Of all my years of watching TV, there are only a small handful of romantic couples that leave me saying "I want that." When I first started watching Teen Wolf, I never imagined that any of the couples on the show would stand out. But the more I watched, the more I became invested in the dynamic between Stiles Stilinksi and Lydia Martin.
There are many strong and successful developments on TV when it comes to romantic relationships. We see it all the time. So what makes one stand out so much more? And what made this one stick with me?
My favorite thing about their relationship development was always how it unfolded. It starts in a strange place, but over time, easily becomes the strongest one among any of the relationships the characters have. And it's the only reason I rewatch the show.
By no means is this the most comprehensive analysis of their relationship. There's a great YouTube video that I come back to a few times a year because it's so well done and it literally explains why Stiles and Lydia are perfect for each other.
I decided to break down the dynamics of their relationship because watching it unfold on screen over several years taught me a lot about building chemistry and relationships between my own characters. This is where I first learned how to write tension between between characters and how to use the tiny details to show that two people are more than just friends. And for that, it deserves a long blog post.
building their foundation
Okay, so their relationship doesn't get off to the best start. When we meet them in the first episode, Stiles has been in love with Lydia since the 3rd grade and she has absolutely no idea who he is. They run in entirely different circles and all of his advances toward her are admittedly quite stalkerish. I'll easily agree that there should probably have been a restraining order against him considering how much he tried to get Lydia's attention.
Though Teen Wolf does a decent job of turning the creepiness into humor, I do think it glamorized Stiles' weird behavior a bit. Everyone around him thinks it's weird and he's pretty aware of it himself, but that doesn't make it any less appropriate. He admits in an early episode that he's been obsessing over her since the 3rd grade and just needs to know if he has a chance with her. In a later season, his best friend Scott mentions that Stiles' feelings for Lydia used to be obsessive but have since changed. Most of it is chalked up to him being insanely awkward and weird, but yeah, don't go stalking your crush.
How Stiles and Lydia start becoming friends is mostly because their best friends are dating. For the first time, that puts them in slightly overlapping circles and Lydia is kind of forced to endure the weirdness that Stiles brings with him. And though he's like an overly-excited puppy whenever he gets to talk to or interact with her, it slowly becomes apparent that he notices things about Lydia that other people don't see. Early in the show, he proves that he's the only one who knows that she's not actually an air-headed popular girl but an untested genius with a great aptitude for math. He's also the only one who actually listens to what she has to say, catching the moments when she slips up to reveal her intelligence.
Knowing that she's pretending to be someone she's not gives Stiles a chance to show her that he likes her for who she is and not who she thinks she should be. Even though she's dating someone in the first season, Stiles slowly reveals himself to be a caring friend and someone who understands her intelligent ramblings when they accidentally spill out. He protects her several times without her knowing, even offering himself as a sacrifice instead of her.
In turn, Lydia begins to realize that she has a growing group of supportive friends who appreciate her brains and her beauty. Seeing the way Stiles protects his friends and the people around him opens up the hard shell she created for herself and encourages her to care more openly about the people in her life. She even begrudgingly agrees to go to the Winter Formal with him, although she leaves to look for her recent ex-boyfriend, Jackson. Ironically, she ends up putting herself in danger, allowing Stiles to come to her rescue.
In several instances early in the show, no one notices that anything's wrong with Lydia until Stiles points it out. He knows that she's hiding her intelligence, worried about her ex-boyfriend, missing, or just plain freaked out by everything going on in Beacon Hills. When she disappears for a few days, Stiles is the most concerned about her well-being. And when she's found, he spends days in the hospital waiting for her to wake up and make sure she's okay (again, kind of creepy but played off in a humorous manner).
Without her knowing, Stiles spends several early episodes protecting her and trying to figure out her connection to the growing supernatural world. In Season 2, Lydia begins tolerating Stiles' friendship more, allowing them to get to know each other better as she navigates strange hallucinations that she's having. He's also the only one who defends her when several other werewolves suspect Lydia of killing people in town.
