In popular culture, when boy meets girl they get together. Circumstance and personality do not matter, the relationship will happen. We can talk about where this expectation came from all we want, but it has become so thoroughly ingrained in modern pop-culture that it is almost impossible to escape. Almost.
The early 2000s TV series Teen Titans was notable for many things, from its eastern-inspired animation to its wildly varying tone, but one thing that remained consistent was the characters. Consistently in character and consistently well written, the five core members of the Titans were the cornerstone for the show, and their relationships are what keep the fandom alive to this day. The relationship between Beast Boy and Raven in particular is notable because it completely subverts the romantic expectations of pop culture and delivers a platonic male-female relationship.
On first glance, one might say that Beast Boy and Raven embody the Opposites Attract trope, although if anything their characters are an inversion of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Trope. Beast Boy is energetic and outgoing, seldom without a smile on his face. He is bold and brash, verging on overconfident at times (although this could be false bravado to mask inner pain), and while he is not stupid when compared to the other Titans, many of whom have extensive knowledge in many fields, he cannot be said to be the sharpest tool in the shed. Raven is subdued and reserved, deadpanning as much as possible. She is quiet, apparently dispassionate, and is well versed in all matters of the occult either through her own extensive memory or the massive collection of books that she keeps.
The fandom certainly seems to like the pairing too. When I first got into fandom culture in general, I was one of the biggest shippers out there, especially for Beast Boy and Raven. While some part of me always will, the more I think about it the more I recognize how rare and important their relationship is. Despite how different they are in temperament, both of them care for each other deeply and express this many times over the course of the series, but I think the best example comes from the episode called “Spellbound.”
In the aforementioned episode, Raven discovers a charming sorcerer named Melchior trapped within a book. Since she has been feeling ostracized from the other Titans lately, Raven and Melchior develop an almost romantic relationship as Raven learns ancient magic from him. However, the first time Raven tries the spells out in combat they are dangerous. She confronts Melchior, and his behavior becomes abusive; he casts himself as the only one who understands her and thus the only one who will love her, threatening to leave if she does not comply with his next wish: to be free from the book. Raven acquiesces, and Melchior is revealed to be an evil dragon, mocking Raven’s love for him by saying that now their relationship is over once he “got what he wanted.” Raven defeats Melchior, and Beast Boy comes to her room door, assuring her that while she may be strange and difficult to be around sometimes, she will never be alone. Raven emerges from her room and they embrace.
While many writers would have made this a kiss or the beginning of romantic tension, the writers of Teen Titans keep it firmly platonic, and that says a lot. Both Beast Boy and Raven have shown interest in girls and boys respectively, so the argument cannot be made that there is no potential. Indeed, this is just one of many times when Beast Boy and Raven act as each others’ closest confidants and shoulders to lean on. They are very close, but they never act lovestruck or smitten around each other. They are the best of friends, but there is never any romantic tension to interfere with that or cause drama. This is so rare and important in today’s world. Compare it to Young Justice, another show about teenage superheroes. From the tips, shipping and love triangles abound, and while all are written well, the speed and sudden intensity with which characters are written into relationships with each other is a stark change from Teen Titans, where even the flagship couple did not get together until the series got its own movie.
The idea that straight or bisexual men and women cannot be “just friends” is pervasive, and to say that people are “just friends” seems dismissive of friendship as a whole. In most loving relationships that last, the couple is friends first, then lovers. Even if a close friendship never becomes romantic love, that does not diminish the importance of that relationship. Love is a powerful thing, and should not always be sealed with a kiss. Sometimes it just needs to be sealed with a hug.