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Written by JJ Barnes

Unresolved sexual tension means the chemistry between two characters that shows they are attracted to one another, but they don’t act on. They might choose not to act on it because of a friendship, loyalties to others, or because they work together.

By using unresolved sexual tension in a story, you keep your audience hooked. Your audience can see the potential for that couple. They are watching and waiting. Hoping they get to see these people FINALLY get together. They will keep returning to your story in the hopes that the sexual tension is finally resolved. If you’re writing a series, it’s a particularly useful tool.

I’ll be exploring some different examples of unresolved sexual tension in fiction and how to replicate the style in your own story.

Gilmore Girls – Lorelai and Luke

Unresolved Sexual Tension in Gilmore Girls - Lorelai and Luke
Unresolved Sexual Tension in Gilmore Girls – Lorelai and Luke

Gilmore Girls ran for 7 Seasons from 2000 to 2007. It follows Lorelai and her daughter Rory as they navigate life and love in the small town of Stars Hollow.

Luke Danes is introduced in episode 1. He and Lorelai have a friendly but antagonistic relationship, sparring over coffee and life choices. The chemistry between them is real. He cares about Rory, is protective of Lorelai, and goes out of his way to help them. They are both jealous of romantic relationships each has with other people. From the beginning, you can tell that these two people are supposed to be together. But they are too insecure to confess admit it to one another, let alone themselves.

Audiences stuck around until Season 5 before finally seeing Luke and Lorelai finally getting together. They break up again in Season 7, but it doesn’t last. Luke and Lorelai are a match and the audience gets to see that unresolved sexual tension resolved.

How To Write This Style Of Unresolved Sexual Tension Yourself

A lot of the chemistry between Lorelai and Luke is expressed through squabbling. Squabbling implies there’s tension. They can’t express their truth in physical ways, so they find an alternative. Squabbling both creates an artificial barrier between them because they’re being hostile, but it also demonstrates their attraction. If one of them couldn’t be bothered to engage in the squabbling, then it would end. They both keep it alive because it’s a way of keeping contact with the other.

Bones – Brennan and Booth

Unresolved Sexual Tension in Bones - Brennan and Booth
Unresolved Sexual Tension in Bones – Brennan and Booth

Bones ran for 12 seasons, from 2005 to 2017. Brennan and Booth are teamed together to solve crimes and save lives. Brennan is a hyper successful forensic anthropologist. Booth is a handsome and kind hearted FBI agent.

Brennan and Booth work together and this is the cause of their unresolved sexual tension. They are clearly attracted to one another and have wonderful chemistry. But due to their working relationship, both feel they can’t act on that mutual attraction.

Throughout the series you watch this couple working together, laughing together. They support and enhance one another’s strengths by offering strength where the other is weaker. Brennan uses her intellect and experience to figure things out that Booth cannot. Booth uses his strength and bravery to protect Brennan from physical threats. They amplify one another. And all the characters around them can see they truly love one another. Audiences waited until the season finale of season 6 to finally see Brennan and Booth get together.

How To Write This Style Of Unresolved Sexual Tension Yourself

The strength of Brennan and Booth is in their partnership. They are forced to work together so they cannot get away from their chemistry, and also cannnot act on it. But it’s in their work that their strength lies. Create this dynamic by having characters that are a true partnership. They are equal in ability and contribution to the work they do, but different. Where one is weak the other is strong. This equality but balance makes them fit together like jigsaw pieces. Each would be less than without the involvement of the other. It also provides plenty of opportunities to dangle that potential in front of your characters, and your audience. Keep the unresolved sexual tension fire burning, keep the audience hooked.

New Girl – Jess and Nick

Unresolved Sexual Tension in New Girl - Jess and Nick
Unresolved Sexual Tension in New Girl – Jess and Nick

New Girl ran for 7 seasons from 2011 to 2018. The main character, Jessica Day, enters the lives of Nick Miller and his flatmates after she breaks up with her cheating boyfriend. On moving in, Jess creates a new dynamic in the apartment. And her chemistry with Nick is immediately apparent.

