it’s strange to me how people get up in arms over Liara’s age and obsession with Shepard and yet Tali is much, much younger and hero-worshippy plus way more vulnerable???
not trying to open a can of worms or anything, just my perception but. yeah.
basically protect Tali, that’s all i’m saying.
There are some immediate similarities in design, but, beyond the comparable life spans of quarians and humans versus asari and humans, the crew and the narrative in 1 make a big deal of Liara’s relative youth - both Ashley and Kaidan refer to her as essentially a kid, their way of treating her says that they think of her as being younger than they are. Tali, of course, is not romanceable in 1. When that changes in 2, it’s also emphasized that she has grown and matured in the time since 1. While Liara is portrayed as more emotionally mature as the series progresses, the initial starting point for her romance is still treating her as being much younger than Shepard. That cloud still hangs over the relationship, because the option existed in 1, unlike with Tali.
And then there’s how Tali repeatedly has points where Shepard can be knocked off that hero-worship pedestal. The fleet always comes first for Tali. Shepard has to do things just right, keeping her father’s name clear, either siding with her or being persuasive enough to resolve things between her and Legion, and protecting the fleet over Rannoch. Otherwise, she will not respond to Shepard trying to be more than friends with her. Her romance is locked out entirely and permanently.
Liara, meanwhile, has no crisis points. Shepard has her undying loyalty, but it’s never made out to be a love of a flawed person who makes mistakes. What we see plays more like a schoolgirl crush, where she enshrines Shepard on a pedestal, raising Shepard above her, and never letting Shepard fall from that place. Almost everything she does in the plot is about how she can help Shepard. Even the big thing she does that isn’t done for Shepard, rescuing Feron, gives her a reward that she explicitly says she’ll use for Shepard. She will throw her love and interest at Shepard throughout the series, and the most Shepard gets to do is politely decline.
The two points that should have SOME kind of crisis from her, her mother’s death and the fall of Thessia, instead have her taking the zen path of ‘I choose to remember her as she was’ instead of even slightly lashing out at Shepard for having to kill her mother, not even immediately walking it back, even if she wasn’t there with Shepard during the fight with Benezia, or blaming HERSELF for Thessia’s fall, instead of Shepard, who is spending the whole aftermath blaming themselves anyway. In both cases, she doesn’t say a word against Shepard, despite how it’d be a natural and normal reaction. There is no ‘make-it-or-break-it’ moment to her relationship, she will always have undying loyalty to Shepard, and many of us consider that unhealthy.
The quarian immune system is tricky to deal with, mostly because it’s explained really inconsistently - Tali talks about how ‘a single kiss could kill [her],’ how sick she got from being with Shepard in 2, that by 3 her system has ‘adapted,’ and Citadel shows a quarian actress willing to remove her mask for a kiss. What it seems like to me is that there is the possibility and risk, but those are usually extreme cases, and it’s far more likely that there will just be a fever and mild infection, rather than death.
Essentially, both romances have problematic elements, but Liara’s trumps Tali’s for a lot of people, with the fact that Liara’s emotional youth is emphasized at the same time that she is being highlighted as a romance option making her romance far more uncomfortable to people to begin with. I’m not saying that there’s nothing uncomfortable with Tali’s relationship, but it’s significantly less than what’s there in Liara’s, with Liara’s relationship with Shepard also (romance or not) played up significantly more in the series.
That and Liara’s sexual inexperience is supposed to make her more enticing as a romance option (hell, her entire character is sadly about being enticing as a romantic interest which really stifled her), while with Tali it made sense she would be one due to her species before Bioware ever thought of making her romanceable - she was made an LI only due to fan demand. For Tali there exists a practical reason thanks to pre-existing worldbuilding as to why she would be sexually inexperienced, for Liara the purpose boiled down to fetishizing virginity and sexual inexperience in women.
Also Tali actually moves on from Shepard if unromanced, hooking up with Garrus, while Liara remains crushing on Shepard throughout all three games, even when two other characters (Feron and Javik) clearly have romantic interest in her.
And again, Tali makes it very clear several times that her people are far more important to her than Shepard ever will be. She is technically the most difficult character to romance for this exact reason. There are more ways to lock yourself out of her romance than there is for any of the other LIs.
Liara keeps a piece of Shepard’s armor in her apartment regardless of whether you romanced, or even whether you treated her nicely in ME1. She has no sort of loyalty check, unlike every other character.
So yeah, while a lot of parts of their romances are similar (younger, sexually inexperienced, somewhat naive), the way Tali’s is handled makes me think that her feelings for Shepard grew out of hero worship into genuine romantic feelings, while with Liara it just felt like an unhealthy mixture of the two throughout the series.