Jonathan Vs Steve: Who Is The Better ‘Stranger Things’ Boyfriend?

We present the ultimate argument for each.

Stranger Things

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Spoilers for Stranger Things!

I don’t care about what you think of the controversial seventh episode in the latest season. I don’t care what you know about ’80s film and how many references you can spot in the series. There’s one thing we all need to settle about Stranger Things before we get to any of that: should Nancy REALLY have ended up with Jonathan? Like, really?

The internet is near equally divided on this issue with the vote (yes, there are real votes) split between the beleaguered Jonathan Byers and new fan hero Steve Harrington. But it’s not just for Nancy’s sake. This is for TV boyfriends everywhere. This is for the real world. This is for all of us.

Here’s the argument for each, from two Junkee writers who will literally never agree on this:

<3 Jonathan <3

Over the course of Stranger Things, seasons one and two, Will Byers is abducted, inhabited by a slug-like creature, affected by some kind of cosmic-PTSD, possessed by a shadow monster, and then made subject to a terrifying exorcism by his own family. It’s horrible, sure, but realistically Will is near-comatose for most of these experiences, so we shouldn’t worry about him that much. The real victim here? Jonathan Byers.

Poor Johnny Byers. His brother goes missing. His mother goes off the rails. The school bully breaks his camera and gets him arrested. Things are looking up for a while! And then his brother gets possessed, his mum’s boyfriend gets eaten, and he has to perform an exorcism on his brother. Now that’s traumatic.

Jonathan Byers holds it together the whole time too. He should be a shell of a person. He’s a teenager, for god’s sake! He should be a mess! But he holds it together for his family.

Jonathan Byers is the beautiful, woke hero we deserve.

While other characters (S*eve H*rrington) have suspicious and constantly shifting motivations throughout the series, Jonathan remains committed to his mum and brother from day one. One of Jonathan’s most significant scenes is of him giving Will a mixtape of cool music as a distraction from their parents’ fighting. While he may want other things throughout the series — to be cool, to date Nancy — family is always Jonathan’s number one.

The same cannot be said of Steve Harrington, Jonathan’s trashy, creepy rival. Steve Harrington is a bully. It was true in season one, and just because he might be a bit nicer in season two, it doesn’t mean he’s had a complete change of heart. Bullies are manipulative, and Steve’s still just looking after himself.

Season one Steve is terrible. He makes fun of Jonathan to no end. He coerces Nancy into sex, and then tells people about it at school the next day. And when Nancy tries to tell him she’s worried about her friend, Steve ignores her concerns.

In season two, Steve is back to his old tricks. When Nancy tries to talk to Steve about her PTSD from basically leading Barb to her death, Steve ignores her, saying they should basically just forget it happened. When things aren’t perfect for Steve, he spirals and essentially treats everyone like shit. Real cool, Steve.

Sure, at the end of season two he becomes friends with Dustin and helps kill the demo-dogs, but at the end of the day, Steve only changed his behaviour when he realised that Nancy values bravery and integrity (the qualities Jonathan exemplifies) over his selfishness. Steve’s spate of bravery doesn’t make up for the fact that he was a lecherous bully for most of season one.

What Jonathan may lack in beautiful hair and funny one-liners, he makes up for it in his general lack of dickishness. While the ‘tortured hero’ archetype is generally rife with issues, Jonathan Byers presents us with a new kind of tortured hero — one who has adequate reasons for his tortured-ness, and who doesn’t use his traumatic past as an excuse for shitty behaviour.

Steve Harrington is a preening prick who changes tact whichever way will make him most appealing to the school hottie. Jonathan Byers is the beautiful, woke hero we deserve.

Shaad D’Souza 

<3 Steve <3

I have all kinds of sympathy for Jonathan Byers as a character. His brother’s missing, then traumatised, then maybe inhabited by some kind of demon. His mum, also extremely traumatised, becomes the town’s best detective overnight and embarks on a solo battle with a supernatural alternative reality. He’s all on his own — trying to hold shit together, find his brother, save his brother, support his mum, all while trying to be a normal teen. That’s tough.

But as a romantic interest, Jonathan Byers is trash.

Jonathan Byers is the kind of guy who shits on people for listening to music that isn’t ~alternative~. He would like you to know that he loves The Clash and David Bowie, and yeah, he’s probably into Morrissey as well. If this were the ’90s, it would be all about Radiohead. If you dated Jonathan in the 2000s, he would ask to see your iPod to “check your taste”.

Jonathan Byers is the kind of guy who pines after a girl who has no interest in him for an inappropriate amount of time and then feels wronged by all women for the next 20 years. Jonathan Byers is a creep. He took his camera to a party he was not invited to, hid in the bushes, and took photos of his crush without her consent. It’s not charming. You know what he is doing with these pictures. It’s not sweet.

Jonathan Byers is a softboy. He sulks like it’s a sport and has maybe never cracked a joke in his life. Jonathan Byers wants to take you to an arthouse film and insist you call the director an auteur. He’ll ask you how your day was and then slowly list the ways his was worse. He likes you because you’re not like the other girls.

Steve, granted, has been a fuckboy. In season one he pressures Nancy into sex, betrays her trust, pushes people around, and exudes general douchebaggery with pride. But, unlike Jonathan, Steve has shown growth. He turns the fuck up for Nancy, bat in hand. He drops the act. He’s open with his feelings. He tries. 

Though he may not share the same kind of trauma with Nancy as Jonathan does, he wants to be there as her support (which FYI, is way more helpful). He’s at the dinner table with Barb’s parents, talking stuff through, listening to what she needs, doing his best. When he asks Nancy if she loves him, it’s not because of some game, to feel the power of being King Steve — it’s because he cares. He’s hurt by her response, but respectful enough to let her go.

Jonathan, on the other hand, is exactly where he started: creeping on a party, watching from afar, ready to pounce for another laboured chance with the girl who has already rejected him. Good stuff.

There are some simple reasons why Steve would make a better boyfriend than Jonathan. For one, he’s actually familiar with the concept of fun (great with kids, protective but nurturing, literally fights off racist abusers et al). But there’s also a broader track record for these things. Teenage Steves can get better. Many drop the bullshit, they learn and evolve. The Jonathans of the world just fester.

I’ll take 100 reformed dickheads who love you, over a sadboy who still has a secret drawer full of creepshots.

Meg Watson