When it's hinted that she might have supernatural powers of her own (heightened healing and an inclination toward death), Stiles is the first to try an understand what's going on. And as she starts learning about her powers (as a Banshee), Stiles remains the first person she reaches out to when she discovers something new or needs someone to help her test something.
friendship amidst other relationships
At the beginning of Teen Wolf, Stiles has been single his entire life and Lydia is dating the captain of the lacrosse team, Jackson. Though he can't understand Lydia's attraction and affection for the athlete, Stiles remains content with merely trying to get her to acknowledge his existence. Their first "date" happens during the Winter Formal after Jackson breaks up with Lydia. Pre-occupied with her recent breakup, Lydia notices that her ex-boyfriend has disappeared and Stiles tells her to go search for him, knowing that it would make her happier.
The dance is the first time Stiles and Lydia really spend time together and it's the moment he tells her that he knows how smart she is. But still, knowing that she has unresolved feelings about her ex, he gives her the space to work through it and tells her that it's okay if she wants to find Jackson and make sure he's okay.
Following her breakup with Jackson, Stiles doesn't try to push for her to return his feelings aside from asking that she be his date during a double date with their best friends. Stiles is able to respect it when Lydia shows signs of still having feelings for her ex-boyfriend despite all the ways he had treated her during and after their relationship. He's also there during the moment Lydia tells her ex that she still loves him, knowing that he can't force anything between them to happen.
The development of their friendship has grown enough during the summer between sophomore and junior year that they genuinely consider each other friends. At this point, Stiles has also managed to stop his mildly stalkerish and creepy ways, allowing the two to develop a strong friendship. Her knowledge of all the supernatural events in Beacon Hills also allows them to talk more honestly as they try to figure out exactly why things keep happening to them. Lydia turns to him for more help as she begins discovering dead bodies all over town and seemingly has no idea why she's being drawn to them. And to his credit, Stiles never bats an eye when she tells him that she's found a new dead body or that weird things are happening to her.
One of my favorite things about the progression of their friendship is that even when they're dating other people, it's clear that they're incredibly close and care deeply for each other. His protectiveness over her when she begins dating Aiden, another werewolf and lowkey bad guy, is more about his worry that she's be hurt by the relationship and less because of his feelings for her. Knowing that she tends to go for the bad boys, Stiles cautions her against being with a literal bad guy/killer and still manages to support her relationship choices.
In turn, Lydia doesn't bat an eye when Stiles begins dating Malia, a were-coyote, for the first time. Though we get hints that Lydia might finally start returning Stiles' feelings, nothing happens between them and she respects his relationship after she finds herself single again. Lydia not only befriends Malia, but also helps her adjust to the way the supernatural world interacts with the normal world in Beacon Hills. Over times, the two girls even become best friends without any jealousy over their mutual feelings for the same boy.
Even when Lydia has a brief and incredibly strange fling with Deputy Parrish, Stiles refrains from saying anything. It doesn't matter that everything thinks it makes no sense (their attraction is basically a diversion from something else and that still doesn't make it make sense), Stiles keeps his mouth shut and respects Lydia's ability to make decisions about her romantic life.
bond beyond all bonds
As friends, Stiles and Lydia prove that their bond is stronger than pretty much anything else Teen Wolf has to offer. It's not just that they understand each other's unlikely genius, they've also been through a ton of crap together. Well... that could be said of anyone on the show but I digress.
From the time their friendship begins developing in Season 2, they're often paired up when things need to be investigated or when everyone is out gathering information/searching for things. For one, they're kind of the only people who are smart enough to understand each other's sudden realizations. Though it's never explicitly said, there's an implication that they have a mutual understanding of what it's like to be smarter than everyone else and not always be able to show it in the most conventionally normal ways. Anything that Stiles doesn't know, Lydia is likely able to fill in with her treasure trove of information. Together, they're quite literally the brains of the operation.
It's a great testament to the writers that they were able to turn Stiles and Lydia's relationship around so smoothly. Her reluctance to spend time with him throughout Season 2 changes when she learns that her ex-boyfriend "dies" and she goes to Stiles for comfort. It's the first time we see her choose Stiles over anyone else, but it's definitely not the last.
By the time we see them back in school in Season 3, their friendship is already strong enough that they have no issues trusting each other when things go bad. He instinctively protects her during bird attack at the school, Most of the progression is on Lydia's part as she finally acknowledges Stiles' existence and sees him as more than the awkward dork who's always trying to get her attention. But he has also matured enough that they're able to really develop a friendship beyond his feelings for her.
And just like he's always the first to notice when something is wrong with her, Lydia becomes the first to notice when things aren't right with Stiles. She's the one who tails the boys after a bad werewolf fight, she's the only one to recognize when he has a panic attack, and she's the only one to notice an injury he has. Even when they're not together, she always senses when something's gone wrong on his end. What started as a one-sided thing grew into a mutual ability to know if the other person is okay.