Nick and Jess have a goofy bond and understanding of one another. Things that make them laugh confuse others. This dynamic builds a clear connection between them and they get together in Season 2. However, as is the problem with unresolved sexual tension, by getting them together so quickly that tension is then sapped. The will they, won’t they energy of the show was taken away and audiences had less reason to come back because that question had been answered.

The couple were broken up and sent in separate directions to laugh and love with others until they eventually get married in Season 7. Fortunately, the build up of a new round of unresolved sexual tension made this climax to the show well worth the wait. They are clearly perfect for one another, and celebrate in each other all the things that others find weird.

How To Write This Style Of Unresolved Sexual Tension Yourself

The strength of Nick and Jess is in their friendship. They truly enjoy one another, even when they don’t want to admit it. They make one another laugh. They’re willing to be childish and vulnerable and funny together. They have qualities that others don’t understand, but they both celebrate. Give your characters a personality that, whilst endearing, can confuse anybody but the right person. Even when characters are great friends with your couple, they have a slight disconnect. Cece adores Jess, but is never going to be as goofy as her. Schmidt adores Nick, but can’t cope with his mess and chaos. But, in each other, Nick and Jess find someone who not only understands but celebrates and improves on these personality traits.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer – Giles and Joyce

Unresolved Sexual Tension in Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Giles and Joyce
Unresolved Sexual Tension in Buffy The Vampire Slayer – Giles and Joyce

Buffy The Vampire Slayer ran for 7 seasons from 1997 to 2003. There is a lot of sexual tension and chemistry between characters at different points in the show, but the couple I will be looking at is Giles and Joyce.

Giles and Joyce don’t have many scenes together, but they are both heavily invested in the titular character. Giles is Buffy’s Watcher. He is training her and guiding her on her mission to rid the world of vampires and other monsters. Joyce is her mother. They are also the only two grown ups that Buffy loves and trusts. And feels like she disappoints.

Giles and Joyce would make a perfect couple. Buffy’s own father is absent, and Giles takes the role of a father figure in her life. Giles and Joyce are bonded by both their love for Buffy, and by being the only two adults surrounded by teenagers. They are equally frustrated by the immaturity of the younger characters, they are also both attracted to one another.

Giles and Joyce act on their attraction only once. And it’s only due to a magic spell turning them into their teenage selves. As adults, they are too responsible and sensible. But as teenagers, acting with the immaturity that usually frustrates them in the others, they connect. Perhaps they would have got together in the end if it hadn’t been for Joyce’s tragic death in Season 5.

How To Write This Style Of Unresolved Sexual Tension Yourself

Whilst Giles and Joyce never get together, that doesn’t mean your characters can’t. If you want to get two people together by building the unresolved sexual tension this way you can. Focus on making two characters the outsiders to the norm. Give them a connection based on the fact they are different. It could be they’re a different age, such as Giles and Joyce, or it could be something else. They could be outsiders due to a shared hobby or passion that nobody else shares. But the point is, they’re outside the common culture and find comfort and understanding in one another. Giles and Joyce choose not to act on their chemistry due to a sense of responsibility. But they are well suited due to their unique status in that group as the parental figures.

Your characters will bond over being outsiders, and bond over their similarities that nobody else understands. Your audience will see this common understanding and how much comfort is found in being around the person who makes them feel like they’re not alone.

Acting On Unresolved Sexual Tension

Whether your characters ever act on their unresolved sexual tension is up to you. You could leave it teasing in the air for the whole series. But try not to resolve it too soon. If they act on it, it’s no longer unresolved. The hook to draw your audience back to your series is gone. You need to either split them back up again or find a new hook; new chemistry between new characters.

More From JJ Barnes:

I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.

You can find links to all my work and social media on my website:

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