all, they are. That will give you the most natural story, and it will be all the better for it.