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The romantic interest (also called love interest or merely romantic love interest) is a stock character, an object of purely strong, deep and genuine romantic admiration and attraction for the main character(s), or hero/heroine e/s. It is also the plot element, the romantic subplot, thus introduced.
This person is often a female acquaintance of the protagonist, as in the case of Jane in Tarzan but can be a male, as in the case of Disney's Pocahontas; a man and woman who deeply and truly love and care about each other that are working on opposite sides and are thus supposed to be "enemies." The primary characters and romantic interests may be the two main characters, as in the case of Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
This term is often used in movie reviews, less so in classic literature, though such characters are common. Nearly all of the Disney animated features have main characters, villains and romantic interests that even children can easily identify.
"Love interest" is a more distant term than "the hero's dearly beloved" or "sweetheart", often used earlier for such characters. (The replacement of "hero" with "protagonist" or "main character" serves a like purpose").
The term "love interest" is also sometimes used in real life to designate someone's potentially, dearly beloved sweetheart, or the target of genuinely strong and deep romantic infatuation.