When I was in grade ten, a friend came running up to me: “You have to read these Twilight books. You are just like Bella!” I took her advice, and I read the first book, then the next, and this started off a phase of my life I am not proud of: my Twi-hard phase.
It was a hit among all my friends. We loved Edward. We hated Jacob. Everyone agreed that I was like Bella and my boyfriend at the time was like Edward. “Oh yes,” I thought to myself. “I am the heroine and I have this once in a lifetime, fairy tale love.”
When the first Twilight movie was released, I proudly wore my Team Edward t-shirt, ready to see the story I loved play out on the big screen. Let’s just say, I was sorely disappointed and the Team Edward shirt never saw the light of day again.
I stuck it out though and saw all the subsequent movies. I called it morbid curiousity.
Recently, for reasons I don’t recall, I watched the whole series again, and it was the first time the sheer absurdity of the central relationship really jumped out at me.
Get this: Bella meets Edward. He seems to hate her (truth is, he was trying not to kill her right then and there. A real meet-cute!). Bella is fascinated by this mysterious man. One night Bella wakes up in her bed and spots Edward! Oh hey there, broody guy, whatcha doin’ here?
“I’ve been watching you sleep.”
Bella: “That’s so romantic!” and swoons.
Okay, so that is paraphrased and really simplified, but I was blown away by this.
This…. this is the love I thought was so great? That I thought my relationship emulated?
It’s not just the whole “hey isn’t it cute when I watch you sleep without your knowledge” thing, but that is a huge glaring red flag all on its own, come on now. It’s also their whole “you’re my whole world and I will literally burst into flames without you” thing. It’s the possession: “you’re mine now.” It’s the inability to see that maybe that relationship is destructive and toxic and not SAFE considering Bella almost dies countless times.
Passion and drama and conflict and death do not a relationship make.
Some time ago, I was chatting with a principal at a school I had been teaching at. I have told this story countless times because what he said really stuck with me. Basically, he noted that when he was younger, it was really hard to get information about sex, whether pornography or actual sex education. But what they did know a lot about was meaningful relationships. Now, he said, it’s switched. Young people today are bombarded constantly with sexual content, but they are lacking in information about healthy relationships. Boundaries. Respect.
I’m floored sometimes with the things that are in shows that are specifically geared to an adolescent audience (lookin’ at you, Riverdale).
We are not talking about healthy relationships enough, and in that void, junk like Twilight and similar media are filling in the blanks. And it’s not pretty.
The other day I was scrolling through Instagram and came across a series of posts that were actually quite disturbing to me.
The first one starts out kind of alright: calls you for nothing. Okay yeah, that is nice. Texts you all the time… does it really have to be all the time? Wants to see you: well if we’re in a relationship, I should hope so. That’s kind of a given. Gets jealous… Nope nope nope. Is overprotective.. Again nope nope nope.
Then it concludes with cares about you. But if he cares about you, why does he need to be in constant contact? Why is he overprotective instead of just protective? Why does he need to text you all the time? Does that include while you’re busy? Working? With friends?
The second and third one speak to the same kind of idea. “I act this way because I love you! I need you!” Control isn’t cute. It’s not romantic. Love does not mean “I’m going to cling to you for dear life and never let you live a life outside of me.”
Love is go out and have fun with your friends. Let me know when you get home so I know you’re safe.
Love is trusting someone enough that you don’t need to be calling and texting all the time.
Love is maybe feeling a pang of jealousy from time to time but knowing how to handle that maturely and respectfully.
All of that other stuff? It’s crap. It’s abuse masquerading as love, and it’s disgusting.
But this, this is what people are thinking makes a good relationship. Even some of the not so young. Because we’ve been force fed this idea from Hollywood that persistence and being so wrapped up in each other is love, but it’s not. If a girl dumps you, you don’t stand out in the rain with a boombox. You respect her wishes. If she doesn’t answer your letters, you don’t send her 365 more just to be sure.
Domestic violence, abuse, whatever name you give it, it’s an issue. Here are some statistics about police-reported intimate partner violence (all taken from Stats Canada, 2017):
- 8/10 victims were female.
