Trigger Warning: This articles discusses topics such as abusive relationships, rape, sexual assault and pedophilia. Resources are provided at the end of the article for those requiring support.
Have you ever found yourself swooning over an on-screen couple, only to realize later that nothing about their relationship was healthy? If so, don’t worry, we have all been there. While we do see true romance displayed across our screens at times, it appears that recently there has been a heavy depiction of toxic, abusive, manipulative and overall unhealthy relationships shown in entertainment media.
Take Chuck and Blair, from Gossip Girl, for example. Throughout the duration of the series, fans hoped for them to stay together, even though their relationship was nothing worth rooting for. Chuck was possessive, vengeful and angry. His rage towards Blair was abusive, yet she forgave him so easily, and every time she did, the world let out a huge sigh of relief. When Chuck trades a night with Blair in order to secure a business deal, there was a disturbing acceptance among fans that Blair should take him back.
Another relationship worth considering is Aria and Ezra from Pretty Little Liars. Aria was a 16-year-old student and fans casually watched her fall in love and be intimate with her 22-year-old teacher. This is both rape and pedophilia, but for fans, it was love. The show never directly addresses the issues with this relationship, allowing young, impressionable fans to look at it in awe. Why wouldn’t you have a crush on your teacher after watching your favourite TV character fall in love with theirs? This relationship blurs the lines of consent and confuses pedophilia for a forbidden love story.
While we all loved The Notebook, it is time to acknowledge the flaws in the relationship that society has deemed the ideal image of love. From the very beginning of their relationship, Noah was manipulative. He threatened to commit suicide if she did not go out on a date with him when she had clearly expressed disinterest. At first this appeared as a grand romantic gesture, but it was totally creepy. Once together, they fought constantly and made up just as often. The film portrayed the idea that to have a strong relationship you must go through dramatic ups and downs.
We see the glorification of toxic relationships in Fifty Shades of Grey as well. Christian was a stalker, for starters, and it could be argued that he raped Anastasia at one point in their relationship. They signed a sexual contract which was misleading to viewers, as it promotes the idea that consent is a one-time thing, when it is something that needs to be consistently discussed and agreed upon. Through this contract, he forced her into doing things that she was uncomfortable with, and thus, normalizing these types of interactions in real-life relationships. It’s not hot...it’s rape.
According to Statistics Canada, intimate partner violence accounts for 25% of all police-reported violent crimes. This is a shocking statistic, especially when you consider how many of these cases most likely go unreported. However, how can we expect anything different when society places these unhealthy relationships on a pedestal? If we watch it and accept it on our screens, why would we do any different in our own lives?
TV shows and movies have created this idea that no matter how horrible someone treats you, if you love them enough and endure their abuse for long enough, they will change for you one day. This not the case. They most likely will never change their behaviour and staying with them could increase your risk of harm. While passion is important in a relationship, there is a significant difference between passion and rage, which is often confused in on-screen relationships. The next time you find yourself hoping for a love like your favourite characters, make sure it is a safe and healthy relationship first.
If you are in need of support, please access any of the following resources:
- Call 9-1-1 if you are in immediate danger
- Assaulted Women’s Helpline (Ontario) 1-866-863-0511
- Ontario Victim Services Support Line 1-888-579-2888
- Support Services for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse (Ontario)1-866-887-0015