I'm the biggest Buffy fan I know. I've been hooked on the series since the second episode aired. Buffy shaped a lot of who I am, who I want to be, and my views on love, strength, feminism, and pain. I've cosplayed as Buffy, genderbent Spike, and Illyria from the spinoff Angel. I can win a quote-off every single time, I'm in the top ten in Buffy trivia in Canada on QuizUp. I've seen every episode of Buffy at least two dozen times, except The Body, which I watched once and can never watch again because MY HEART CAN ONLY TAKE SO MUCH PAIN, JOSS. I'm a member of several Buffy fan groups and the most popular opinion is that as far as shipping goes, it's either Spuffy or Bangel. Nobody likes Riley. Well, I'm here to tell you how wrong you are. Riley was the best—and he got a raw deal. Prepare your readin' holes, because I'm about to drop some logic on you.
1. He's Smart And Driven
Riley is a TA in Professor Walshe's psych class. He spends more time grading papers than checking out girls, and he's a high-ranking member of the initiative- one of Walshe's pet students. He earned the rank of commander through hard work and dedication, as well as being a master strategist. He's decisive and a natural leader. Then when shit starts to go downhill at the Initiative and shady stuff starts coming up there, he's the only soldier to think for himself and defect.
2. He's Down To Earth And Positive
After Angel's billowy coat king of pain brood act, we needed a bit of positivity in Buffy's life—and Riley is that little ray of hunky sunshine. He tends to look on the bright side of things and see the good in people, and he's humble and unassuming. He's dependable and charmingly awkward around Buffy throughout their courtship, and he seems to always be the calm one during freak-outs.
3. He's Loyal
He punched Parker in the face for talking shit about Buffy. He literally risks his life for her, again and again, even after he stops drinking Initiative Kool-aid and loss his enhanced strength. He walked away from his job, his future, and his friends without pause for Buffy. His heart belongs, without fail, to Buffy.
4. He's Emotionally Available And Supportive
In Buffy's other relationships, Buffy had to deal with their damage, their pain, more than they helped her with hers. Riley, on the other hand, is there for her. He's her rock and she uses him as such several times. He often struggles to deal with the weight of dating the slayer, but he tries really hard.
5. He Is Unfailingly Kind And A Total Gentleman
He uses words like "courting." Riley is the type of guy who would open doors and walk on the outside of the sidewalk. In a world where her other two boyfriends have been rough, there's a gentleness and a courtesy that is endearing.
6. He Has A Great Sense Of Humor
He tends to defuse awkward situations with his elf-effacing, low key sense of humor. He's not a jokester like Xander, he's just kind of... quippy. Similar to Oz.
7. Their Chemistry Was Off The Charts
Don't believe me? Watch Where The Wild Things Are. They got it on so hard they fueled a house full of poltergeists.
8. He's Ambitious And Wants To Help Change The World
Hence why he joined the Initiative, and hence why he's still a demon hunter when he comes back in season 6.
9. He Can Rock A Green Turtleneck Like Nobody's Business
10. He Isn't A Shitty Abusive Demon
Angel tried to kill Buffy several times after they had sex and he lost his soul. He tortured her, he killed Jenny Calendar, he tried to end the world. Spike also tried to kill Buffy several times, before and after the chip in his head. He also tried to brutally rape her. Both vampires were horribly abusive—verbally, psychologically, physically. Riley didn't. Plus, you know, he could go out in sunlight without turning into a big pile of dust, and his forehead wouldn't get all crinkly if Buffy got a paper cut.
Now let's talk about Riley's fall from grace—his jealousy over Dracula, his anger issues at the end, his fang-banging "cheating" by letting nests of cute ladyvamps bite him... well, you can't really blame him.
Riley got a raw deal. Look at it like this: small town boy from Iowa goes to college, works hard, becomes a TA, discovers the truth about demons and becomes a special agent in a demon-fighting operative. He's good at it. He's given drugs to make him into a super soldier. He meets the girl of his dreams, and then it all comes crashing down. In a matter of months, he discovers his operative is a cover operation for making murder Frankensteins, loses his mentor, goes through withdrawal from the drugs in his system, is betrayed by his best friends, has to kill his Frankensteined best friend, and his goals in life, his purpose, his future—it crumbles in front of him.
In the meantime, Buffy gets put under the thrall of yet another vampire, and keeps Riley out of the loop—and then instead of letting him be there for him when her mother dies, Buffy pushes him away and shuts him out repeatedly. Buffy wasn't fair to Riley, and she wasn't there for him when his world literally fell apart. He was in pain and he had no one there for him- including the one woman who he gave everything up for. It's not a shocker he'd want to see what all the fuss about vampires was, and there's something poetic in the literal bloodletting to ease his pain. I was so happy when he came back in season 6 happily married to a wonderful girl, and Buffy's loss is Samantha's gain.
Buffy lost the best man she ever had because she didn't appreciate him. Buffy was a shitty girlfriend, and while that was permissible when she had shitty boyfriends, that wasn't okay to do to poor, poor Riley Finn.