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The Romanticization of Brokenness: A Broken Girl’s Synopsis


When I was scrolling through Reels one night (my pride still hasn’t let me download TikTok), I came across a video of a guy discussing the etiquette of dating a “broken girl.” Normally I find these kinds of videos mediocre, but something about its content grabbed my interest. To date a “broken girl” you must be patient; she will fear letting her guard down quickly, she will overthink, she will love you more than she loves herself.

In the grand scheme of things, this video is just a product of its time. In an attempt to counteract the stigmatization of mental illnesses, popular culture went to the wrong extreme in romanticizing these mental illnesses. Yet, this romanticization more often than not invalidates the magnitude of struggles and difficulties that these mental illnesses can cause. Suddenly, depression is just feeling blue, anxiety is just being a worrywart, and OCD is just being clean. (That last one is just absolutely insulting and overgeneralizing.)

To clarify, I don’t have an issue with individuals expressing the components of their mental health, whether good or bad. I have an issue with idolizing relationships with individuals who struggle with mental illnesses, the facade that these individuals are docile beings in need of help, that you are a savior because you’re willing to love all of them.

I am not a docile being. I am full of anger and wrath and all the ugly animalistic emotions that keep me alive. When I fight, my voice breaks. I am not afraid to attack where it hurts the most when I feel that there’s a need to preserve what little is left of my sanity. I’m not afraid to scream, but I will shut down when you raise your voice at me. I run away when I’m not immediately good at something, and that includes relationships. I fluctuate between loving and shutting down. I will always assume the worst. I am terrified at the thought of being loved. It takes a lot to love a “broken” person, and it takes a lot not to leave a “broken” person when all they have are glass shards to offer. These shards are a part of me, long since punctured through my heart; they hurt like hell, but they’re also the only things keeping me from bleeding out.

So no, it isn’t pretty, dating a “broken girl.” It especially isn’t pretty when you assume that my “brokenness” is a vulnerability to be exploited in your pursuit of validation and affection, that I’d be willing to just extend my love to anyone because I myself am desperate for someone to love me. It is downright insulting to assign “brokenness” as a token of my identity.

When my partner has a bad day, we watch funny animal videos on the phone together. When I have a bad day, he listens and gives sincere advice (sometimes unwarranted, but appreciated nonetheless). He calls me beautiful. I call him pretty. He reminds me to eat. I remind him to save. He scolds me when I forget my jacket. I scold him when he forgets to do laundry and has now run out of socks in the winter. He learns how to say “I love you” in broken Vietnamese. I send him care packages when he runs out of heat packs for his shoulder.

So maybe I am desperate for love, but that’s what makes me human, another being longing for connection and belonging. But just because I’m desperate doesn’t mean I don’t also love myself. It’s because I’ve been broken that I won’t sacrifice the last bit of myself for a shred of anyone’s attention or give my heart to a hollow promise of shallow love in the form of emotional exploitation. It’s because I’ve been broken that I know the value of holding myself together.

An Than

Seattle U '23

Psychology & Criminal Justice, 2023 at Seattle University, WA
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