The debate over who is Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “one true love” has really flared up again, some 17 years after the show ended. This is mainly due to a tweet from politician, activist and national treasure Stacey Abrams. Not only is Abrams a hardcore Trekker, but she has shown her Buffy fandom bonafides in many ways. She even guested on the Buffy podcast Slayerfest ’98 to talk all things Sunnydale.
But it was one of Abrams’ tweets that caused a stir. In November, the activist chimed in on the great debate over whether Angel or Spike was the “right” man for Buffy.
To be fair, Angel was the right boyfriend for Buffy coming into her power. Spike was the right man to be with as she became the power.— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) November 9, 2020
Buffy cast members Alyson Hannigan and Nicholas Brendon agreed with Abrams on Twitter. (Meanwhile, Charisma Carpenter chimed in about Cordelia’s love story.) Even Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon seemingly agreed with Abrams’ hot take on the Slayer’s love life. Angel himself, David Boreanaz, has dropped his own two cents, telling The Wrap, “All I’ll say is this, man: True love is first love and first love is true love. Drop the mic. End of story.”
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David clearly has a horse in this race, seeing as he portrayed Angel for eight seasons, and it’s the role that started his career. But we think there are plenty of people who married their first love and found out that person was not for them, and are now divorced. So no, first love is not always the truest love. In fiction or in life.
But we’re not going to say Buffy’s one true love is actually the vampiric bad boy Spike either. Spike, played by James Marsters, was equally problematic as a love interest for a whole host of reasons. Maybe his biggest saving grace over Angel (aside from just being cooler in general) is that he was capable of loving Buffy even without his soul. All a soulless Angel wanted to do to Buffy was torture and murder her.
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And as for Buffy’s “middle child/Jan Brady” of boyfriend, the human G.I. Joe doll Riley Finn, he certainly wasn’t ever in consideration for this title. No shade towards Riley intended, but facts are facts.
But we are going to go out on a limb here and say that none of Buffy’s boyfriends actually qualify as “the love of her life.” Although she did indeed love them. Yes, even Riley. Her greatest love will always be her calling as the Chosen One, and her unending mission to protect humanity from harm. It’s not that Buffy doesn’t have the capacity to have romantic love. It’s just that at the end of the day, her most fulfilling state of emotional completeness comes from slaying evil.
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Romantic love is real and possible for her, but it will always come up short in comparison to her love of saving the world. It would be easy to write this off as “she’s married to her job,” but killing demons isn’t just a job for the slayer. It’s a calling. It’s in her DNA. The thrill of ridding the world of evil—with a knockout fight that ends with a stake in a heart—fulfills her in a way that no person ever can.
This truth is best illustrated in a moment from the opening pre-credits scenes from the season five episode “Buffy vs. Dracula.” In that scene, Buffy rests in bed next to her-then boyfriend Riley. It’s implied this is a postcoital scene, and a fulfilled and happy Riley is fast asleep. But Buffy doesn’t find comfort in his arms. She gets up, gets dressed, and hits the graveyard looking for a vamp to dust. Only after that can she rest comfortably and catch 40 winks. This is who Buffy Summers is in a nutshell.
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That’s not to say heroes can’t find happy committed relationships. Superman and Lois have long been happily married, and it’s only due to magical machinations that Spider-Man and Mary Jane’s marriage dissolved. But Buffy is ultimately more like another nocturnal superhero: Batman. The Dark Knight has had many great loves, with names like Catwoman and Talia springing to mind. But like Buffy, his life’s mission is his most important love. This ultimately gets in the way of longterm commitments. For Bats and for Buffy, the mission always comes first.
Another similarity between Batman and Buffy is that familial love is each hero’s biggest emotional tether. Romantic love interests come and go. But for both of these heroes, their extended surrogate family is their most important emotional connection. Batman has his many, many crime-fighting partners; Buffy has her Scooby Gang. And both are mentored by aloof British father figures who keep them grounded to the real world. I’m hardly the first to point out the similarities between Rupert Giles and Alfred Pennyworth.
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Buffy’s most honest admission about her love for her calling actually takes place outside the TV series. This occurs in the Dark Horse comic book series that followed the show. In the comics, Buffy continued having romantic relationships with both Angel and Spike, to varying degrees of success. Buffy and Angel even spawned a sentient universe with their lovemaking once. (Yup, that happened.)
But as the comic finally came to its conclusion, Buffy had to inform both of her undead loves of the inevitable truth. Although she would always hold a place in her heart for them, her mission will always come first. One of her last canonical statements was, “There’s always something that needs fixing. Someone who needs help. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to just ignore that.” The tender embraces of sexy bad boy vamps, or anyone else for that matter, will always come second. Because Buffy Anne Summers doesn’t need anyone to complete her; she completes herself.