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I’d love to simply say Spike is the best and leave it at that. I won’t do that, as much as I’d like to. Fans will be asking: "What about Angel?" while non-fans will be asking: "Why?" I’m going to answer both of those questions. I’m going to look at all of Buffy’s relationships. What they were based in, how they worked, and why they ended up not working. Safe to say, I will have to go into some detail. So a spoiler warning is in effect for those of you who haven’t seen the show.
I do have to say this. The Angel and Buffy love story is beautiful. In that it’s a great example of teenage first love. Buffy is the Slayer. Her job is to kill the vampires, demons and forces of darkness. Angel is a vampire with a soul. A bit of background, vampires don’t have souls. He was cursed with one by gypsies. He feels remorse and guilt for all of the terrible things he’s done as a vampire. At first, he helps her as a form of repentance. Over time, they develop feelings for each other. Even after she discovers that he’s a vampire, these feelings don’t go away. They date for quite a while, until he loses his soul. He experiences a moment of pure happiness, and this breaks the curse. Once his soul is gone, he reverts back to Angelus. This is who he was as a vampire before the curse. Eventually, Buffy’s friends figure out how to restore the curse, and give him his soul again. Then the two of them try to just be friends. They realize that they can’t, and start dating again. Not long after this, Angel breaks up with Buffy. He comes to the decision that she deserves something normal. Even though they love each other, he wants her to have a normal relationship. To be with someone who can stand in the sun, and doesn’t have anything to do with his world. This always really bothers me, because he makes this decision for her. He decides what would be best for her, not really thinking about how she feels. He acts like he’s doing this for her own good, when he can’t really know that.
Riley was essentially Buffy’s rebound after Angel. The relationship lasted about a year, but was doomed from the beginning. First off, he was human and couldn’t know that she was the Slayer. So when she started seeing him, she constantly had to lie to him. We soon discover that he’s been lying too. He’s part of a secret military group that hunts and captures vampires and demons. Once their secrets come out, they try to work together. It doesn’t go very well for two reasons. One, Riley kind of treats Buffy like she’s a damsel in need of help/rescue. Two, he doesn’t really seem to respect what she is, or that she’s stronger than him. He tries to pretend that he’s cool with it, but he constantly worries about her and is over protective. Finally he gives her an ultimatum: Decide that she needs him, or he’ll leave. Her mom gets really sick, and he’s upset that she didn’t tell him right away. Apparently, he needs to be needed. He’s mad that she doesn’t lean on him or let him take care of her. She’s the Slayer, she’s extremely strong, and getting by on her own is kind of in the job description. That’s not to say that she doesn’t occasionally need help or comfort from others. She just doesn’t constantly need him. She has bigger problems than stroking his ego by pretending she needs him all the time.
As much as I love Buffy with Spike, I have to admit that their relationship was unhealthy. Not because of them as a couple, but because of the timing. When their relationship starts, it’s purely sexual. Spike has been in love with Buffy for over a year at this point. She has just come back from the dead, and is constantly struggling to appear normal. She takes advantage of the feelings he has for her, because being with him is the only way she can feel anything. He takes advantage of that, because he’s desperate enough that he’ll take what he can get. This goes on for a while, keeping it a secret from everyone else. When her friends eventually find out, they are mostly disappointed and disgusted with Buffy. They can’t understand why she was with Spike, since he doesn’t have a soul. He does have a chip in his head preventing him from hurting humans, but that’s not the same thing. Feeling guilty, Buffy ends things with Spike. He doesn’t take this well, and nearly sexually assaults her. Thankfully, he comes to his senses before things go too far. He leaves town and finds a shaman of sorts. He goes through a series of trials that nearly kill him. Once he has completed them, the shaman gives him his soul. He comes back to Sunnydale, and apologizes to Buffy. He then spends the rest of the series simply being there for her. He also sacrifices himself to stop the apocalypse. He comes back later, by some form of magic in Angel, the spinoff from Buffy.
Now that I’ve looked at all three relationships, here’s why Buffy should have ended up with Spike in the end. He loved her for who she was. Not the idea of her, not her body, or any one part of her. He loved everything about her. He also made the conscious decision to change for her. After he almost hurt her, he nearly killed himself getting his soul back. He didn’t have to do that, but he did anyway. He wanted to feel the pain and the guilt of knowing he almost hurt her. He also wanted to try and be worthy of her, since she was convinced he couldn’t love without a soul. Let’s not forget he stopped the apocalypse, fully believing that he would die.