- Intimate partner violence (IPV) accounts for 30% of all violent crime in Canada, amounting to 96,000 victims between the ages of 15 and 89.
- Intimate partner violence is the most common kind of violence experienced by women.
- “Intimate partner” refers to current or formerly married couples, common-law, dating, or other kinds of relationships.
- Women are more likely to be physically assaulted by an intimate partner than someone else (i.e. stranger).
- Highest rates of intimate partner violence is between ages 25 and 34, and this is true for men and women.
- 7/10 cases used physical force as opposed to weapons. However, weapons are more common when the victim is male.
- Most intimate partner homicide victims are female (79% from 2007-2017).
- Of those victims, most (75%) were killed by a current or former husband or common-law partner. The other 25% were killed by boyfriends.
- Male victims were killed most often by wives or common-law partners (59%). Girlfriends were the perpetrators in 27% of cases, but 14% were killed by same-sex partners.
I want to acknowledge that these statistics are only for police-reported incidents and are almost definitely under-reported, especially where the victim is male.
If we don’t call out these horrendous examples of love or a healthy relationship, we are doing a great disservice to everyone, young and old. It’s not cute to be possessive. Controlling behaviour is not romantic. Constant heated arguments are not passion or intensity. This applies for any relationship: romantic, platonic, family, etc. Loyalty only goes so far.
I recently read a study about pathways to commitment that looked at four different commitment “types:” dramatic, conflict-ridden, socially involved, and partner-focused. Dramatic commitments, as you can probably guess, had “relatively frequent and substantial changes in the level of commitment, a large proportion of which were downturns.” What does that all mean? Their level of commitment changed often and dramatically and often not in a good way! Here’s a key point from the study:
Although we hypothesized that the turbulence of these relationships was fueled by passionate love, we found no evidence to support this hypothesis. In fact, levels of passionate love, as well as satisfaction, were the lowest among individuals in this cluster.”Ogolsky, b.g., et al. “pathways of commitment to wed”
What does all that mean? People in those dramatic relationships will say it’s passion and intensity, but it’s not. They don’t feel that love and they aren’t even happy in the relationship! But they’re stuck. Because they’ve been together for a long time. Or they don’t want to be single again. Or because they like the drama.
In contrast, partner-focused commitment have fewer times when commitment goes down and are unique in their positive views of the relationship and their partner. They spend time together and actually enjoy it. They think positively of their partner. They report the highest levels of relationship satisfaction because they can spend quality time together and enjoy it.
I get it that drama is addicting, but it’s not passion and it’s not love. I’ve fallen into those patterns. I kept going back to one guy who was terrible and awful and so cruel to me because the drama and the fighting was intriguing. But it sucked the life out of me. My next relationship? Very little drama. Even our break up was no drama. It was a phone call where we acknowledged it wasn’t working and that we were breaking up and then we talked like the best friends we were for another hour.
Do yourself the kindness of having extremely high standards in this regard. By no means is it easy to leave a toxic or abusive relationship, and to pretend it is a simple thing just adds to the trauma. It is hard, but it is NOT impossible. There are services. There’s help and support.
Do not feel stuck in that relationship. Not because you’ve been together a long time already. Not because you have children. Not because you can’t support yourself. No reason is good enough. Lean on your community. You’ll get through this.
If you aren’t currently in a relationship, then have extremely high standards. I wish I could say I have always had high standards, but that would be a lie. But I am firm on this now. Watch for early warning signs, and do not compromise. Trust your gut. Watch for signs in people you know, and let them know you’re here.
Talk to everyone about healthy relationships. Talk to your kids. Talk to your friends. When you see messed up things on TV or movies, talk about it. Talk about why it’s not real life or real love.
I’ve had boyfriends yell in my face, punch things when I’m standing near them, belittle me, gaslight me, and tell me to “die already” (that was actually an ex, but whatever). But I’ve also had boyfriends who would never do those things. Who loved me and supported me and cared for me. That is an expectation, an absolute rule, I will carry forever.
Please, please, let’s do more so that people don’t get confused about what love is.
Real, fulfilling, life-giving, fun, happy, challenging love.