Tension can be so many things: a striving, an unrest, a balance, an uncertainty, an opposition, a hostility, a sense of suspense or intrigue. It manifests itself in physics, music, geology, and electrical voltage. And, most importantly, in romance.
Tension can be sustained, broken, and reinvented every which way. It can exist between friends, lovers, enemies, exes and established couples. The interpretations, incarnations and outcomes of sexual tension are infinite, but no matter what else, tension heightens in certain key moments and those riveting spaces have been captured with breathtaking skill by literature, film, television and music.
In the spirit of this weird and singular day about love that often translates into the cutesy, depressing or reactionary, let’s instead revel in a small sampling of romantic and sexual tension; a sensation as unquantifiable as it is evocative, and one I’m sure we can all appreciate in both its fictional and real-life forms.
Disclaimer: these are simply SOME examples, and sadly not even remotely close to a full survey,
1. Maybe you’re in love with your best friend’s widow (and there’s just a bit of ambiguity over whether or not you had anything to do with him dying).
2. Maybe you are a selkie who falls in love with a hot fisherman (this sucks cause you have to choose between Colin Farrell and the sea).
3. Maybe you’re an emotionally stunted, violent hipster who just got out of prison and you kidnap a sweet-faced tap dancer. You have to decide if you’re going to bring her hot chocolate and snuggle with her, or kill the football player who lost the game you bet on.
4. Maybe you have a huge crush on the dyslexic hottie who will only secretly make-out with you in the boiler room but then he holds your hand in the hall (cue: Buffalo Tom).
5. Maybe you’ve always loved your newly paralyzed best friend’s girlfriend and you’re finally kissing her by the side of the road, as demonstrated by my favorite football player, Tim Riggins.
6. Maybe you’re an ex-pat aspiring journalist who comes to realize your hot new paramour is a wanted man and kind of a jerk. Should you betray him or fund an escape plan?
7. Maybe you enter into a sham marriage while pretending to be brother and sister with your boyfriend but then sort of fall in love with your pretend husband. Spoiler alert: if you try to do this there will be locust swarms and crop fires.
8. Maybe you’re a U.S. Marshal chasing after a hot bank robber and your predicaments include getting stuck in a car trunk with him and meeting him for a cocktail when you should be arresting him.
9. Maybe you’re any character in a Wong Kar Wai movie, stuck inside his dreamy cinematography, leaning your head sadly on someone’s shoulder, smoking cigarettes in the dark, and probably shooting people.
**My favorite is Fallen Angels, but In The Mood For Love, Chungking Express (with lines such as, “At the high point of our intimacy, we were just 0.01 cm from each other…”), and Happy Together all nail the slow smolder and violence of people who can’t or shouldn’t be together.
**Keep your eyes out for his new one too.
10. Maybe you’re Bonnie and Clyde (or channeling them through song). Serge Gainsbourg and Brigette Bardot utilize some of Bonnie’s poetry (Serge has a habit of singing hot duets with his various ladies) while Beyonce and Jay Z getting into a phone booth together. I love when he asks, “Ready, B?” Whew.
11. Maybe you’re a group of teenage boys spying on the dreamy sisters across the street who appear to be killing themselves one by one and you speak in the first person plural all the time, saying things such as, “…we pretended we hadn’t been looking for them at all, that we didn’t know they existed.”
12. Maybe you interrupt Christian Slater’s pirate radio broadcast to take your shirt off in the yard and taunt him with the sophistication and restraint of someone far beyond high school age.
13. Maybe you just graduated from college and you have this grumpy but hot guy friend who gives you pep talks about life that end in making out, is passive-aggressively unhappy when you go on dates with other boys, and comes back to you with a planet of regret after acting like a douche.
14. Maybe you threaten to haunt each other from beyond the grave, run around on the moors, die from being cold and pissed off, exact brutal revenge on everyone who isn’t each other, and say things such as, “I could no more forget you than myself.”
15. Maybe you’re Ryan Gosling and you really know how to drive a getaway car, kiss in the elevator, and perform a variety of dreamy, sun-speckled, slow-motion activities while that Real Hero song is playing.
16. Maybe you’re two musical icons who get together to sing ‘Interlude’, one of the best, most sweeping duets of all time, or you’re the sexiest non-couple on earth, or you’re the cutest and most fashionable husband-wife duo, whose weird song ‘My Heart’ has you singing, “I’m lost without your rhythm,” as your hottie husband plays the drums.
17. Maybe you spend a week analyzing and researching sexual tension in pop culture and you think it would be fun to make a Spotify playlist called The Fisherman + The Selkie comprised solely of duets and/or bands whose members are or once were couples and listen to it over and over.
A playlist featuring Deux, Guards, Bruce Springsteen, and others