Romances with mutual pining are always a treat to read. I love reading about longing and yearning and heartache. You know, just generally rolling around in someone else’s feelings for fun. But when two characters are going through hell? That’s pure heaven. Generally the characters are pining for each other because (they think) they can’t be together. Perhaps it’s a friends-to-lovers situation in which there’s doubt about the other’s feelings and fear of losing friendship. They can be forbidden romances, where the characters can’t be together for societal or family reasons. There can also be ethical constraints like an employment situation creating an imbalanced power dynamic. And sometimes, of course, it’s just pure obliviousness. I’ll take it all.
Romances with mutual pining can be even more heartwrenching than one-sided pining because of how the author positions the reader. Romances with multiple points of view typically provide readers with more information than any of the individual characters have. The result is shouting things at the books like, “CAN’T YOU SEE HOW MUCH THEY LOVE YOU?” and the like, and those intense feelings are what we read romance for, right? So here’s a variety of romances with mutual pining, because if you’re here I know you’re a glutton for torture, just like me.
The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia Waite
This historical sapphic romance follows the relationship between radical printer Agatha and Penelope, the beekeeper called in to help with the swarm in Agatha’s warehouse. It’s a slow burn between these two characters, with longing glances and an epistolary component. But when fully ignited, it’s definitely incendiary. This is the second entry in Waite’s Feminine Pursuits series, all of which feature historical women with truly fascinating skills and knowledge. I heartily recommend all of them if you love lots of detail in your historical romance.
Treasure by Rebekah Weatherspoon
Treasure is a great pick if you want a dash of mutual pining that turns into requited feelings before too long. Alexis meets Trisha, a stripper who goes by Treasure on stage, at her sister’s bachelorette party. They share a moment during a private dance that leaves them both with unexpected feelings. It’s the kind of mutual pining that stems from a meaningful encounter that ended before it had a chance to truly begin. But then Alexis and Trisha meet again in their university computer science class. Uh-oh, time to face those feelings! This novella is both sweet and hot, a satisfying and fully realized romance.
Peter Darling by Austin Chant
If the premise of a romance between Peter Pan and Captain Hook intrigues you at all, here is the book for you. Peter Darling is a reimagined sequel to the classic tale, set ten years after the events of Peter Pan, when Peter, a trans man, returns to Neverland because it always felt like his true home. And the one person who cares the most is Peter’s old rival, Captain Hook. Their relationship, fraught with longing, undergoes an enchanting transformation into something new and heartwarming.
Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson
This is a contemporary Harlem-set romance with mutual pining, and I also adore its depiction of the kind of community knitting can foster. As a knitter myself, I’m a huge sucker for knitting romances. This one pairs Jesse Strong, who wants to keep his late foster mother’s knitting shop going, with Kerry Fuller, who has the know-how to turn the business into a success. Jesse and Kerry have a lot of history together, and I appreciated the lived-in nature of their relationship and the rich world it’s set in.
Two Rogues Make a Right by Cat Sebastian
There are a number of Cat Sebastian novels that I could have picked for this list. Honestly if you love romances with mutual pining, read her entire catalog. Still, Two Rogues Make a Right has so much mutual pining and also fantastic explorations of some of the realest stuff that doesn’t often get much attention in romance. In it, Will Sedgwick essentially kidnaps his oldest friend Martin Easterbrook to care for him while he’s sick. This romance shows how mortifying it is to be known. How there’s an inherent element of pain to love. And how beautiful it is that we fragile and flawed humans choose it anyway.
Every New Year by Katrina Jackson
Love can sometimes take its sweet time. No one knows that more than Candace, who met Ezra and fell in love when she was 18. A clumsy New Year’s Eve kiss kicked off literal decades of fleeting romantic moments for the duo. Then their lives finally line up properly at the end of 2019. This romance shows that life can push two people in lots of directions, but they can’t deny it when it also keeps pushing them at each other. It’s also a book that proves that the one honest conversation that should blow everything open is not as easy to have as people think!
The Calyx Charm by May Peterson
Set in a lush fantasy world that is unusual and enchanting, this third entry in The Sacred Dark series introduces us to Violetta Benedetti, a trans woman and a witch. She’s pining for her best friend Tibario Gianbellicci. Tibario, brought back from the dead, has powers his mother is exploiting in order to take down the rival Benedetti house. Tibario and Violetta’s stars may be crossed, but they have the power to carve out a better world for themselves if only they can open up to each other.
Guarding Temptation by Talia Hibbert
Best friend’s little sister! If that sets off alarm bells for you, pick this novella up ASAP. A controversial article stirs up trouble for leftist political campaigner Nina. She takes refuge with James, her brother’s friend, until things blow over. It’s got an element of forced proximity with the pining, so you know it’s going to be intense. And if you’ve read any of Talia Hibbert’s romances, you know they’re consistently sexy, emotional, thoughtful, and heartfelt.
The Duchess Hunt by Lorraine Heath
As with Cat Sebastian, it’s hard to pick one Lorraine Heath novel if you’re looking for mutual pining. She excels at ripping readers’ hearts out and handing them back to us miraculously mended. And this book has such a great premise. The Duke of Kingsland needs a wife, so he decides on a good old-fashioned essay contest. His secretary Penelope is tasked with making the selection. If you’ve read even one romance, you know where this train is headed. So if you want some historical mutual pining, toot toot, all aboard.
The Love Con by Seressia Glass
This romance is an absolute layer cake of things lots of romance readers love: fandom romance, reality show romance, friends-to-lovers, and fake dating. Kenya needs a significant other for an episode of a cosplaying reality competition show. So she enlists her best friend Cameron to play the part. But you know because the book is on this list that the two of them have been pining for each other forever. The romance is very fun while also touching on the marginalization some people, like a plus size Black woman, face in fandom spaces.
A Touch of Stone and Snow by Milla Vane
I was, I admit, extremely skeptical to read what was billed as “barbarian romance” when A Heart of Blood and Ashes came out. But the recommendations kept piling up and I took the leap. Thank goodness, because it’s great and it led me to this sequel, which does also work as a standalone. Lizzan is a mercenary soldier shunned by the people of her homeland. Aerax, her childhood friend, encounters her as part of a mission, and the two must deal with old feelings if they’re going to save the realm. It’s all so much more epic than that. But it has mutual pining AND Aerax has a pet saber tooth cat, so just take my word for it and dive in.
Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai
I think this book is my personal favorite among Rai’s backlist because of the intensity of the mutual pining. Katrina King finds herself at the center of a viral internet sensation. That’s a living nightmare for someone with an anxiety disorder. Her bodyguard Jas Singh whisks her away to his family’s home to get a break. This bit of forced proximity gives them the time and space to finally work through their baggage and deal with the feelings they’ve been holding onto for so long. It’s a slow burn, and so worth it.
As with any list of romance recommendations, I could go on all day. We have plenty of lists that are trope or setting based, including royal romances, coffee shop romances, second-chance romances, workplace romances, and LGBTQ enemies-to-lovers. My truest hope is to add to your TBR pile. But if you’ve got some romances with mutual pining for me, find me on Twitter and return the favor! Otherwise we’ll just be mutually pining for more books to read.