The two also stage some of the most complicated rescue missions for each other. Lydia works with people she hates and takes a dangerous journey into the mind of an ancient fox spirit that has taken over Stiles' body in order to reach the real him. Stiles breaks into a mental hospital on more than one occasion to save her from an induced catatonia and having her powers experimented on. They've not only saved each other's lives, but also proven that they would do anything to make sure the other person is okay.
Some of my favorite scenes that show their connection are in Seasons 3B and 6A. In Season 3B, Stiles, Scott, and Allison have to perform a risky ritual in order to find the location of a powerful tree in Beacon Hills. Part of that involves them temporarily dying so they can access an in-between realm. As everyone gathers for the ritual, it's explained that not only does each "dying" person have to be held underwater by someone, it has to be someone they're connected to enough to pull them back from death. In Stiles' case, that's Lydia. Instead of being instructed to hold down her best friend Allison, she's told to pair up with Stiles.
My description doesn't really do justice to the power of that scene. For the first time, someone outside the friend group is calling out the deep connection between Stiles and Lydia, forcing them to acknowledge that there's something more than pure friendship between them. The looks they exchange when the emotional tether is being discussed already hints that they know they're each other's ties. Still, Lydia walks toward Allison before being corrected that she should go with Stiles instead. It's a tense moment for a lot of the characters, but it really highlights the connection between Stiles and Lydia as one of them is quite literally about to die.
Later in Season 6A, the group is dealing with people who are being literally torn from reality and forgotten by everyone else who remains. Stiles gets taken and everyone forgets him, even those closest to him. Bit by bit, his best friends start pulling together pieces of memories that connect them to Stiles, even though they have no idea why they're doing it.
Over time, they manage to figure out that in order to fix things, they have to remember Stiles and bring him back. What ensues is a series of touching moments as Scott and Malia go back through their memories and find all the connections they have to Stiles. Though Scott is able to conjure a powerful memory of when Stiles calls him a brother and saves him from dying, it's not strong enough. Malia also remembers some important moments from her relationship with Stiles before their breakup, but it's still not enough. Both end up telling Lydia that she needs to be the one to remember Stiles because all their memories of him also involved her.
When Lydia puts herself into a hypnotic state to access her memories and begins going through all the important moments of their relationship. Each new memory she recovers is more important than the last and eventually, it leads to something strong enough that they're able to bring Stiles back. I'd tell you what it is, but that kind of spoils a big moment for the characters. All you need to know is that it was really powerful and that I've cried every time I've watched that scene.
If there was ever any doubt that they had a connection like no other, these scenes dispel that. Time and time again, these two prove that they're insanely compatible and continuously save each others' lives.
being the only endgame anyone cares about
It's not just the fans who spent years wishing the two would get together. Pretty much every character in Teen Wolf has asked why they aren't together or if they would ever get together. It makes sense that they belong together and for the most part, the only person standing in the way of that is Lydia.
The video that breaks down their relationship does an excellent job of choosing scenes that show exactly how much these two mean to each other and how it has evolved over time. It's one of those things where everyone around them can see how much they care for each other, but no one says anything aside from not-so-secretly shipping it.
When Stiles and Lydia are finally able to be together, it's a great feeling. Watching the build-up over five and a half seasons and seeing how their characters have changed and progressed so much, it's one heck of a beautiful moment when they see each other again. They're the only couple that the writers have spent the entire show working on and at the end of the series, they're kind of the only one that matters.
Despite my wishes that Stiles and Lydia's romantic relationship would have gotten more air-time in 6B, I do think their finally being together at the end of 6A was enough to make it feel like there was a conclusion to their storyline. It certainly did well to deliver on the build-up of six years of romantic tension and stolen glances.
No matter how many times I've seen the edits of their relationship, it never ceases to amaze me at how beautiful it's all played out. The progression is one of the most realistic and natural portrayals I've ever seen (weird stalking aside), and there's never been another TV couple that captures my heart in quite the same way that these two do. It will always be the relationship I come back to when I need a review of how relationships should progress and how to create natural chemistry, and for that, I think it's one of the best examples of strangers-to-friends-to-lovers out there.
And I will never stop wishing for my own Stiles Stilinski to show up one day.